There are as many phobias as there are objects or situations in the world . There are phobias that are more common than others, and some that are really strange. In this article we bring you cymphobia, which consists of an intense and irrational fear of the waves of the sea.

Water phobia is quite common, because although it is an element that can be harmless, it can also cause damage or harm (accidents, drowning, etc.). In this article we tell you what cymphobia is and what its symptoms, causes and treatments are.

Cymphobia: the irrational fear of waves

Cymphobia is a specific phobia, that is, an anxiety disorder. It is characterized by an intense, disproportionate and irrational fear of sea waves and wave movements.

Cymphobia is related to other similar types of phobias, such as aquaphobia (fear of water), bataphobia (fear of the deep), thalassophobia (fear of large bodies of water), and ablutophobia (intense fear of water in daily hygiene).

While water phobia is a fairly common phobia (especially in childhood), wave phobia is less common. You could say that cymophobia is a variant of the phobia of water .

This fear of sea waves can be explained by the fear, even more internal, of being devoured by one of them (for example surfing, or in “normal” situations of bathing in the sea).

Fear of water

As we said, water phobia is a fairly common phobia, especially among children. In fact, it is not so “strange” to suffer from water phobia, as it is a stimulus that can be threatening, or can cause damage (think of drowning, for example).

In addition, it is very common to hear in the news about people drowning on beaches and in swimming pools (especially young children).

In the case of cymophobia, fear occurs in water as an environmental element (that is, sea water, for example). Specifically, fear occurs in front of the waves of the sea. It is curious because water is an element that can awaken both fascination, curiosity and admiration, as well as fear.


The symptoms of cymphobia are the same as those of a specific phobia. Those we propose are found in the DSM-5 (in the diagnostic criteria of a specific phobia). Let’s look at them in detail.

1. Intense fear of waves

The main symptom is a intense fear, anxiety or dread of seeing or “touching” waves . The waves and their undulating movements awaken this fear, which also translates into physical symptoms (tachycardia, sweating, tension, dizziness, nausea, hyperactivity, etc.). and psychological symptoms (irrational ideas associated with the waves).


In order to diagnose a cymphobia as such, this fear associated with the phobia must interfere with the individual’s life. In other words, the person’s day-to-day life is affected by this fear. This translates, for example, into stopping making plans that involve seeing waves from the sea (avoidance) .

3. Avoidance

Thus, in cymophobia the person avoids the stimulus that triggers his anxiety: the waves . This implies that they stop going to the beach even though they may want to, and that if they have to expose themselves to the stimulus, they resist it with high anxiety.

4. Duration of 6 months

In order to be diagnosed with cymphobia, as with all specific phobias, the duration of the symptoms must last at least 6 months .


The causes of cymphobia can be diverse. Let’s look at the most frequent ones below.

1. Traumatic experiences with waves

One of the most likely causes of cytophobia is the fact that has experienced a traumatic situation with the waves , such as: getting hurt by a wave (surfing, for example), drowning in a wave, almost dying, etc.

2. Vicar conditioning

Vocational conditioning involves seeing other people receive certain consequences (usually negative) as a result of their actions. In the case of cymphobia, we could think of a lifeguard who sees people who are about to die from drowning in the waves every day, or who simply get hurt by one of them.

Obviously, it is not necessary to be a lifeguard to “learn” this phobia through vicarious conditioning ; people who simply see other people hurting themselves can also develop cytophobia.

This includes seeing news of people dying by drowning (even without waves); in the end it is fears related to water (especially seawater), and one ends up fearing the sea itself, or water itself, and as an extension, waves.

3. Personal vulnerability

Vulnerability to certain mental disorders has been extensively studied. This has also been done with anxiety disorders, finding that there are people who show a certain individual vulnerability to suffer from an anxiety disorder ; this can be extrapolated to specific phobias, in this case cytophobia.

Thus, there are people who, because of their personal, genetic, endocrine, etc. characteristics, are more likely to develop a disorder of this type. If we also have first-degree relatives with cytophobia, it could be that our probability of suffering from it is also increased (although a priori there are no studies that determine this).


What treatment(s) exist for this phobia? As in all specific phobias, in psychotherapy we can talk about two main (and first choice) treatments.

1. Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy allows the patient to adjust his catastrophic thoughts to reality. These thoughts in cytophobia are usually of the type: “I will hurt myself”, “this wave will make me drown”, “the sea is not a safe place”, etc.

With cognitive therapy (through cognitive restructuring techniques) it is possible to work with this type of thoughts, so that the patient has more adaptive, realistic and reliable thoughts. Although water can cause tragedy, the patient must understand that this is not always the case.

Through cognitive therapy (along with behavioral therapy), the patient is also encouraged to acquire coping strategies to deal with the high anxiety situations caused by the waves. This is also done through the following treatment (exposure techniques)

2. Exposure

In exposure therapy, the patient with cytophobia is gradually exposed to the feared stimulus, i.e., the waves (through a hierarchy of items ordered from least to most anxiety they generate).

The first items may involve seeing the sea water from afar, and progressively include and address items that involve more interaction with the feared stimulus.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association (APA) (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.

  • Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Vol. 1 and 2. Madrid. Siglo XXI (Chapters 1-8, 16-18).

  • Pérez, M., Fernández, J.R, Fernández, C. and Amigo, I. (2010). Guide to effective psychological treatments I and II:. Madrid: Pirámide.