Everyone has certain things they fear in life. For example, you might not be the biggest fan of heights, or snakes might creep you out, or you just might have a weird vibe from your co-worker that you can't quite figure out but just makes you down-right uncomfortable. (Yeah, we mean you, Terry. You scare us with the strange noises you make when you eat and how you always leave the office with, "Smell ya later!" You weird.)
But those might not necessarily be phobias, no matter how nervous they make you feel. Actually having a full-blown phobia takes things a little farther.
Phobias are classified as producing an irrational fear of something. When confronted with your phobia, you may experience panic attacks or a deep sense of dread or anxiety. They may even be so bad that they are debilitating and can seriously affect the quality of your life. Yes, they are that real.
There are several phobias that most everyone is aware of, and that many of us even have. For example, arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, is incredibly common. In fact, 55 percent of women and 18 percent of men in western societies have some degree of arachnophobia. Honestly, how could you not? As helpful to the environment as they are, this is how we all basically feel when we see a spider anywhere remotely near us.
Claustrophobia, or the fear of small, enclosed spaces is another common example, but we're pretty sure Ron didn't suffer from that. (But we wouldn't be surprised if he did, either.)
There are also a lot of rare, bizarre phobias out there that you’ve probably never even heard of! For example, “arachibutyrophobia” is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.
Yes, it's an actual thing. And there's “acousticophobia” which is the fear of noise, as another example.
That one's gotta be rough. How would you live in a city? Or anywhere for that matter?
It almost seems like there is a phobia for everything. And no shame, they are legit if any of them are causing discomfort. It's gotta be hard living with a phobia, especially the obscure ones. Seriously,if you fear the color purple (porphyrophobia) then how can you ever enjoy the music of this man?
So what causes phobias? Where do they even come from?
Phobias can be caused by childhood trauma, or can even be genetic in some cases. For example, children who have a family member with an anxiety disorder are much more likely to develop some type of phobia later on. Many people have even developed phobias after suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
But let’s get into the meat of the matter and what we are really here to talk about:
Chances are, you’ve probably been to the beach before and gone swimming out to where your feet don’t touch the bottom.
It can feel great on a hot day, right? Cool, comforting, relaxing; you are becoming one with the ocean. But then, you start to develop a looming sense that something isn’t quite right. You’re out in the middle of a large body of water and you’re feeling pretty helpless.
And wait, did something just brush by your leg? You don’t even want to think about what it might’ve been. But what it most likely is, is this...
This specific phenomenon known as thalassophobia is the fear of the creepy vastness of large, open bodies of water and what may be lurking in them.
If you’ve experienced this feeling before then it’s possible you’ve been living with thalassophobia and didn’t even know it!
You might be thinking, " Um, yeah. I am deathly afraid of all types of water and have known that for years. Thanks for nothing!" Hold on, pump your breaks. That's not thalassophobia.
Thalassophobia, however, is different from “aquaphobia” which is simply the fear of water itself. People with aquaphobia may avoid taking baths, and may have even experienced a traumatizing near-drowning incident in childhood. (Yeah, that sounds much worse.)
So what are the exact symptoms of thalassophobia?
Those who have severe thalassophobia may have symptoms including shaking, sweating or vomiting, although most will probably just feel very anxious. (Vomiting at the beach? That is the worst.)
Of course, everyone experiences phobias a little differently. We're not clones, after all, and even if we have the same phobia we probably have it to different degrees. Severe or mild, though, it's still a legit horrible feeling. You want to enjoy the ocean, not freak out from it, right?
You feel totally vulnerable to the whims of the sea (or whichever body of water you’re in) and anything that might be lurking below the surface. It’s a pretty creepy thought, but sometimes it’s good to recognize that a phobia like this isn’t really rational!
In other words, it’s quite unlikely that a giant sea monster is actually going to swim up and drag you down into the depths. It's just something your brain is fixating on and giving you anxiety. Sure it feels real...but that doesn't mean you are in any danger.
It's actually a phobia that may be a little more known than you think. There’s even a subreddit (because of course there is) called /r/thalassophobia.
But fair warning, the subreddit mostly photos and gifs of ocean life and the deep sea, so if you suffer from severe thalassophobia, probably don’t venture over there! That's just common sense, right? Unless you are a glutton for punishment. Then you do you. No shame here.
Here’s further proof that thalassophobia is pretty irrational: between 1958 and 2014, there were only 35 fatal shark attacks in American waters. That's pretty slim, unless of course you were one of the attacked, then our thoughts of course are with you.
It’s likely that movies like Jaws contributed to many people’s fears of the open ocean. Come on, that movie's been around for over 40 years and it still freaks people out!
But even though we collectively understand that it's just a movie, it still probably doesn’t make the fear any less real though! (Honestly, if you want to see a real scary movie, treat yourself to Jaws 3D. That movie is terrifying...terrifyingly terrible.)
However, Marc Carlin, a hypnotist who helps people overcome their phobias, believes that thalassophobia might actually serve a biological purpose:
“In context [a fear of the sea] is not irrational. It’s primal,” he says. “We all have this fear of darkness because we can’t see and we rely on our vision to protect us. If you shut your eyes and you can’t see, now you have to rely on sense that you don’t normally rely on.” So don't feel too bad if you suffer from thalassophobia. It's just your mind's way of protecting you.
But can you actually unlearn a phobia? Is that even a thing?
Luckily, having a phobia doesn’t mean that you have to suffer with it indefinitely. There are various treatment options, and according to Carlin, those with the most severe phobias may actually be easier to treat, as a true phobic response can be unlearned very quickly.
Carlin says that overcoming thalassophobia can be achieved by figuring out exactly which life experiences triggered the phobia in the first place, and eventually having the patient face it with increasing confidence. The therapist does this until the fear is no longer such a roadblock in the patient’s life.
So if you feel you suffer from this phobia, or any phobia for that matter, don't try to go it alone or white knuckle it. Seek out professional help.
And whether you suffer from thalassophobia or not, the ocean can still feel vast and intimidating. As beautiful as it it is, the ocean can make you feel small, and feeling small can be scary. Even so, try to experience the ocean as often as you can, as it really is everything. And if you can't, don't sweat it. We got you...