Despite the fact that the human being is an animal species adapted to life on earth, the seas and oceans are very present in our lives .

The simple fact that most of the surface of our planet is covered by sea water means that we must adapt to the presence of these large liquid surfaces, large masses that can serve us to navigate and find natural resources there, but which 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: thalassophobia .

What is thalassophobia?

The concept of thalassophobia refers to a specific type of phobia in which that which produces extreme fear is the ocean or the sea . This means that a person who experiences this mental alteration will feel terror and great anxiety from the simple exposure to this environment, sometimes even if he or she is not really close and is simply watching a video in which this immense mass of water appears.

As it is a phobia, that level of discomfort must be clinically significant (meaning that there is a clear and evident deterioration of his quality of life that prevents him from doing many things and often leads him to suffer) and it appears in contexts where the ocean or sea does not pose a reasonable or objective danger.

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


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

In summary, the main symptoms of thalassophobia can be said to be the following: tachycardia, sweating, tremors, catastrophic thoughts, stress crises , loss of control over one’s movements, and a great feeling of danger.

At the neurobiological level, this unjustified state of alert implies the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the person to react to the slightest stimulus and predisposes the behavioural reaction to escape.

On a behavioural 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 in order to prevent the appearance of these anxiety attacks when faced with the real or fictitious presence of the ocean.


As with all other phobias, there is no clear cause for thalassophobia, but rather a multiplicity of factors that can result in its occurrence.

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

For example, having nearly died from drowning, or having lost someone loved in this way, can predispose you to experiencing this anxiety disorder.
In addition, the biological aspect must be taken into account, and more specifically the genetic predispositions to react with large amounts of anxiety to situations in which it is felt that there is or will be a loss of control. In phobias, one of the most common mechanisms of stress 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.

Differences with other similar anxiety disorders

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

Thalassophobia occurs when faced with the real or imaginary presence of seas and oceans, that is, masses of water that normally extend to the horizon, and that we can feel very close to, even though we are miles away from their shore . The fear is of these bodies of water themselves, regardless of their depth.

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

In bathophobia what generates terror is the notion of depth . That is, the sensation that there is a mass of matter 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 pool of balls.


Fortunately, thalassophobia has a good prognosis in most cases, since specific phobias respond very well to psychological treatment . After several sessions and some activities to be performed autonomously, most cases in which this type of anxiety disorder occurs give way to a relatively rapid improvement, to the point where the level of anxiety caused by the phobic stimulus is no longer clinically significant.

One of the techniques that psychologists most use to treat thalassophobia is exposure , which consists of exposing the subject to that which frightens him/her 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.

It is possible to work using real landscapes with sea or ocean, or simulations experienced through virtual reality glasses, although at first it is also common to use only the imagination.

Bibliographic references:

  • Robert Jean Campbell (2009). Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary. 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.