Bathophobia means the fear of depths. It is fear or anxiety associated with the sea or water bodies of various types, though; many Bathophobic individuals are also known to fear tunnels, mountain valleys or caves.
The word Bathophobia originates from Greek word bathios which means “deep or depth” and phobos meaning “aversion, dread or fear”. People living with this phobia try to avoid lakes, swimming pools, seas, hallways, wells, mountain valleys, tunnels or all other things that have depth associated with them. When they do encounter these, they tend to experience apprehension or have a full blown panic attack. They often realize that their fear is irrational however they are unable to overcome it. In some extreme cases, their fear may even interfere with their daily lives.
What are the causes of Bathophobia?
Like many specific phobias, the causes of Bathophobia are often unknown; however, most experts believe that they stem from negative or traumatic events in the individual’s early life. Thus, having witnessed a loved one drown, or even watching an older adult/caregiver/parent show a fear of depths can trigger Bathophobia. One Bathophobe recalls having been asked by his teacher to plunge his hand inside a 5 gallon jar for removing dead creatures that their class was studying in Biology. He recalls experiencing a “shiver and feeling of great apprehension” at the thought of encountering “the unexpected”. This incident led him to fear depths of all kinds even into his adulthood.
Anxiety and phobias related to deep water bodies such as seas, rivers etc can be precipitated by number of stressors and are often evolutionary. The ocean has, right since times unknown, embodied extreme fears of mankind. These include falling headlong into an abyss, being attacked by dangerous sea predators, fearing overhead environments etc.
Media, TV and movies, news reports of accidents related to depths can also instill such fear in high strung or anxious individuals.
Many medical conditions are also known stressors that lead to anxiety and phobias: diabetes, menopause, PMS, certain cardiac conditions, thyroid or parathyroid related illnesses combined with daily environmental stress can be deadly combinations that could trigger the fear of depths.
Symptoms of fear of depths
The symptoms of fear of depths phobia vary from person to person and situation to situation. Like in all other specific phobias, the symptoms of Bathophobia include:
- Feeling nauseated
- Experiencing hot and cold flashes
- Shivering, trembling, trying to flee from the place
- Hysterical response like crying, screaming
- Feeling dizzy, having an elevated heart rate, breathing in rapid and deep manner
- Feeling total loss of control, feeling ‘unreal’.
- Having thoughts of death or dying.
- Feeling trapped or unable to escape
- Avoidance behavior: avoiding the beach and other water bodies or excursions that involve valleys and mountains or traveling through tunnels, etc.
Whatever its symptoms; Bathophobia can cause great emotional turmoil that might interfere with one’s ability to function normally and might completely disrupt the phobic’s day to day life.
Overcoming the fear and anxiety associated with depths
Psychological techniques to overcome Bathophobia
Many people wish to scuba dive. They might have seen pictures and videos of people diving and having a good time. However, their fear of depths prevents them from enjoying activities related to the sea. The use of medications in such individuals has shown favorable results in overcoming stress and anxiety associated with diving. Some examples of medicines are imipramine (Tofranil), propranalol (Inderal) or alprazolam (Xanax). However, doctors often hesitate to prescribe these as they are known to cause extreme drowsiness that can impair a diver’s ability to focus and concentrate.
Non-pharmalogical techniques are the best bet to overcome fear of depths phobia. To name a few: Hypnosis, systematic desensitization, CBT or cognitive behavior therapy, Implosion therapies etc have all been known to successfully help people overcome Bathophobia.
A series of mental exercises such as imagining oneself approaching a valley or deep water body, or stepping into the water body or wearing the scuba diving/paragliding equipment and actually diving are known methods of overcoming one’s anxiety response. Some other methods include in-vivo exercises such as actually standing in waist deep water or walking in the pool etc.
These are a few proven methods of overcoming Bathophobia once and for all.
My anxiety with deep water is more related to swimming pools. The local pool that I frequented when I was young had black lines on the bottom that marked the swimming lanes when roped off. I was certain if I stepped on those lines that I would fall into an abyss. The shallow end sloped to a depth of 16-feet. Large black circles on the wall in the deep end (likely lights and filters) were more frightening than the black lines. Though I could never scuba dive, I enjoyed snorkeling in a beautiful cove in Hawaii with no fear. I’m a Pisces, a water sign, which may be my saving grace. Being near the ocean or a beautiful lake is calming for me but the idea of being stuck in a large body of water (even on a cruise ship) is disconcerting.
