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Talasophobia (fear of the sea or ocean): symptoms, causes and treatment

Talasophobia (fear of the sea or ocean): symptoms, causes and treatment

July 23, 2024

Although the human being is an animal species adapted to terrestrial life, the seas and oceans are very present in our lives .

The simple fact that most of the surface of our planet is covered by seawater means that we must adapt to the presence of these large liquid surfaces, large masses that can be used to navigate and to find natural resources in it, but in certain Contexts can be a threat.

In this article we will talk about the facet of the ocean that we experience with more sensation of danger and anxiety: the thalassophobia .

  • Related article: "Types of phobias: exploring the disorders of fear"

What is thalassophobia?

The concept of thalassophobia refers to a specific type of phobia in which what produces extreme fear is the ocean or the sea . That is to say, that a person who experiences this mental alteration will feel terror and a great anxiety by the simple exhibition to this environment, sometimes even though it is not close to truth and is simply watching a video in which this immense body of water appears.

Being a phobia, that level of discomfort must be clinically significant (which means that there is a clear and evident deterioration of their quality of life that prevents them from doing many things and frequently leads them to suffer) and appears in contexts in which the ocean or the sea does not pose a reasonable or objective danger.

Obviously, if we are about to fall by the keel of a ship we will surely feel terror, but people with thalassophobia feel similarly just by looking at the ocean or a similar body of water. As an anxiety disorder that is thalassophobia, its mechanisms go beyond rationality.

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As we have seen, talasophobia is a specific phobia that appears when the subject is exposed to stimuli that he interprets as the sign that there is an ocean or a sea nearby (or when he sees these bodies of water directly). For the rest, their differences with other phobias of this type disappear, which means that the symptoms are typical of these anxiety disorders and that only varies what triggers them.

In summary, it can be said that the main symptoms of thalassophobia are the following: tachycardia, sweating, tremors, catastrophic thoughts, stress crisis , loss of control over one's movements, and a great sense of danger.

At a neurobiological level, this unwarranted state of alert involves the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the person to react to the slightest stimulus and predisposes the behavioral reaction of flight.

At the behavioral level, the person tends to react in two ways : running away in an uncontrolled and almost automatic way, and avoiding exposure to the phobic stimulus to prevent the occurrence of these anxiety attacks in the face of the real or fictitious presence of the ocean.


In the same way that it happens with the rest of phobias, there is no clear cause that provokes the thalassophobia, but rather there is a multiplicity of factors that can have as consequence its appearance.

First of all we must consider the possibility of having experienced traumatic experiences. These are experiences in which a very unpleasant emotional footprint is associated with a variety of stimuli which, when perceived, can trigger in real time the experimentation of a physiological and emotional state similar to what was felt in the original traumatic experience.

For example, having been on the verge of drowning, or having lost someone loved in this way, may predispose to the experimentation of this anxiety disorder. In addition, we must take into account the biological aspect, and more specifically genetic predispositions to react with large amounts of anxiety in situations where you feel there is or will be a loss of control. In phobias, one of the most common stress mechanisms has to do with the expectation of suffering an anxiety crisis, which generates a loop effect of self-fulfilling prophecy and that unpleasant experience that was feared and expected becomes a reality.

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Differences with other similar anxiety disorders

There are two phobias that resemble thalassophobia: batophobia, or fear of the depths, and hydrophobia, or fear of water. Although in practice it is very frequent that the stimuli that trigger them are almost the same, there are nuances to be taken into account.

Thalassophobia occurs in the presence of real or imaginary seas and ocean, that is, bodies of water that normally extend to the horizon, and that we can feel very close despite being separated kilometers from its shore . Fear is to these bodies of water themselves, regardless of their depth.

In hydrophobia, on the other hand, the fear is to water, which can appear very far from the seas and oceans: for example, in caves, restaurants, swimming pools, taps, lakes, etc.

In batophobia what generates terror is the notion of depth . That is, the feeling that there is a mass of precarious stability that separates us from the bottom of an abyss. This experience can appear in the sea, but also in the snow, in the sand or even in a ball pool.

  • Related article: "Batofobia: (fear of depth): symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment"


Fortunately, thalassophobia has a good prognosis in most cases, since specific phobias they respond very well to psychological treatment . After several sessions and some activities to be performed autonomously, most cases in which this type of anxiety disorders occur give way to a relatively rapid improvement, to the point where the level of anxiety caused by the phobic stimulus it ceases to be clinically significant.

One of the techniques most used by psychologists to treat thalassophobia is The exhibition , which consists of exposing the subject to what is afraid in a controlled manner, and having set a series of objectives. As progress is made, the difficulty of these experiences increases, which in most cases occur under the direct supervision of the mental health professional.

You can work using real landscapes in which there is sea or ocean, or simulations experienced using virtual reality glasses, although at the beginning it is also common to use only the imagination.

Bibliographic references:

  • Robert Jean Campbell (2009). Campbell's Psychiatric Dictionary (in English). Oxford University Press. pp. 375
  • Snyder, Kari (2003). "Attack of the Water Monster". Boating New York: Hachette Filipacchi Media. 76 (4): 44.
  • Robert Jean Campbell (2009). Campbell's Psychiatric Dictionary. Oxford University Press. pp. 375
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