Before we study Aquaphobia in depth, it is essential to clear the misconception between the terms Hydrophobia and Aquaphobia. Both these conditions are not the same: Hydrophobia is the term used to represent the fear of water developed in later stage of Rabies. Aquaphobia, on the other hand, is a social phobia that is defined as the persistent, unwarranted and irrational fear of water.
Many people have an extreme fear of water. They conjure up images of dying in water, drowning, gasping for breath, or encountering eerie, unseen things such as snakes or sharks in the water. Often, those suffering from Aquaphobia are non swimmers. Some phobics not only fear large water bodies, lakes, ponds or rivers, many even fear running water or water being poured onto their heads.
The fear of drowning is a rational and logical fear experienced by many who cannot swim. Aquahobic individuals, however, experience great deal of anxiety around all kinds of water bodies ranging from large oceans to small bathtubs. Some cannot even look at a photograph of the ocean without experiencing chills. Logically, few are aware that they will not ‘drown’ in a bathtub; but they are unable to control thoughts of death that come up in their minds.
Causes of Aquaphobia
Nearly 19.2 million Americans suffer from different specific phobias of which Aquaphobia is a type.
- The roots of this phobia can be traced to prior traumatic incidents with water, where one might have almost drowned, or was pushed into a water body as a prank, or fallen off a boat or deck. One might even have witnessed a traumatic event such as the drowning or death of a loved one in water.
- The fear of water can sometimes be learned from caregivers or parents: these adults might have given too many cautionary warnings to the child about going into or near the water. A parent who is afraid of water is likely to pass on the fear to the child. Stories, movies, incidents or news reports about drowning etc can also instill a deep sense of fear of water.
- People who are not used to water, such as ones who have grown up in sandy desert areas are more likely to develop Aquaphobia.
In general, people who are very anxious or high-strung all the time are likelier to develop Aquaphobia.
Symptoms of fear of water phobia
People with Aquaphobia tend to display following symptoms:
- They try to avoid water at all costs.
- They might experience anxiety or panic attacks at the thought of facing water.
- Sufferers of Aquaphobia often have poor hygiene as they avoid taking baths for long periods.
- At the sight of water, they start to hyperventilate; have higher blood pressure and heart rate or shallow breathing.
- They might faint or pass out at the sight of water
- Sweating, shaking, crying, trembling and other signs of loss of control are common in Aquaphobic individuals.
The symptoms vary based on the degree and extent of the phobia. Some patients are not even aware of their phobia and their mind unconsciously comes up with creative ways of avoiding water rather than facing embarrassment or experiencing emotional distress.
In many cases of Aquaphobia, individuals do not seek treatment since their daily life is not affected due to it. However, if the fear of water is affecting one’s social and recreational activities then one must find ways to reduce distress and overcome the avoidance of water.
- Exposure therapy is the first line of treatment for treating this phobia. This is of two types: in-vivo or virtual exposure. In either case, the individual is exposed to the fearful environment and learns to ‘unlearn his fear’ of water.
- In combination with exposure therapy, doctors often prescribe certain medications that can help the phobic relearn how to react to fears. SSRIs or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors can reduce panic attacks. Remember that: drugs do not have lasting effects and might have withdrawal symptoms. Hence, care must be taken to avoid long term use.
No two phobics are the same. Hence treatments for overcoming Aquaphobia are also bound to be different. Thankfully, one has many options and plenty of help is available today provided one seeks it.
I am a pretty good swimmer and loved water skiing as a teen. Fast forward to I am in my mid 40’s. I had a severe medical problem involving about 7-8 abdominal surgeries, my colon, to be exact. In recovery, I had to shower at least twice daily and clean my incisions with warm soapy water. These incisions were about 4″x4″ and 4″ deep. It hurt BAD! But I had to do it. This all went on for over a year, 2008 – 2009.
Now, I hate to shower. I have back problems, and I fear falling. But, mostly, it’s the water. I try, but my personal hygiene suffers. I can walk up to the shower, even turn it on and touch it, but I have A LOT of trouble stepping inside. So, I turn the water off most days and walk away. It’s embarrassing, but I’d just rather stay home. How can I be helped?
I’m only scared of lakes, oceans, and rivers. Not regular drinking water.
