Why Am I Afraid Of Deep Water? (And what can help)


a swimmer dives deep into deep water

Being afraid of deep water is very common, so you are not alone with your fear. Many people get in the pool every day and swim happily in the shallow water, but once they face the deep end, some panic or sinking thoughts creep in.

I have had a fear of deep water for many years. I did not learn how to swim until I was in my thirties, so I always thought that my fear was just related to the fact that I could not swim.

However, when I learned to swim, and got very good at it, the fear of deep water remained.

Fear of deep water when you can swim can result from many psychological factors, from mild to severe. A previous bad water experience, inherited phobias, negative comments from others, or bad swimming lessons can all be plausible reasons you get scared in the deep end.

From my experience to date, I have learned that the first step in understanding your fear of deep water and how to begin the journey of overcoming it starts outside of the pool.

I am not a Doctor or psychologist, but I can give you a list of likely reasons you might have a fear of deep water from observing my own feelings and learning from others over my 20 years of dealing with my fear.

This article focuses on the fear of deep water, but not severe cases of Thalassophobia, which includes a phobia of deep bodies of water in general.

In this article, I will cover:

  • Why am I afraid of deep water?
  • Is it normal to be afraid of deep water?
  • How can I stop being scared of deep water?

Why Am I Afraid Of Deep Water?

Are you super angry and frustrated at your fear of deep water? Or do you love the water, but a fear of the deep end is stopping you from reaching your full potential and having the most fun?

I know that feeling of frustration at the fear of deep water so well.

Asking why you are afraid of deep water is a great place to start if you are determined to overcome or face your fears.

Many people with a fear of deep water can swim. They can move from one end of a shallow pool to the other without touching the floor of the pool.

Swimming in deep water is exactly the same as swimming in shallow water from a physical point of view. If you can swim without touching the bottom or floor of the pool, then it does not matter if the water is deep or shallow as it is the same muscles and movements that are needed to stay afloat in shallow water, as in the deep.

Yet, for those who have a fear of deep water, when we cross the line from shallow to deep, something happens psychologically and panic and anxiety can set in, which can leave us struggling to get to the pool’s edge.

Here are some reasons you might be afraid of deep water. You might identify with one or many of these reasons.

1. A Bad Water Experience

In the past, have you ever had a bad experience with water?

A bad water experience can range from mild to severe.

An example of a mild bad water experience could be something as simple as your head dipping below the surface unexpectantly which induces a few seconds of panic.

Severe bad water experiences, including near drowning events, are incredibly traumatic and need professional help to process.

It is important to take some time and think about your experiences with water in the past. Is there anything in particular that stands out?

2. Poor Swimming Lessons

From my experience, I have found that poorly taught swimming lessons can actually make fear of deep water worse.

Swimming lessons for children are often carried out to a tight deadline with around 30 kids.

With these types of lessons, a swim teacher is just following the curriculum, and the classes are not tailored to individuals.

If you have a nervous child swimmer, they will most likely be forced to jump into the deep end and complete tasks they are not yet ready to face. This can introduce a fear of deep water.

In addition, if you have a child swimmer that is struggling to keep up, or does not want to progress to the next stroke without perfecting what they are currently doing, then they may feel left behind, or pressured to keep up. This can induce panic in the water.

Have you taken part in swimming lessons or swimming situations where you were asked to jump into deep water or perform a task before you were ready to?

3. Social Anxiety

This is something that I have learned from my own experiences and talking with others that can actually affect how we feel in the water.

Swimming is a very exposing situation. You are wearing very little clothing and in a situation where we are all vulnerable.

Many people can feel “watched” or very self-conscious.

Just like we do not want to trip or stumble when walking on stage, we do not want to sink when swimming in public in the deep end.

In some situations, there may be someone at the pool that you want to impress or who affects you either positively or negatively. Either way, a word from them can change how you feel.

If you become self-conscious in the deep end, or experience external feelings of panic, this can translate to a feeling of panic in the moment. As a result, you do not have the free mental space to deal with the deep water.

Has someone made you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable while swimming?

4. Protective Parents

Overly protective or fearful parents can induce a fear of deep water.

If you have parents or guardians that are constantly telling you to stay away from deep water and that deep water is dangerous, there is a good chance that message will get through and manifest with a fear of deep water.

Listening to warnings is important, and parents are right to tell their kids about the dangers of deep water. However, there is a line.

If you have been constantly told that deep water is dangerous, and you have never been given the swimming skills to deal with deep water, you are left with a one-sided voice in your head that constantly screams that deep water is dangerous.

This could leave you with a feeling of panic when in deep water.

A balance of caution where you respect the deep water and understand the realistic risks, combined with tailored swimming lessons to help you cope in deep water, can help.

