FEAR OF DROWNING

Looking at the picture, do you feel stressful?   If you do, you likely have a hint of aquaphobia.  On the other hand, if you see the beauty in the reflective colors or the smoothness in the ripples, or that the ocean is the foundation for the creation of life, then you probably do not have aquaphobia. 

The fear drowning (aquaphobia) is a common fear. It is often referred to as the fear of water (hydrophobia), which, interestingly, is a stage of rabies.

The symptoms of this fear are readily apparent. People with aquaphobia will avoid water as much as possible, even going so far as to favor the shower over a bathtub. But many do not enjoy either.

Note: Some animals instinctively know how to swim.  For humans, this ability must be learned.   However, not being able to swim and the fear of drowning are not the same.

The fear is most often caused by a traumatic event, learned response, or by manipulation.

1. Trauma. Most of the root causes for this fear can be traced to a traumatic incident.  Studies have shown that it only takes one incident to trigger this fear.  The usual scenario is being pushed into a swimming pool or lake.  Most people distinctly remember that event. Therefore, recalling the cause does not relieve the symptoms (as it can with the fear of death).  For this fear, exposure therapy is the first line of treatment. It is discussed in detail in the “Solve It” section of this site.

2. Weightlessness. Some studies have found that the feeling of weightlessness is unnatural and causes anxiety.  People intentionally avoid roller-coaster rides because of that momentary weightless feeling.   

3. Lack of Mobility. Some studies have connected the inability to escape or move though the water as a fear trigger.  A 250 pound linebacker for a professional football team that runs down the field at record speed may feel helpless in a few feet of water. 

4. Suffocation. Not being able to breath is a common fear associated with the fear of drowning.  Waking up gasping for air is frightening. Although it is fairly commonplace, this feeling of suffocation can help contribute to a person’s fear of drowning.  And fear of suffocating is so intrinsic to humans that there is even a well-known torture technique based on it – water-boarding.   

5. Lack of Confidence.  A person who is prone to panic must overcome that condition before venturing into deep water.  Drowning is unforgiving and quick.  Scuba diving instructors are trained to observe people who are prone to panic.  All scuba diving classes require the students to remove their mask and breathing apparatus under water.  Those who panic are quickly rescued and excused from further participation.  Panic is the number one cause of scuba diving deaths.   

6. Influence from Parent.  The fear of drowning may be a learned response from parents.  For example, a parent that is afraid of drowning may pass that fear onto the child.  Children observe far more than what parents believe.  The fear may be imprinted by an overprotective parent not allowing the child to go near bodies of water. 

7. Manipulation. The movie Jaws was one of the most emotionally driven movies of all times.  It provoked a massive number of irrational fears directed around sharks and ocean swimming.  Movie studios intentionally exaggerated every aspect of the movie to produce the maximum emotional trauma.  This is done for profit, not for education purposes. 

8. Personality Trait: The personality trait most likely to possess a fear of drowning would be the A-type. Being in control is a major trait of this personality type.  A few famous people believed to have this fear include: Michael Jordan, Carmen Elektra, Sandra Bullock, Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, and Snoop Dogg.