Around 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, from the vast oceans, to the small streams. There’s even water vapor in the air, all around us. So, how does one deal with a phobia, or extreme fear of water?
Aquaphobia – not to be mistaken with Hydrophobia, the term long used to describe the later stages of rabies – is one of the more common specific phobias, affecting an estimated 1 in 50 people. Indeed, many people are wary in the water, especially non-swimmers. Some people may begin to gasp for breath when they’re out of their depth.
In the case of Aquaphobia however, the fear runs far deeper. Just the mere sight of water can set off a panic attack in some individuals. More extreme sufferers may not even be comfortable with water splashing on them, or bath/shower water. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome the fear of water forever.
CAUSES OF AQUAPHOBIA
A fear of water is quite normal, and most people are wary until they learn how to swim. This wariness is likely the result of evolution, with ancient humans learning to fear water as a survival instinct. Water was probably responsible for many deaths in ancient times, and it’s only natural that our forebears respected it.
In modern times, this in-built fear of water can be amplified in a number of ways. Most commonly, Aquaphobes are likely to have suffered from a traumatic experience involving water. Nearly drowning, falling off a boat or pier, being pushed into water or stepping into freezing or scalding hot water are just a few likely scenarios that could result in Aquaphobia.
A witnessed trauma could also lead to an intense fear of water. Seeing someone drown, or an animal killed in the water could have an impact on a young mind.
Aquaphobia can also be learned, or conditioned. Many parents are extremely cautious around water, and tend to over protect their children. Constant warnings about staying away, or being careful, can lead a young mind to fear this terrible entity. Similarly, parents who suffer from Aquaphobia are likely to pass the fear onto their children.
Those who come from drier environments, such as deserts, and have seldom experienced large bodies of water are also likely to develop Aquaphobia. The fear of the unknown plays a strong part in this development.
SYMPTOMS OF AQUAPHOBIA
Each case differs, with some people able to paddle in shallow water, whereas others are unable even to splash their face to wash. When it gets too much, a panic attack can occur. In more extreme cases, even the sight of water, or thinking about it can lead to the following symptoms of anxiety;
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heartbeat
- Dizziness and nausea
- Hot or cold flushes
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Thoughts of death
As a result, many sufferers will avoid water at all costs – maybe even subconsciously. In extreme cases, poor hygiene can result, with sufferers fearing even to take a bath or shower. Often, they understand the fear is excessive and unfounded, though they are unable to do anything about it.
The most common form of treatment is Exposure Therapy. Patients are encouraged to gradually face their fear in a controlled environment, with a trained professional. They are taught relaxation techniques that are used to keep anxiety under control. Over time, they become more exposed to their fear, until they are able to cope.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another effective treatment, that doesn’t require the patient to tackle their fear head on. Through Talk Therapy, the therapist is able to get to the root of your fear. Together you will work on removing the negative feelings you have towards water, and replacing them with positive thoughts.
Self-help techniques include learning relaxation methods such as meditation and muscle relaxation to combat symptoms of anxiety. Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) exercises can also be used to focus on more positive things, and eventually ‘subliminally reprogram’ the way you perceive water.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF WATER
Water is everywhere, and for anyone fearing it life is full of anxiety and tension. Extreme sufferers may feel that their fear is having an impact on their social and professional life, especially if poor hygiene is a concern.
By overcoming the fear of water, you will feel a weight is lifted from your shoulders. You can enjoy new experiences and feel relaxed, wherever you are. Join your friends at the beach, take up surfing, visit the aquarium or swim for fitness, there’s so much you could do. By not fearing water, you may even be able to save someone who is in trouble, rather than feeling helpless yourself.