5. Genetics

According to some sources, our fear of deep water can stem from our genes. [source]

Our ancestors may have had a fear of deep water or a more fearful outlook in order to survive. There is a theory that this became part of our evolution, with more fearful genes being passed down through the ages.

6. Influential People With Fear

We learn by watching others. If there is an influential person in your life or you have seen an influential person with a fear of deep water, this may have influenced your feelings towards the water.

One of the most influential people in my life is my father. Because he can do so many great things, from playing music to coming up with novel engineering solutions to problems, I feel like I can easily follow him and do the same.

My father cannot swim, however, despite growing up next to a lake. I assume he never learned because the lake was just too dangerous with a boggy lake floor, so it was safer to stay out.

Seeing someone so influential who can do anything, who never learnt to swim, sent a subliminal message that there must be something very tricky and dangerous about water, escalating my fear of deep water.

Is there someone influential in your life who cannot swim, who affects you?

Is It Normal To Be Afraid Of Deep Water?

It is normal and common to be afraid of deep water. Our anxieties and fear of dangerous things can protect us and ensure our survival, and deep water can be very dangerous. [source]

Is Scuba Diving Scary? Of Course.
Is Scuba Diving Scary? Of Course.

While it’s normal to feel some level of fear when in deep water, it’s not normal to have an excessive and irrational fear that keeps you from enjoying the activity or taking part in swimming lessons.

If your fear is affecting your quality of life, it’s worth seeking professional help to address the issue.

How Can I Stop Being Scared Of Deep Water?

Although fear of deep water is fairly common, there is not one simple solution to stop being scared of deep water.

From my experience, I have found that understanding my fear, gradually and safely exposing myself to deep water and retraining my brain to see deep water as an exhilarating experience, is the best approach to overcoming a fear of deep water.

Here are some things that you can try to start your journey of breaking your fear of deep water:

1. Understand Why You’re Afraid

Often, our fears are irrational and stem from a place of misunderstanding. If you can take some time to understand why you’re afraid of deep water, it may help you see that there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Alternatively, it might reveal where your fearful thoughts are coming from, so can appreciate why you are afraid and understand how to calm your fear.

2. Get More Exposure To Deep Water

If you’re only exposed to shallow water, you will become afraid and overwhelmed when faced with deep water.

Getting more exposure to deep water, whether it’s through swimming lessons or gradually wading in deeper and deeper, can help you overcome your fear.

Ensure you do this in a safe environment with a swim buddy to make sure you are always safe and can remain relaxed.

Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment to help individuals face their fears and overcome phobias. [source]

I started some basic exposure therapy by looking at pictures of the deep end of the swimming pool because even these simple pictures induced anxiety in me.

I would then watch videos of swimmers diving into the deep end of a pool and having fun.

With time my brain switched from “that looks terrifying” to “how are they doing that” and “they look like they are flying”.

3. Visualisation

If you can’t get into deep water just yet, visualisation can be a helpful tool.

Picturing yourself swimming in deep water, or even just floating peacefully on your back, can help to ease your fears.

When I watched videos of swimmers diving into the deep end of the pool, I would visualise myself doing the same and try to imagine how great it would feel.

Mentally, this really prepares you for the deep end.

4. Relaxation Techniques

Learning how to relax when you’re in deep water can be a tremendous help.

If you feel anxious, take some deep breaths and try to focus on something else.

Progressive muscle relaxation, where you tense and relax each muscle group in your body, can also be helpful.

Ensure you only venture into the deep end with a swim buddy who can help you out if you get into danger.

Not only is this essential for your own safety, but any additional stress or danger in the deep water can escalate your fear.

5. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

If your fear of deep water is affecting your quality of life, cognitive behavioural therapy may be worth considering. This type of therapy can help you change the way you think about deep water and ease your anxiety.

If your fear of deep water is very bad and affects your life, then seek help from a medical professional.

Final Thoughts

Fear of deep water is a very common fear. However, there is no one simple solution to stop being scared of deep water.

From my experience, I have found that understanding my fear, gradually and safely exposing myself to deep water and retraining my brain to see deep water as an exhilarating experience, is the best approach to overcoming a fear of deep water.

There are many ways to tackle your fear, but you can face it and with some time, the fear does subside and you can become in control.

If you are looking for an action step that you can take today to face your fear, I recommend the book, Conquer Your Fear of Water: An Innovative Self-Discovery Course in Swimming.

This is genuinely a brilliant book that makes sense for the adult swimmer who is afraid of deep water.

Swimming and water is such a wonderful experience, and starting your journey to overcoming your fear is a significant challenge that is worth the effort.

There is an entire world underwater waiting to be explored.

Happy swimming!

Louise Byrne

Hi, I am Louise and I am obsessed with swimming. I spend my free time in the water or getting ready for my next water adventure.

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