So, what is aqua phobia?
“Specific phobias” are a kind of anxiety disorder and are actually quite common. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that up to 18% of Americans suffer from some kind of phobia. What’s more, aqua phobia is one of the most common.
As its name suggests, aqua phobia is a persistent and intense fear of bodies of water such as pools, lakes or the ocean. People with aqua phobia may be afraid of entering or even looking at water, but the severity can be different for different people.
For some, the fear may be limited to deep ocean waters and for others, the fear can even extend to being splashed or bathing. Some people may only feel mild anxiety and others may experience a full blown phobic reaction that includes shaking, sweating, freezing and a pounding heart.
Understandably, since water of all kinds is a part of daily life, those with aqua phobia sometimes have a hard time managing their condition. Trying to avoid situations where there will be water can be difficult and even embarrassing. Many with aqua phobia will experience increasing anticipatory anxiety if they know a possible incident is coming up, such as a seaside vacation. Sadly, this phobia can make some people avoid water completely.
What causes it?
Tracing the origin of a phobia can be difficult, but experts believe it evolves as a result of both genetics and past experience. A near-drowning or other negative experience with water can spur a phobia, but the negative experience doesn’t have to happen to the person directly. In other words, witnessing someone else drowning, watching scary movies with water themes (many people developed phobias after watching the original Jaws movie), reading or hearing about frightening stories involving water or even dreaming about drowning can initiate a phobia.
Sometimes, a pronounced fear of water seems to have no origin at all. Researchers know that some people can have inherited genetic predispositions to anxiety, and aqua phobia is no exception.
Help for aqua phobia
Fortunately, specific phobias are one of the easiest anxiety disorders to treat. A possible treatment involves Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and work with a therapist to replace negative thoughts with more realistic ones. Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is also an option as is anxiety medication for more extreme cases. A gentle yet very effective approach is hypnosis. Hypnotherapy with a trained professional works directly with the subconscious mind. After only a few targeted sessions, hypnotherapy can improve or even completely dissolve the fear of water.
If your child has aqua phobia, it’s important to accompany them to swimming classes that respect a pace that is comfortable for them. Forcing, shaming or getting angry will likely make matters worse. Aqua phobia can be very frightening, so try not to minimize the child’s fear or tell them it doesn’t make any sense. Lastly, gentle support and praise for small improvements will help the child overcome their fear.
Kessler et al., Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, June 2005, Archive of General Psychiatry, Vol. 20
Edmund J. Bourne, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, 4th ed, New Harbinger Publications, 2005, ISBN 1-57224-413-5