I have intense galeophobia (fear of sharks), so going in water stresses me out because sometimes, I hallucinate shadows below me when I’m swimming that are shaped like sharks. Sometimes when I see waves, I imagine the shadow of a shark in the wave for a second. My fear of sharks has made me terrified of water. I’m not very scared of pools, and occasionally I can take baths, as long as there are bubbles and music to distract me. I know the fear of sharks isn’t the same as the fear of water, but my fear of sharks made me think that something would pull me under the water before I could react and drown. So I’m terrified of drowning in water because of my fear of sharks and also especially after an incident when I was eight and nearly drowned in a swimming pool. For more background on that story: my brother left me unsupervised in the swimming pool, and I couldn’t swim very well at that age, so I accidentally went to the deep end and started drowning for a minute until he came back to check on me and rescued me.
I have been pushed under water as a “prank”. I cried and I don’t like water. When I was little I would go to the bottom of the pool and lay on my back looking up as it feels like I am drowning. If I tell my dad he’s just gonna say you’re fine.
Same as me. My little brother shoved me in the water and sat on me until dad pulled him off.
I also almost drowned in a lake.
Markus Kobi says
I’ve been a good swimmer since I was a kid, and spent lots of time taking lessons at the Y. I still love to swim, but I have an intense fear of specific situations regarding water. I had my first real panic attack when I was in sixth grade, at Disney World on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. I thought I was dying of a heart attack, and I was too afraid to even tell anyone I was with. I’m terrified of man made bodies of water, excessively large pools, simulated ‘wave’ pools, or lagoon type pools where you can’t see the bottom. I won’t even swim in a lighted pool at night or if a pool is indoors with under water lights on. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than actually working on a set where the action is being filmed in a giant body of water, especially in the dark…such as the sinking of the ship in Titanic. I also experience extreme anxiety, vertigo, and dizziness at any aquarium with a large observation tank, feel sick to my stomach at just the thought of any water based show such as a SeaWorld performance, or even the Cirque Du Soleil ‘O’ Show at The Bellagio in LV, and have had serious panic attacks at water parks…even in the daytime. Just the thought of forensic diving can give me an all consuming jolt of fear. I have no idea how I developed this intricate phobia, and I admit- I have a very hard time explaining it…but it seems to get worse as I get older. 😒
Peter Hendriks says
I have been doing an extensive amount of coaching recently, with people who have told me they are “Water Phobics”.
As you mention in your article, the majority of these people have had a “near death experience” at some stage in their lives.
My previous work life involved me training and developing managers and coupled with my current work as a swim technique specialist has proven to be a great formula for being able to help phobics develop a healthy relationship with the water and turned them into swimmers.
The key, I have found is knowledge. When people understand that they are not alone, and that they are not some kind of misfit and that the water does not discriminate and will support every human equally if they allow it to and are willing to learn and practice.
Unfortunately most counsellors helping these people have no idea about swimming and most Swim Coaches usually run swim squads or teach children from a young age. They are not experienced in working with Adults and /or phobics.
Is there some sort of distinction between this and a fear specifically of drowning?
I never learned how to swim. Even from a young age, my parents didn’t really swim much at all so they never had the time to teach me. I’m so scared of the water! I’m twelve now and we just moved to Washington state. More lakes and oceans than there ever was in Colorado. My dad tried to teach me to swim a year ago, but I had a panic attack and started crying. I need help!
Today is my 75th birthday. My Mother became afraid of water starting around 65. Could her state of mind be passed on to me at this older age? I have not showered or bathed in over 1 month. I’m OK on Lakes or large bodies of water but, I don’t want to shower or bath.
Can Paranoid Schizophrenia be passed on from Mother to Child?
Rahul Radhakrishnan says
Yes, paranoid schizophrenia in some cases is hereditary. The Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash had paranoid schizophrenia, and his son also is reported to have it.
Do consult a psychiatrist for further help.
I know this probably isn’t the right one to leave this comment but my biological father had tried drowning me at three months old in our bathroom tub and then at six months old took me to a public pool and again at a year old and tried drowning me and my sister was there at the pool with us at a year old and cold clocked our biological father because I had a tract and that goes straight to the airway and lungs but it never kept me from swimming in pounds but if I hear this one specific bird I get really bad anxiety and start sweating really bad but ever since that happened I never took showers alone until I was to old to bathe with my sister or mom I was forced to by myself bathe but since I got with my husband I always ask him to take a shower with me or at least be in the bathroom with me how do I tell him about my anxiety of being in the shower alone and get him to see where I’m coming from.
Hypnosis will help.
Eddie Goodwin says
I’m afraid of dams canals and waterfalls especially man-made.. does anyone know if the specific fear has a name?
Markus Kobi says
I have a huge fear of man made bodies of water also.
