Aquaphobia: The Fear of Water

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Many people are afraid of the water, however, aquaphobia is "an abnormal and persistent fear of water. Suffers of aquaphobia experience anxiety even through they realize the water in an ocean, lake, creek, or even a bathtub may pose no imminent threat. They generally avoid such activities as boating and swimming. Around the house, they may fear the water in a shower or tub and even desist from bathing."

What is aquaphobia?

Aquaphobia is considered to be a specific phobia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, specific phobias normally develop in childhood. Approximately 19.2 million American adults suffer from some type of specific phobia. The fear of water is a common specific phobia.

Dr. Jane Katz, a professor of health and physical education at Bronx Community College of the City University, believes that the majority of people suffering from aquaphobia have had a bad experience in the past. It may have been they almost drowned, someone they know drowned, they were pushed into the water or in a boat that over turned or the fear may have developed based on parental attitudes. Somewhere in their past, a scary experience with water has made them afraid.

Exploring the fear of water

The fear of water is very real and can be quite debilitating and embarrassing. Imagine the teenager invited to a friend's home to swim. The fear of water may cause them to avoid the situation all together, foregoing the invitation to sit home, alone and lonely, or to go and sit on the sidelines, missing out on the fun his or her friends are having. Or imagine the parent, sitting at the side of the pool, feeling helpless to help if their child needs help in the water.

The fear of water, or aquaphobia, can be as simple as being afraid to put your head in the water, or avoiding water altogether. Some people may experience panic attacks when near water or even at the thought of being near water. Some may be able to be in shallow water but may have a fear of being in water that is above their neck.

Tips for overcoming the fear of water

Work with an experienced and knowledgeable lifeguard and swim instruction. Talk to the instructor before your, or your child's lesson about the fear of water and ask what strategies he or she employs to help someone overcome the fear of water.

Begin slowly and have patience with yourself in our attempts. You may want to begin by just being near a pool, working up to sitting on the side of the pool with your feet in the water. Allow yourself time to become accustomed and feel comfortable each step of the way.

Understand the buoyancy factor. Human beings will always float on or near the top of the water. This is based on bone and body density. Understanding that you will not sink and your body will naturally rise to the top of the water can help you in overcoming your fear of drowning or sinking to the bottom of the pool and not being able to get to the surface.

Practice deep breathing and relaxation exercises to help keep your body relaxed while in the water. Take some time to walk around in the water feeling the relaxation and soothing effects of the water.

Start floating in shallow water. It may be easier when you know that you can put your feet down and stand up.

Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small, and accept that overcoming your fear is a process and a journey, rather than expecting to overcome your fear in one trip to the pool.

Take swimming lessons to learn the basics of swimming, floating, and attention to safety in the water.

Start children in swimming lessons early.

Remember to never swim alone. Swimming alone is never a safe idea. Even if you are embarrassed about your fears and believe it would be easier to overcome your anxiety without anyone else present, it is important to have someone qualified and able to react in an emergency situation with you as you discover the joys of swimming and relaxing in the water.


"Definition of Fear of Water", Reviewed 2004, Oct 19,

"Relationships; Mastering the Fear of Water, 1987, Aug 31, Olive Evans, The New York Times

"The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America", 2008, Author Unknown, National Institute of Mental Health

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.