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When people find out that I am a PADI open water diver they assume I must love to dive. Wrong; currently I hate diving although this changes on a daily basis.
Why do I hate scuba diving? The very thought of scuba diving conjures every irrational thought my brain can think of and brings my anxiety to panic attack levels in seconds. Quite frankly it terrifies me.
Why do I love scuba diving? On a good dive it is the most amazing experience in the world. Strangely enough, on a good dive it is so calming. It makes you feel humble and realise what a small part of this world we occupy.
While I am extremely far from an expert on diving (or anxiety for that matter) I have learnt some good coping methods, therefore I thought I would share how I deal with anxiety while scuba diving.
How to deal with anxiety when Scuba Diving
Only dive with a school you trust
Find a Dive master you automatically feel safe with; I cannot stress how important this is.
Never book your dives without meeting the dive company first. Go to the dive shop and have a chat with them, this helps me decide straight away if I feel I can trust diving with them.
While there are some amazing dive masters out there, there are also some terrible ones – unfortunately, I have had both.
Tell them you are anxious, if they are a good company they will want to know this. If you do not get a good vibe from them go elsewhere, do not just settle.
Do not feel embarrassed, there is no need to. Dive-masters are professionals, by telling them your concerns and fears you are helping them with their job. Your dive master is going to be the person that keeps you safe when you’re 18 meters under the water for 40 minutes, make their job as easy as possible for them, make them aware they may need to keep a closer eye on you.
Also ask people for recommendations, people talk about good dive schools. Before visiting the Gili Islands I heard great things about Blue Marlin Dive School, therefore I went straight to them to chat about book a dive or two. I am so glad I listened to the recommendations, I probably had my best Divemaster on those dives and he completely changed my outlook on scuba diving.
Book a Try – dive
Before booking your open water course book a try-dive when you are at a good dive location. I think this is where I went wrong. I went straight into my open water course – my first two dives were in an indoor pool in Surrey.
Which is a completely different experience to when you then jump off a boat in the middle of the sea and told to deflate your BCD – I ended up nearly having a panic attack. Thankfully, I had a fantastic dive master (The Adventure Club, Koh Phi Phi) who straight away realised what happened and assisted me, I would hate to think what would have happened had the Dive master not been understanding and attentive.
On a try-dive you are guided step by step by the Dive master and don’t have to worry about mask clearing or any other of the tests from the open water course, you just get to enjoy your surroundings and get used to the feeling of being and breathing under water.
Take a moment, breath, then think
Scuba diving is dangerous – fact. Sadly the more you lose a rational thought process the more dangerous it becomes.
If you are under water and you start to panic, take a second to breath, then try to think logically because it could actually save your life.
I have been the person that didn’t think. I inhaled a lot of water up my nose after attempting a mask clear, instantly making me feel like I could breath, my irrational thought process told me to instantly inflate my BCD to bring myself to the surface of the water.If I had done that at a depth any deeper than I was I could have got decompression sickness. Even at the depth I was at I put myself at risk of decompression sickness.
If just I had just taken a second to close my eyes and breath, I would have remembered that I had a regulator in my mouth that was attached to a full cylinder of oxygen that was aiding my breathing just fine.
Anxiety makes you brain work in mysterious ways, however, in situations like scuba diving it is of upmost importance that you learn how block these actions and channel them into a rational thought process.
Think about your diet
If you deal with anxiety of a day to day basis it is likely you know certain triggers. Alcohol and caffeine can heighten feelings of anxiety. Do not drink alcohol the day before diving and skip your coffee on the morning of the dive.
To enjoy your dive you need to be in the correct headspace so it important you prepare yourself and this is a massive part of it.
Do it! – but also don’t do it
Listen to yourself.
While you are going to need to push yourself times to dive at times – know your limits.
Diving is tiring, but diving for a person with high anxiety levels it is knackering. Generally when you are qualified, you will book two dives in a day. Book two dives, but on the day if one is enough then don’t convince yourself into the second one. No one matter what you think, no one will mind.
The last thing you want is to ruin a great dive with an awful second one.
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Remember your training and take regular refreshers. Scuba Diving is a qualification because it requires knowledge and understanding – respect this.
Remember your buddy checks and remember your buddy while you are diving. Your buddy is there to help you stay safe, and you the same for them.
Refresh yourself on your signals (and other skills) before diving so you know how to alert your buddy that something isn’t right and then what to do. There are also dive clubs in the UK that run social evenings at indoor pools that can be used as refresher sessions, as well as meeting other divers.
Above all, just try to enjoy how incredible diving actually is. While I still haven’t completely worked out how to do this, I am getting there and each time it gets that little bit easier. I was supposed to be going on a diving holiday in Egypt next week but due to the recent horrible circumstances this has been cancelled, and I am actually gutted! Imagine how amazing diving in the Red sea would be?
I will hopefully do more scuba related posts in the future, with recommendations of schools I have had good experiences with; especially if they have been sensitive to anxious divers.