I’m a teenager, my friends all love swimming. And they all have tried several times to teach me how to float, every time they have failed. I love going underwater, I think it’s cool. But it’s just floating and deep water I have problems with. After reading this article, I feel much better knowing that there’s a name for the problem I have.
I’m only scared of cold water – excluding small amounts of it, such as from the sink. Does that still count for this phobia?
I already knew I was afraid of water. Like when I was a kid, I really didnt like to swim at pools and dip my head below then I took up swimming lessons and that stage was gone. But I am still afraid to try on swimming on waters with 4 feet and above where I am away from the floor so now that Im a teen, I am struggling to swim in P.E. class and I was really embarassed because I cant even float! Im really afraid but at the same time I want to learn to swim but I know I cant because I cant remove my fear inside of me! Please help me, is there anyway I can remove this fear? Or should I just give up.
Scott Carter says
I was a Red Cross WSI instructor and lifeguard. Suggest Taking beginning swimming lessons for teens or adults, you are not alone, most teen or adult non-swimmers have your feelings.
But make a commitment to take All the Classes, don’t take one and drop out, you’ll have wasted your money. By the time you get a few classes done, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable and be successful and impress your family and friends and your self.
Floating is about relaxing and holding your breath. You will sink up to your face many times and that is normal. If the water comes over your face you will float up again just by keeping your breath, head back, chest up and Relax. I can literally float all day long. When you hold your breath, let it out quickly and breathe in quickly again. You may sink a little but you will be buoyant again too. An instructor or paired off buddies can lightly place hand on your back when it is titled to give you confidence in the beginning.
I did not, you should not give up.
Does anyone have panic attacks when you are alone in water?
i do, but then again my fear is so bad i cant do dishes without getting anxiety or having a panic attack.
Don’t be embarrassed, when I fell in a pool by my cousin I almost drowned because when he pushed me he kept dunking me till I drowned. Ever since that I never go in water unless it’s a shower, even though it gets worse.
My question is, has this affected anyone else’s hygiene like mine? I have been aquaphobic for well over 40 years. People in my life don’t understand my daily difficulty with showering. And medicines never dented my fear of getting wet.
Yes I only take a shower at least once a week and as soon as I turn off the water I get out.
I have had many near death experiences as a young child and now I’m 15 and I’m still scared of water like not bath tubs but oceans, lakes, and rivers , even deep creeks I was never the swimmer and today I fell into deep water and had a total panic attack I was lucky my body didn’t go into shock from so much fear and anxiety that rushed through me but I don’t know what to do because this is dangerous because without my friends there I would have most likely drowned but I don’t want to hold them back from swimming and enjoying themselves what do I do?
That sounds like the exact thing which can reinforce your fear.
I’m a 44 year old man and I’ve had several experiences in swimming pools in which I almost drowned. As a young boy, I only passed my 10 meters swimming, which is the width of most pools in the UK (length is 25 meters).
Despite passing my 10 meters, I consider myself a non swimmer purely because I am not confident in water due to my fear.
Strangely enough, I recognize how irrational my fear is, but in my mind, large bodies of water look ominous. When you consider that 1 square meter of water weighs a ton, it is easy to see how someone can be overwhelmed, especially if the water is moving.
The footage of both the Boxing Day, and Japan tsunami’s did not help my fear neither. I’ve seen some horrific footage particularly in the Japan Tsunami 2011, which look like something from a Hollywood disaster movie.
I’m trying to conquer my fear by learning to swim in a pool with a constant depth of 4 ft. That is helping, although I won’t swim in that pool alone.
My daughter was aqua phobic when she was just a small baby. Did not want to go from a washcloth bath to a small tub. Still has fear she has to conquer every time she swims.
I nearly drowned when I was a young girl in the Ocean.
Would love to overcome this fear.
I am getting up there in age but would love to overcome this.
Same i almost drowned when i was 4 and now i wont go into the ocean or swim in my pool by myself.
My mom has Aquaphobia and didn’t pass it down to me. I love swimming.
I am 2nd to fish while my spouse has aquaphobia. Specialy in open see and having to jump from anything higher than waterlevel to the water. She thinks its better we seek help because for me it is really difficult to understand.
Mine developed overtime after my cousins that’d make fun of me for my inability to swim. Now being near a swimming pool give me anxiety because I feel like I’ll be rejected.
I’m scared of deep waters. Who knows what creepy things live beneath the oceans, seas, lakes, waterfalls, etc. That’s it. I’m outta here.
I really need help after reading this.
It’s just me, I need help :(
Oh my god, I seriously thought this was just me.
Yeah me too. I thought this was just me