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Putting Kymophobia Under the Spotlight

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/20/2011

Kymophobia creates an intense, enduring, and irrational fear in people. Like all specific phobias, an external trigger brings about the anxiety and dread that can manifest both physically and mentally. So let’s take a close look at the nature, causes, and treatments to better understand it.

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    All at Sea

    Ocean Swells Kymophobia is derived from the ancient Greek words ‘kymo’ for wave and ‘phobia’ for fear. It entails an intense fear regarding waves, sea swells, and even wave like motions. It's categorized as a specific phobia meaning that the fear is triggered by a particular object, thing, or situation. The presence of the ocean or other bodies of water where swells and waves are a potential is usually the trigger for the panic a kymophobic experiences so acutely. Something as abstract and intangible as radio waves can even trigger symptoms.

    Image credit/Wikimedia Commons/Geograph.org.uk

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    Symptoms

    Like all phobias the abnormal, persistent, and often irrational fear manifests itself in many different ways. Obviously anyone who is either in or standing very close to an ocean with raging, dangerous waves has an immediate and warranted fear for their safety. So it’s important to understand that kymophobics feel that kind of fear obsessively when the situation doesn’t call for it. Even the sound of waves might trigger symptoms as well as seeing television footage of the awesome power of nature in her fury during a hurricane. Phobias are irrational by their nature and people with them don’t want to feel that dread and anxiety but they do. Symptoms of kymophobia include:

    • Nervousness
    • Physiological and psychological anxiety
    • Fear of drowning
    • Rapid breathing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Tightness in the throat and a feeling like the walls are closing in
    • Fear of fainting
    • Confusion and disorientation
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
    • Mild to excessive sweating
    • Nausea, headaches
    • Becoming jumbled, inarticulate
    • Shaking
    • A feeling of impending doom
    • Full blown anxiety attacks
    • Fear of dying
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    Causes

    The causes of this specific phobia can often be traced back to a traumatic event involving waves in a person’s childhood, perhaps where they felt severely threatened by injury or drowning. For example, they may have been in a boat that capsized and/or lost someone close in a drowning incident.

    An individual may also be genetically predisposed to becoming kymophobic, making them more likely than other people to develop a phobia after a harrowing experience.

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    Effective Treatments

    Benzodiazepines will provide immediate relief in some phobic sufferers by lessening anxiety. However, these drugs can become addictive and withdrawal symptoms cause another set of unfavorable consequences. Medications are only a short term solution working only to suppress the immediate anxiety when it arises.

    Exposure therapy can be effective and entails a therapist using cognitive therapy to get the patient to change how and what they think about waves. Uncovering the source of that fear helps a patient better deal with it. As the phobic is required to gradually endure prolonged exposure in a safe environment to the source of their fear, they can become immune to it.

    General counseling and psychotherapy are also effective approaches and some people find hypnotherapy successful. Doing nothing about the phobia will not make it go away, and it can become much worse without therapy over time.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic: Phobias -- Treatment and Drugs, at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/phobias/DS00272/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

    Encyclo: Online Encyclopedia - http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/kymophobia