Aquaphobia is the extreme fear of water. The causes of aquaphobia can be from past traumatic experiences with water, such as near drowning. For others, it could be the idea of the unknown especially in large water bodies like the sea, and the possibility of sea creatures like sharks. And for others, it is simply because they never had the chance to learn how to swim, hence developing a phobia for it. For most aquaphobics, they are afraid to go into the water and may suffer panic symptoms like crying or panic attacks. In more severe cases, even the sight of a water body may trigger an anxiety attack. Whatever the level of one’s phobia, the fear of water can be extremely dangerous for both the person suffering aquaphobia and the people around them.
Why learning how to swim is important
Statistics in America show that two-thirds of the population is afraid of deep water, 37% are unable to swim and nearly 4,000 people a year die from drowning. These worrying numbers suggest that not enough people have learned to swim. Swimming is a basic life skill that can both save your life and another person’s. However, due to people’s aquaphobia, they would rather not learn how to swim and hence stay afraid of the water their whole lives. This leads to many people never learning how to swim. Furthermore, if parents themselves have a fear of water and never highlight the importance of swimming to children, their children will grow up being unable or scared of swimming. This results in a continuous cycle, resulting in so many people who are unable to swim.
How can we help people overcome their fear of water?
A swimming lesson by default involves being inside a pool, but what if the person is already fearful and unwilling to do that? To begin, one must acknowledge their fear of water. It does no good to tell an already frightened person to get inside the water as “there is nothing to be scared of”. The water is exactly what they fear, so putting them in the very conditions they fear will only heighten their anxiety even more. An instructor must first address their students’ fear before they step into the pool in order to gain their trust. Furthermore, some people may be embarrassed about their aquaphobia, so by assuring them that there is nothing to be ashamed about, they can come to terms with their own fear and be more encouraged to overcome it.
What happens to people with aquaphobia?
When an aquaphobic is in the water, they are affected physically, mentally and emotionally. Their fear causes their minds to race, and they are unable to think properly. All they can hear are their own thoughts and worst scenarios. This makes any meaningful processing of the lesson redundant, and they are hence less likely to make any genuine progress in the water.
Aquatic therapist, Jeff Krieger, creator of the therapy program Strategies for Overcoming Aquatic Phobias (S.O.A.P.) takes a special approach for swimming lessons with aquaphobics. First, he acknowledges their fear before they enter the pool. This encourages their trust of him, as he ensures them that he is not going to put them into danger.
Second, he explains how the human body responds to water, including more technical aspects such as water buoyancy and areas that water enters our body, and where it does not. This gives students an anatomical picture of how the body naturally reacts when in water and giving them this understanding aids in debunking any pre-existing myths that may have escalated their fears. Next, he gets them to participate in some relaxation exercises to calm them down and clear their mind. This allows them to be more at ease and less prone to panic in the water.
Finally, he conducts the classes slowly to allow his students to build up confidence and take the time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in the water. He practices three degrees of separation—removing hand-holding on to the side of the pool, lifting their feet off the floor and any floating device, and finally from holding his hand.
The mental aspect
However, although learning the strokes and getting it into muscle memory is important, what is more important is the mental aspect. Acknowledging and dealing with the fear and keeping calm is arguably the most important when in a potentially dangerous situation in the water. When humans are scared and do not know what to do, they go into panic mode and forget whatever they have learned before. This doesn’t just happen to aquaphobics, it happens to even seasoned swimmers. Hence, it is important to know what to do when you are scared.
Spreading awareness about aquaphobia is also an important step in helping people get over their fear. As said earlier, many people are embarrassed about being afraid of water since it is such an essential part of our lives. If there were more swimming programs with a focus on aquaphobics, it would definitely bright more light to the issue and inspire these people to learn how to swim. Once they know that there are people eager and willing to help them, they will feel safer and more encouraged.
Swimming is both a critical life skill and a source of enjoyment and exercise. Everyone deserves the chance to learn how to swim. Not only can you save your own life, you could also save someone else in a potential drowning situation. Furthermore, swimming is a part of human lives, be it on vacation, summer camps or just a day at the beach. Avoiding it like the plague can be even more embarrassing. Fears can be overcome, and nobody wants to live regretting and wishing they could have done something different in their life.
The fear of water can cause people to lose out on special experiences and bonding with others. So if you know someone who is afraid of the water, you should do something to help then start overcoming their fear! Even small steps like just getting them to be comfortable in a pool will be better than nothing. Swimming is a life skill everyone should have, no fear should deny that from them.