We all have a slight fear of open water. Being in water for a prolonged period, especially in water bodies like lakes, rivers and the sea, is not natural to human beings as it is to certain other mammals. Therefore, some amount of fear is bound to exist. An extreme fear of water is known as auaphobia. Aquaphobia is the fear of all kinds of water, like a swimming pool or even a flooded area due to rains.

But some people are scared of large, open water bodies like the ocean. This fear is called thalassophobia. Aquaphobia and thalassophobia can manifest themselves in humans, around open water like the sea, a lake or the swimming pool or can be triggered by looking at small amounts of water like that in a bathtub or the bathroom sink. These phobias prevent you from enjoying water parks, water sports, swimming, diving or even wading. If you suffer from this or a minor fright, we hope to help you with our 10 tips to conquer your fear of open water.

What Is Fear of Open Water?

man swimming in ocean

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Many people are comfortable in swimming pools but terrified when it comes to entering open water. Even thinking about entering water may cause people with this fear to get anxious and start to sweat. Thalassophobia, or a fear of open water, refers to a dread of the ocean. The name originates from the Greek words, "Thalassa," which means ocean or sea and "phobos" which means fear. People with Thalassophobia are scared of the ocean or sea because they may fear large waves, the distance from land, the vast emptiness or sea creatures.

Aquaphobia/ Thalassophobia vs. Hydrophobia 

Many people confuse aquaphobia (fear of water) or thalassophobia (fear of open water) with hydrophobia (aversion to water). Although these three terms are related to water, they are not the same. Hydrophobia develops in those affected by rabies. An aversion to water may even keep you away from drinking water. This is not valid in the cases of aquaphobia or thalassophobia.


 Thalassophobia is not uncommon in people who participate in water sports or events like the triathlon. Even if they are willing participants, the vast size of the open water body, the thrashing of arms and legs around, the distance to be covered and the murky depths of the water often cause people to have second thoughts about getting into the water.

People suffering from Aquaphobia are not even able to learn to swim and miss out on a lot of fun activities. There have been many sportsmen and athletes who suffered from water phobias early in their lives but went on to participate and win races due to intense training and therapy that helped them conquer their fear of open water.

Causes and Symptoms

man afraid while swimming in open water

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Physical Reactions 

Aquaphobia and Thalassophobia can bring about different reactions in different people, but some symptoms, like rapid beating of the heart, sweating, an uneasy stomach, dizziness, breathing difficulties and nausea, are commonly noticed.

Emotional Reactions 

Emotional responses to the fear of open water refer to instances of weeping, a feeling of numbness, trembling at the sight of the ocean or the lake, imagining painful or accidental death and running away.


There are numerous reasons why these phobias occur in humans. Some studies show that phobias can be genetic. If a family member has had a history of any phobia, you are likely to have one as well. Aquaphobia or Thalassophobia are often products of a traumatic event in early life, such as a near-drowning, accidentally falling into water or being pushed into water by a parent or coach while learning to swim. Such events get stuck in your mind---causing paranoia---and render you incapable of being comfortable in or around water again.

Thalassophobia can be caused by the news and movies that we watch. Reading about sharks, water-related accidents and deaths cause a fear of the ocean. Even watching movies of sinking ships, diving accidents, being stranded on an island or shark attacks can gradually put a fear of open water into your mind. While watching such movies, one may not even realize the impact they have, but violent, painful deaths depicted in movies may cause you to experience a sudden fear of water someday when you are standing by the pool or on the shore.

Treatment Options 

All the symptoms related to Aquaphobia and Thalassophobia are quite debilitating and can greatly hamper one’s social life. The fear can keep you away from beaches, water parks and lakes or not let you participate in activities and events like scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, boating, diving or triathlons. Thus, one needs to get over this fear of open water or water in general so one he or she can water-related activities.

Doctors currently utilize the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose mental health conditions. The DSM-5 identifies a fear of water under the category of phobias. Fear of water can be treated with two forms of psychotherapy:  exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Tips for Conquering This Fear and More

Man swimming in open water

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Exposure therapy is the most commonly used treatment to overcome the fear of open water as it helps you meet your fears head on. If you want to get rid of Thalassophobia, there is no other way but to get into the water gradually and learn to manage your reactions.

 1. Learn to Swim 

A swimming pool is a calm and secure environment for you to train in. It has a visible bottom, walls and rods you can hold on to and is not as deep as the sea. It can prepare you physically, to take on open water. Learn the right technique of breathing as well as the swimming strokes. Once you have learnt to swim, the next step would be to practice open water swimming.

 2. Acknowledge Your Fears 

Knowing and accepting your phobia of water will make it much easier for you to get rid of it. A little fear of water is---in fact---good because it keeps us from fooling around or being overconfident which can lead to accidents.

 3. Acknowledge the Difference in Conditions 

Swimming in open water differs greatly from swimming in a pool. The depth, color of the water, temperature, weather conditions and many other factors are different and can cause you to panic. Accept that the conditions will be different; train in a pool first and then in the sea.

 4. Discover Your Triggers 

Find out what triggers negative reactions in your mind and body before you enter the water. Is it the depth of the water or the lack of a visible bottom, like in a pool? Is it a fear of sea creatures, or is it a fear of the distance to be covered? Is it being alone in the water or even the presence of a crowd? You can plan a strategy once you know what exactly are the reasons behind your fear.

 5. Practice Resting 

Open water does not provide you any resting space, like the shallow end of a swimming pool. Practice rolling onto your back and taking deep breaths or staying afloat in one place if you are tired.

 6.  Train in a Group 

If you are a participant in a sports event, like the triathlon, there are going to be many people thrashing and kicking in the water around you. This can get stressful, but training in a group will help you get used to it.

 7. Train with a Coach 

Learning the right swimming and breathing techniques will help you take on open water. An experienced coach can give you useful tips to improve your technique. He or she could help you lose your phobias during personal training sessions and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Then, work on them accordingly.

 8. Participate in an Event 

This is a great motivating factor to learn to swim and enter open water. Having a target deadline will help you maintain focus and give you less time to mull over your fears.

 9. Learn to Sight 

Sighting is a technique one needs to learn if you want to swim in the sea as there are no lines or markers present (like the ones in a swimming pool) to help you maintain direction.

10. Have a Contingency Plan 

Know what you must do in case you panic. Your coach can provide tips on breathing and resting in open water to calm the body and mind in case you suddenly freeze.


Fear of open water or water is not very difficult to overcome. Once you manage it, you can have a great time wherever you go---be it the beach while on a vacation or at lakes and water parks. It is important to face your fears and accept them as a challenge to overcome. Ignoring your fears will suppress them but not treat them. Training regularly with the right experts can help you get over your phobias, and then, you can actually enjoy the water.

​Featured Image Source: Pixabay

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