Water you waiting for?

Aquaphobia – a fear of water - is one of the more common fears many people have. Also known as hydrophobia after the rabies disease as the person contracting rabies would have an irrational fear of drinking water caused by spasms in the throat whenever they tried to swallow.

For many people, it is a manageable phobia and they simply stay away from bodies of water but with summer holidays upon us, it can pose a problem, especially for those who want to enjoy a beach holiday or laze by a pool. Unfortunately, aquaphobics are more likely to drown as they never learned to swim in the first place and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they find themselves unexpectedly immersed in water the fear quickly turns to panic resulting in raised heart rate, gasping for air and thrashing. Any common sense approach to remembering basic lifesaving skills disappears such as floating on their backs or ‘doggy paddling’.

A study done in the US estimated that over 45% of people have a fear of water going over their heads. This can prevent them from experiencing and enjoying such activities as learning to swim or boating activities. They may panic when water is unexpectedly splashed in their face despite the fact they know they are in no danger. This same study reported that 60% are afraid of deep water. This fear of depth has its own name – Bathophobia. It not only relates to fear of deep water but also of tunnels, ravines, mountain valleys dark hallways etc. Staring at the lines at the bottom of a swimming pool at the deep end where they become darker and waver can cause this fear to develop. Or plunging their hand into a deep container not knowing what is in there can fill someone with fear and dread which can cause the phobia to form.

Whilst the emphasis is usually on preventing child drownings, the inability to swim caused by aquaphobia in adults is estimated to account for 70% of water-related deaths every year. Many of our fears and deep-rooted anxieties are often evolutionary. Over thousands and thousands of years, man has developed a deep respect for the ocean. Ravines, abysses, and water itself in all forms from streams to rivers to oceans have caused many deaths from falls, drownings and broken bones. It has, therefore, gained our respect and awe over time and caution is embedded in our minds when near them. However, for some people, the caution has been replaced by extreme fear which prevents any natural enjoyment to be experienced and a phobia develops.

It is also common for parents to pass their fears down to their child. The parent not only fears they themselves could drown but also if their child is near water, they too could drown. They are less likely to invest in swimming lessons for their child and if they do go on holiday to a beach or a pool, will often panic so much that the child senses that anxiety and develops his own fear of water. The media also plays a hand in instilling irrational fear into over anxious individuals. News reports of accidents or films involving drownings often sensationalise the event ensuring the aquaphobic remains one.

A section of the community more prone to drownings due to lack of swimming skills is the Black African community. It has been assumed for a long time this was a biological factor caused by heavier bone density. This has some grain of truth in it but not the main reason. Whilst Africans have excelled in many sports such as basketball and athletics, especially running, there is a distinct lack of black Africans in swimming for sport. Apartheid in past generations has meant that parents and grandparents were never allowed access to what was seen as a ‘white’ activity. Pools were not built in black communities and therefore the ability to even have the opportunity to swim was not there. Recent research has shown that biology and environment may not play as big a part in determining who becomes a successful sportsman as the development of talent and the opportunity to practice.

So how can hypnotherapy help someone overcome their fear of water or depth? Initially, the therapist may ask the individual to explain how they feel and what they experience when they think of going into a body of water. Someone with a true phobia of any description will begin to experience physiological symptoms at even the thought of facing their fear. This could include feelings of nausea, perspiring, shivering, heart beat accelerating and breathing more rapidly, feeling trapped and perhaps even beginning to cry.

The therapist will then guide the person into a state of deep relaxation, ensuring any of the described symptoms of fear have dissipated. He will bypass the conscious mind which tries to rationalise the fear and address the unconscious mind which is more amenable and open to suggestion. 

They may talk you through some scenarios where water is involved whilst reassuring you that you are safe. They will ask you to use your imagination where you are perhaps paddling in the shallow end of a pool and then imagine sitting down in the water. The hypnotherapist will ask you to observe the experience of joy you feel whilst all the time you feel safe and in control. They will use these positive thoughts as a trigger to be remembered any time you think of a body of water. If for example the client is going on honeymoon and doesn’t want to spoil the holiday for her new husband by being fearful, the hypnotherapist can help her access how she will feel when she overcomes this fear and how enjoyable her honeymoon could be with this new found confidence. 

Holidays are to be enjoyed – not dreaded. Hypnotherapists successfully deal with phobias every day. Contact a reputable therapist today and get rid of your fear. 

“Water, water everywhere yet not a drop to spare” - Rabbie Burns.

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Written by Biodun Ogunyemi

Biodun Ogunyemi is the founder of Optimind, one of the leading hypnotherapy practices within the UK. He has practised on Harley Street and is an experienced hypnotherapist, trained to the highest level in advanced hypnotherapy and NLP and is the author of over 180 hypnosis products.… Read more

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