A Short List of Open Water Swimming-related Fears

I was thinking about the fears that hinder open water swimmers or potential open water swimmers. It always amazes me how many non-swimmers (or even swimmers) have a seemingly visceral fear of even the idea of swimming over deep water, swimming in the dark or imagining themselves over a deep section of sea with potential movement under them. Here’s a provisional list of relevant fears. I’ve excluded basic fear of water, it seems inappropriate for open water swimmers.
  • Autophobia is a fear of being alone. (One of the aspects I most like about open water swimming is being alone, away from people and even from land).
  • Bathophobia is a fear of depths or deep things, (for swimmers who dislike swimming over deep water).
  • Cryophobia (or Frigophobia or Cheimatophobia) is a fear of cold, cold weather or cold things. Also known as Psychophobia. I think there’s a biological component to this, as most people unacclimatised to really cold water will have physical fear response in anticipation.
  • Cnidophobia is a fear of stings. Surprisingly, there is no specific clinical phobia of jellyfish.
  • Dishabiliophobia is fear of undressing in front of someone. Probably relevant when you changing to swim, by the side of the road in Ireland, in winter.
  • Eleutherophobia is a fear of freedom. Seriously, are we ever as free as when we are open water swimming?
  • Eosophobia is fear of dawn or daylight. A bit difficult for an overnight swim should you suffer from this.
  • Francophobia or Gallophobia is a fear of France or French things. That’s the English Channel out then for those sufferers.
  • Galeophobia or Selachophobia is a fear of sharks.
  • Ichthyophobia is a fear of fish.
  • Kymophobia or Cymophobia is a fear of waves.
  • Limnophobia is a fear of lakes.
  • Megalophobia is a fear of large things and Mycrophobia is a fear of small things. Both are prevalent in the sea.
  • Myctophobia / Nyctophobia / Scotophobia / Achluophobia / Lygophobia: Fear of the dark or darkness. That’s a whole lot of fear right there.
  • Ostraconophobia is a fear of shellfish.
  • Ornithophobia is a fear of birds.
  • Osmophobia is a fear of smells or odours.
  • Thalassophobia is a fear of the sea.
  • I embrace Megalohydrothalassophobia  as a fear of the unknown and-or large objects underwater, a useful word for many people, but unlike the others not a medically recognised phobia or even a recognised word, yet. But I think the past few years on LoneSwimmer have helped its cause.

36 thoughts on “A Short List of Open Water Swimming-related Fears

  1. I can swim on top of water any time, any where, and it doesn’t bother me a bit (I enjoy it). But I refuse to put my head under the water. I wonder why there is no phobia word for just that. Maybe I’m weird.

    By the way, fear of the unknown already has a word: xenophobia.

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  2. I get scared when I can’t see around me, too much sediment and visibility is low…when your hands pass by on the stroke they are dim, partnered with not seeing the bottom and cold water…I am definitely not acclimatized to California waters

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  3. Me and my brother have this fear that when we’re swimming in the ocean or river or any big mass of water, we can not let our feet just dangle straight down because we don’t know what’s lying down or swimming right below us and that terrifies us. Is there a name for that?

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  4. Hola Nado en laguna en San Pedro de la Paz Concepcion Chile. Alli se ven pasar de vez en cuando coipos .Pienso en que alguno se me acerque y me muerda .Les tengo panico.

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  5. I have this fear of being totally underwater and opening my eyes to the the animals. I dont have a fear of drowning or being underwater but its seeing the animals all around me that freak me out to the point where I have a panic attack. Can any of you guys let me know that this fear would be.

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  6. I have a fear of not able to grab on something in the water. So I cannot let go my kick board as I fear of not able to grab on a pole if I need to stand mid-swim. What this phobia called?

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  7. Jesus crikeys that picture raised my heartbeat by thirty when I realized what it was.

    I’m afraid of big things in water like squid, angler fish, and all those other ‘lovely’ monsters. I’m also afraid of shipwrecks (Particularly metal/modern boats) weirdly enough). They fear there may be a dead body kinda wonders through my mind, but I’m going to go to school to become a forensic scientist, so I think that’d be kinda rad. I think I also have the fear of isolation. I feel more comfortable in tight spaces rather than large spaces so the thought of being alone and not being able to see nothing far as the eye can see is very uncomfortable.

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  8. Well if there is a name for fear of the deep, the unknown, the dark, big sea creatures, being totally alone in the open, fear of drowning and the cold water all in one. What would it be? Technically, I think I have all phobias that are related to deep water and creatures. If only there was a name that summed up everything.

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  9. Pingback: “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” -Hermione | My life in a blog

  10. I am deathly afraid of swimming in lakes, or anything where i cant see the bottom……. I never had a name for it until i read this post………….. Megalohydrothalassophobia………………

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  11. Pingback: The Abyss | LoneSwimmer

  12. I think the fear people feel went swimming over dark/deep water is very similar to that of the night (especially before modern era of lighting). The unknown and the unseen, so your imagination runs wild. Over the holidays my 10 year old daughter swam across a bay and she still talks of the moment when she couldn’t see the bottom, just darkness below, so she sensibly stopped looking underwater!

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    • lol – you just reminded me of swimming across Loch Oich in Scotland a couple of years ago. The water was so peaty that your hand disappeared into the dark every stroke. We adopted the same tactic as your daughter in case there was a Loch Oich monster beneath….

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      • I’m not sure which one I have, but the sensation usual occurs when I am in cold water. You talking about Loch Oich reminded me of this because for whatever reason my mind automatically makes me imagine my self in Loch Ness with something unknown beneath me. I also get short of breath and scared at the thought of diving or being far underwater while it’s possibly dark. Idk, thought it was relevant.

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  13. Pingback: He Who Dares Swims…. | Nothing Great Is Easy

  14. Does anyone have a fear of going around the buoy–like it is some invisible line/barrier to something that will absolutely get you on the other side of the buoy and the other 400 meters swimming out to it doesn’t count [preteritusboyaphobia]? I get that one when I’m swimming alone. Also, by far my biggest fear in the ocean is jelly fish; I’d much rather encounter a shark!

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  15. Crikey – I was never afraid of corpses until I read that comment but I am now! So far no-one has mentioned eels or leeches or loathsome wriggling swimming worms which I’ve seen near our jetty, or nasty black brittle starfish which are like underwater spiders and climb up seaweed and get ready to grab onto you, or sea lice or huge pike with massively sharp teeth which lurk in fresh water, just waiting…

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    • Does anyone have a fear of going around the buoy–like it is some invisible line/barrier to something that will absolutely get you on the other side of the buoy and the other 400 meters swimming out to it doesn’t count [preteritusboyaphobia]? I get that one when I’m swimming alone. Also, by far my biggest fear in the ocean is jelly fish; I’d much rather encounter a shark!

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  16. I can’t believe that there’s no medical term for a fear of jelllyfish, possibly my biggest fear in the sea! Sticks/branches and corpses scare me in freshwater…

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