Oh my gosh! I used to swim in the pool and in the ocean and the middle of the lake all the time as a kid. Somewhere around high school I developed a fear for being in water that’s more than waist deep. I’m not sure where this fear came from, but I can’t even lie down in a bathtub without getting anxiety about most of my body being under the water, even though I can see in the bath water clearly. I can swim perfectly fine, I just can’t be fully submerged in water, especially not a dark body of water like the lake, river, or ocean. So weird that I’m afraid of doing the things I grew up doing as a child. I can’t even leave the shallow end of a pool without panicking.
I’m scared of the deep end because I’m afraid that I might drown. I’m also scared of stairs after falling down them twice!
It’s not the drowning I’m too afraid of (weird because I should be afraid of drowning), it’s the water! I hate water deeper than thigh/waist deep.
Crystal Baker says
I’ve never had a problem swimming in a pool, or exploring caves. My panic comes from swimming in open water. If I can’t touch the bottom with my head above the water, I won’t go in any further. I think it’s because I can’t see the bottom or feel the bottom. I used to cliff dive when I was a kid, then I read this ghost story about a little girl swimming in a pond and getting caught in the grass and drowning. After that, I could never swim anywhere I couldn’t see the bottom.
Me and you dude
I’m a really good swimmer and I love swimming in the sea, pools, etc but I have had a fear of deep water for as long as I can remember always occurring when I cannot see the (usually) seabed, when I can’t see the floor in bodies of water I panic and imagine something I cannot see coming from the dark and hurting me I know it seems silly but I have panic attacks and feel all the symptoms on the page above apart from 6 and 2, so glad i’m not the only one.
I swim well, but when I cannot touch the bottom of the pool or ocean to stay above water I start to panic and it feels like I’m going to drown. Only when I wear a life jacket do I feel secure.
My phobia is a little weird. I’m fine in the ocean or lake until about waist deep, then I freak out. I can’t get on a boat or swim out too far. If the water is clear, like in a pool I’m fine, but even in a pool at night if I can’t see the bottom I can’t get in. So I don’t avoid beaches like it says, but I can only go out so far.
My sister and I both have a mild fear of deep water; we’re happy to swim in a pool, but dislike the ocean, although we can tolerate shallow water socially- if we must! We’ve never had bad experiences with water personally, just… ew.
Interestingly our dad has a similar fear and hates boats because of the water void beneath them, only using them if there’s no alternative option. Recently found out that 2/3 dad’s siblings also hold similar fears regarding sea/depth etc.
I am interested to know if anyone else experiences this sort of epigenetic inheritance fear? It’s been proven possible in mice and worms, but how common is it? Does anyone else have similar experiences?
Well this makes perfect sense. Not sure where it stems from but I have my assumptions. I used to go boating all the time as a child on our local lake. We would water ski, knee board, intertube – which were all fun. But I would have a full blown panic attack every time I hit the water and start swimming because I was so afraid of the deepness and what could be in there. I would shake and shake my legs violently until I calmed down. My parents had were oblivious and just thought I was obnoxious. I still have a problem with any depth to this day and also caves and mountain valleys!
I too am suffering from this thing. Whenever I go boating with my family, I realize that I start feeling shivery and think that why i’m here and what I fell into this deep sea then what will happen? What if I drowned? What’s at the bottom of this sea? Having these so real death thoughts in my mind makes my throat choke and increase my heart beat and I just think about how can I escape from here.
Ok so I don’t have a fear of depths but I have multiple ponds in my fields and I can’t see the bottom, I don’t like swimming in areas where I can’t see the bottom. But I was in my pool recently (which isn’t deep at all it’s to my waist) and I was with my sister and she had this idea to pull me by my ankles. And it is a HUGE fear of mine to be dragged by my ankles anywhere especially in water. Results of her pulling me: my feet stayed up, my head went under. I almost drowned.
Maia M. says
I’m not afraid of drowning but more afraid of the appearance of depth such as a wide pool fourteen feet deep scares me but it isn’t a fear of drowning in it it’s just seeing it being so BIG. I also have a fear of large things underwater like shipwrecks. When I was little I was afraid of the lines at the bottom. (For lanes)
Omgosh! I have expressed my fear of large things underwater and people act like that’s the strangest thing! Glad to know it’s not just me!
Manuel S'o Bryan says
Omg me too, especially remains of gigantic statues
I always feel like they’d come to life
Me too ?. .
Ian Objio says
I honestly thought that I was the only one who thought those lines were the freakiest things ever. I remember the time I was in swimming classes, I looked at the deep end (12ft) and thought how unsettling the dark water was and how far down the bottom seemed. Combine that with the lines and you’ve got yourself a small slice of hell.
