What Causes Thalassophobia?

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Thalassophobia is a Greek term which means “fear of sea”. It is the fear of deep bodies of water, travelling on water or, fear of sea creatures. On the surface, thalassophobia appears to be a fear of water, but the situation is more complex. This condition does not cause people to be scared of all water in all settings, therefore taking a shower or having a drink on a hot day will not cause anxiety. Rather than having their anxiety triggered by water in all settings, people with thalassophobia are afraid of large, deep bodies of water. For persons with thalassophobia, the ocean is the best example of a fear-inducing water body, but deep lakes, large ponds and, rapid rivers can also be some more examples which cause fear in a person affected with thalassophobia.

When a person is exposed to oceans, deep water bodies, sometimes only watching them on the television can make them anxious(in severe cases), the person starts showing some signs and symptoms and these symptoms can also sometimes can take the face of a panic attack. Being scared of water bodies might bring significant difficulties in your life. If you suffer with this anxiety, you may have to skip out on gatherings with family and friends, you may skip visiting a beach when all of your friends and family members are going for it, or you may find yourself feeling uncomfortable while others enjoy themselves.

So, What Causes Thalassophobia and Where Does It Come From?

Where does thalassophobia come from?


  • Fear of large bodies of water is regarded to be an evolutionary and ancestral character that is passed down from generation to generation​1​.
  • Humans prefer assurance to danger, and they adapt based on their past experiences and particular situations.
  • Fear of deep bodies of water is justified since human ancestors realized that their survival depended on being on territorial land rather than in aquatic environments​1​. This, in turn, evolved into a fundamental fear that was passed down from generation to generation in order to ensure humankind’s survival.
  • Martin Antony, Professor of Psychology at Ryerson University and co-author of The Anti-Anxiety Workbook, states that “From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that humans would develop a tendency to fear and avoid deep water because of all the associated risks”. He continues by commenting on the genetic aspect of fears, saying; “We are essentially ‘programmed’ through evolution to fear some situations (e.g., heights, deep water, snakes) more easily than others (e.g., flowers, teddy bears)”.

Mythological Texts, Media and Movies:

  • The sea is frequently depicted as a place of disaster and punishment in Judeo-Christian belief systems can be one reason people fear the ocean.
  • Texts from literature also give sea or ocean an “evil” personification.​1​
  • Sometimes movies where a shipwreck kills so many people also contribute to the fear for oceans and seas, movies which shows attacks by sharks and other aquatic animals also plays a significant role in this. Jaws, a 1975 blockbuster film, is often viewed as a key motion picture that started the modern thalassophobia movement.
  • The mainstream media also influences public’s emotions. News reports of great white sharks, electric eels, and other deadly sea predators attacking swimmers in the ocean are considered to have a significant impact on viewers.
  • People who are scared of death, especially death by drowning, are more likely to develop thalassophobia. These ancient and modern cultural influences are thought to have contributed to the prevalence of fear of deep bodies of water throughout time.

Past Experience:

  • A strong fear of oceans can also be caused by a terrible or traumatic incident in the past.
  • Thalassophobia is also caused by traumatic experiences of being scared while swimming or nearly drowning.
  • Observing other people with a fear of deep water, particularly parental figures and other influential people in your life, is also thought to be a contributing factor in developing thalassophobia later in life.
  • According to scientists, genetics and biological heredity are also thought to play a part in developing a fear of seas, oceans, and lakes​2​.  Genetic factors include having a family member with thalassophobia, having a negative, sensitive, or anxious mental state, and simply hearing horrific stories about water accidents.

These were some reasons why we think thalassophobia exists.


  1. 1.
    Pascuzzi F, Waters S. The spaces and places of horror. worldcat.org. Published 2020. Accessed 2021. https://www.worldcat.org/title/spaces-and-places-of-horror/oclc/1122452212
  2. 2.
    Hoyt A. Thalassophobia: Do You Fear the Deep Ocean? health.howstuffworks.com. Published August 2020. Accessed 2021. https://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/anxiety/thalassophobia.htm