Water is an intrinsic part of life and extremely difficult to avoid. Swimming is a common activity at summer camps, parties, and family vacations — and water is everywhere. Even walking around the mall or a park, you might meet a fountain or water feature that causes you to panic.
Maybe you like to look at water from a distance but can’t imagine ever touching it. Aquaphobia is a very real condition that affects many people around the world. Regardless of where the fear originated, logic doesn’t enter into it and it’s incredibly difficult to confront, not to mention conquer.
The good news is that there is hope and you’re not alone. If you’re dealing with water-related anxiety of any kind, read on for some helpful tips to work toward overcoming your fears.
What is Aquaphobia?
Aquaphobia is the paralyzing fear of water that is actually one of the most common phobias out there. It can manifest itself in a variety of different ways on quite a large spectrum from person to person.
For some people, it can be the abstract terror of being near a body of water and for others, it can be specific fears like drowning or putting your face underwater. In still other cases, getting sprayed by water or even bathing can cause a terrifying phobic reaction.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many people have some kind of fear associated with the water, even if it’s not quite as intense as a phobia. Surveys show that around 46% of American adults fear the deep end of the pool or deep open water.
This water-related terror could possibly stem from early trauma or it could be a trait learned over the years. Many times, a parent can pass on a fear to their child without even realizing it.
10 Steps to Overcoming Your Fear of Water
It’s all about exposure. Psychologists point to exposure as the most potent therapy there is for overcoming mental hurdles or anxiety.
Maybe you’ve been coping with your fear of water. Maybe you’ve been avoiding it completely. But if you’ve committed to conquering your aquaphobia, try these tips to gradually work toward that goal.
1. Start by talking about it
It might be scary. It might be embarrassing.
Admitting to fear or confronting it head-on is a scary prospect. But this is the best place to start. Confide in people you trust and who you know to care about you.
When you get to a point where you can talk to others in a matter-of-fact way about your fears and anxieties, you’ve just taken the first step to overcoming them.
2. Walk near the water
What? No! That’s the opposite of where I want to be!
You don’t have to get too close, but standing or walking near a pool, pond, lake, or beach is a great baby step to getting in touch with your fear and acknowledging it.
3. Be patient with yourself
Patience is so important when working on overcoming fears. You may not be able to explain your fear but that doesn’t make it any less real for you, or your body’s visceral response.
Take small steps and then give yourself time as your mind and body become acclimated to sensations that previously caused you panic attacks. Be kind to yourself throughout this process and try not to criticize any perceived failures. Remember to recognize that facing your fear is already an enormous achievement.
4. Work with an experienced swimming instructor
When you’re ready to take that next step towards getting into the water, it’s a good idea to work with a trained professional. Having an experienced instructor with you will not only give you confidence in your safety throughout the process, but it will also give you the tools to continue moving forward towards your goal.
5. Practice deep breathing
Hyperventilation is probably the number one fear reaction to a stressful or panicked situation.
Once you can get a grip on your breathing and in turn, start to manage your fear, you’ve conquered a metaphorical mountain. Deep breathing and breathing exercises have long been practiced as stress-management techniques as a clever way to “trick” your brain into thinking you’re more relaxed than you are.
The endorphins released into your brain from the sense of relaxation you get when breathing deeply actually slows down your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and slows down your breathing naturally.
6. Put your feet in
Sit on the edge of the pool and dangle your feet into the water. This may not seem like much, but every little step, getting you closer to getting into the pool is a massive leap toward where you want to be.
7. Get your whole body in the water
While this may seem impossible initially, with patience, practice, and time — you’ll get there.
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can float on your back in the shallow end. The good news is that humans are made of buoyant material. We naturally float without doing any work at all. Our bone density and fat cells make us great at floating and bad at sinking.
8. Try putting your face underwater
This is a major milestone in the journey to overcoming your fear.
Even if you’re wearing water wings, holding onto the side of the pool, or standing in the shallow end, when you get to the point where you can put your face underwater, you are well on your way to truly conquering your aquaphobia.
9. Never swim alone
Even though you might be embarrassed or ashamed of your fear of water, trying to face it alone or swimming by yourself to avoid the stigma, might feel like a good idea but could actually be very dangerous.
Bring a trusted friend, a swim buddy, or your swimming instructor with you every time you go near the water.
10. Pat yourself on the back
Not just for making it to the end of this list. Congratulate yourself on every little achievement, every time you make another step towards conquering your fear. It’s a process that you’ll probably have to work through for a while so make sure you don’t forget to give credit where credit is due.
Becoming One with the Water
Rome wasn’t built in a day and conquering your fears won’t happen overnight either. It might take days, months, or even years to get to a point where you can fearlessly face the water and dive in but if you continue to push yourself and work toward your goal, it will someday be a reality.
And before you know it you’ll be cannon-balling into the deep end and treading water with the best of them.