Oh my gosh! I thought I was the only one!
Those lines give me goose bumps. I have such an irrational reaction to even google imaging “Deep diving pools” just to test myself? The thought of being along in the deep end of a clear blue water pool and those creepy lines beneath me is – MY WORST NIGHTMARE.
Even swimming in my family lagoon style pool alone one night, whilst my family were only inches away eating dinner, I found myself in the deep end hovering only half a meter from the bottom, letting my imagination run away with me ( imagining the bottom of the pool falling away to reveal a deep dark chasm of death ) got me into such a tizz I had to exit in what would only be described as a shark attack style splashing with all the dramatics of a major motion film.
The odd thing is i love the ocean, love going to the beach and swimming.
How do you manage or overcome your phobias of the lines on the bottom of the pool? My son is 4 and, although he loves water, is a great swimmer and loves swimming, he is absolutely terrified of the lines on the bottom. This is making the transition to lessons in the big pool really stressful and I have no idea how to help him. It’s horrible to watch. He just panics and shakes. Any advice would be really gratefully received.
You better practice meditation and one more thing boost your belief about yourself like i can do that! I can take that into my control. These things will make you to come out of your problem. The best way to escape from the problem is to face the problem but with preparation.
I am a bathophobe myself and there wasn’t anything traumatic that happened to me that caused it. The earliest I can remember the bathophobia first showing up was when I was playing this one weird Dreamcast game called Ecco the Dolphin. You play as a dolphin of course and you have to swim around and then save the world somehow. Anyway, there was one particular section that to this day just freaks me out. You had to swim into this one cave part and the water was REALLY dark. And I couldn’t do it. I just froze up and started hyperventilating. I don’t understand why this happened but it just did. This would always happen whenever I would see deep dark underwater scenes in movies, TV, video games, etc. Whenever I play a video game that has deep underwater parts I have to get a friend to do it for me because I can’t do it. It’s just…kinda weird. I never figured out why I developed bathophobia.
Not Telling My Name! says
If you can remember it, what was the Level name?
I get nervous just zooming into the ocean on Google Earth. Especially near the Mariana Trench. I have never before been afraid to do that. Now I can’t even bare the thought of it.
Omg I thought that was just me 😱
Johnathan Ochonueve (@JDogindy) says
Yes! Ocean trenches, in particular, scare the daylights out of me! I hate to look at topographic maps because of it. I even had to not look at an episode of Extreme Earth because it was about the Marianas Trench.
It even affects my showering habits; I know I can’t drown in the shower_, but thinking about the Hadal zone & how there’s a massive trench just miles away from Florida (the Puerto Rico Trench) gives me the willies.
Irene Elsa says
I’m afraid of jumping or swimming towards the deep end of a swimming pool even though I know swimming. When my swim instructor calls me to jump or swim towards the deep end of my pool, tears come out of my eyes, I start shivering, I get thoughts of drowning etc. Please help me.
Maia M. says
I know what you mean. One thing I hate is being forced by someone to do it. Try not wearing goggles, that’s what I do. That way you can’t see how deep it is.
Okay, I am not alone then. I am a really good swimmer. I have swam in pools, infinity pools, lakes and ocean. However, I need some adjustment period to overcome my initial fear of depths and undercurrents. Even the deep end of the pool that I have been swimming in since childhood scares me at first. Recently, I had gone out of town for summer vacation and returned to the same Gym pool. They had made some changes. I was doubting that they must have increased the depth near the deep end. Same thing happens in open water, When my feet leave the bottom, I panic for the first 30 seconds and splash around like a fool and then relax and swim or tread water.
All I need is some mental preparation so that I can tread deep water before panic sets in. I thought it would go away as I become a more advanced swimmer but no. However, after the initial panic is overcome, I swim and dive confidently.
I get in the water at the shallow end and do some bobbing exercises and sculling exercises, If I feel the water for sometime, I seem to overcome that initial fear.
More than the depth of large bodies of water , I am afraid of the hidden undercurrents. Flowing Rivers and Rip currents scare me to death. However a large but calm pool does not scare me after I feel the water for a while.
Our body needs to make the transition from walking as the main form of mobility to other forms like floating, drifting and gliding while keeping the head about water for breathing. Some people can do that instantaneously. Some of us need more time. As a kid I would just jump in the deep end and swim like a mermaid. This new fear came since my teen years. I think as we become more aware of the vastness and dangers of water and our own limitations, we acquire new fears.