How to deal with anxiety while scuba diving

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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.
Tips for anxious scuba divers copy

 

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Amanda Williams
    November 20, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Great post. Have always wanted to try scuba diving but so far have been too much of a wimp!

    • Reply
      Sam
      November 21, 2015 at 11:02 am

      Thank you! Please do, it is scary but amazing!

      • Reply
        Paúl
        June 2, 2016 at 12:13 am

        You’re not a wimp. It just wasn’t time yet. When it’s time, go for it.

  • Reply
    Grey World Nomads
    November 29, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Sam

    It’s exactly as you write. I like to dive and I hate it 😉
    It depends also who is with me.

    Safe travels!

    Marcelle – Grey World Nomads

    • Reply
      Sam
      November 29, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      Glad I am not the only one! How long have you been diving for?

  • Reply
    Kate
    January 3, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    This is really helpful for first-time divers – I personally find diving so relaxing and therapeutic but the learning process can be really nerve-wracking. My first time clearing my mask underwater, I panicked because I couldn’t see and started blowing through my mouth instead of my nose, then dashed to the surface like you did. Never made that mistake again!

    It’s amazing that you’re persevering and trying to work through your dive anxiety; good luck! xx

    • Reply
      Sam
      January 4, 2016 at 9:07 am

      thank you for the lovely comment! I am always looking up amazing dive sites and i think that makes me never want to give up trying to be a good diver! haha xx

  • Reply
    Megan
    May 30, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    Thank you for this. I don’t get to dive with anyone I know as I’m the only diver in my circle so it’s lonely. Also, I feel braver when I’m with people I know and trust. I also get nasty anxiety as well and reading this makes me feel more sure of myself. That it’s even normal to be scared of something you love. I am forever grateful for this post.

    • Reply
      Sam
      June 1, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Thank you so much for this lovely comment! Anxiety is horrible but the more people talk about it the more, the more people will realise how common it actually is and how we can learn to not let it control us! x

  • Reply
    Tink Jayne
    May 31, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    This is such a good post!
    My boyfriend spent 3 days getting his dive license why I stayed in the hostel just cowering at the thought of putting my head slightly under water.
    At the time I didn’t mind, I just let my fear rule it out, but I look back and regret not being brave enough to do it. I not only miss out on the opportunity to dive now when I go abroad, but so does my boyfriend, who is always too polite to leave me and go off and dive, instead he goes snorkelling with me (which is still a struggle for me) and I feel guilty.
    Going to try and take all this advice on board and if I get another opportunity im going to do it!!!
    x Tink Jayne x
    allabouttink.co.uk

    • Reply
      Sam
      June 1, 2016 at 10:27 am

      Yes do! I always push myself into trying at least one dive when we are away as my boyfriend is such a natural diver! There are a few places in London that let you do trial dives in a pool which I would recommend to just get used to the feeling, they usually have them on Groupon quite often!

  • Reply
    Shandos
    June 1, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    I’m glad that I’m not the only one that both loves and is scared of diving. For me, part of the issue is that I wasn’t super keen on learning to dive, I just went along with my ex-boyfriend who wanted to do his open water.

    It also didn’t help that I wear contacts, so clearing the mask is that much harder (I need to keep my eyes shut, or lose my contacts) – I didn’t actually fully pass my open water until next diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and they had prescription masks.

    Since then, my ex went on to do his Dive Masters and take up commercial diving, while since we broke up I haven’t dived at all, just snorkelled. I’ll probably give it another go sometime (I love it when I stay calm), but I’ll definitely need a refresher again.

  • Reply
    Michelle
    September 25, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    I can definitely recommend that anyone who completes the open water and has that love/hate feeling should carry on their learning with the advanced open water! I completed my initial open water 10 years ago and completed just a handful of dives on holidays in the couple of years following but never felt confident and had to overcome fear and anxiety every time. This led me to doing nothing for years until recently (yesterday) completing a refresher and my advanced! it has given me that confidence to feel secure in the fact I know what I should be doing and now just need to get on and dive as often as possible to practice. My only regret is that I didn’t do the advanced years ago, even straight after the Open. The name is a little misleading I used to think you needed the confidence and some experience to do it but actually doing it is what gives you the confidence to enjoy it and so you will do it more frequently ! Good luck and happy, anxiety free diving,

    • Reply
      Robert
      February 22, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      My feeling is exactly the same. I did my open water 7 years ago. Since then only a couple dives. I have days when the very thought of diving makes me feel sick. I have also thought about doing the AOW but I have read various comments that it is a waste of time. So we are back to square one. I did the OW course because my partner was already qualified when I met her. So I thought I would do it as well. Cost a pretty packet, When I get the feeling sick frame of mind I think what a complete waste of money it all was.
      Then the next I want to get back into the water so I watch videos on You Tube of AOW classes and think I wish I could be doing that. A bit mixed up that’s me.

  • Reply
    Michellr
    October 15, 2016 at 6:34 am

    Thanks so much. I feel much better knowing im not the only one.

  • Reply
    Caitlin
    May 2, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks for confirming I am not the only nervous diver. I am so right there right now. One section of the online book work to go before starting on the dive portion or the PADI open water certification. I have snorkled before, but never dove. I had an opportunity to take the training and it fit my schedule, but now that I know all the what ifs I am not sure about finishing. It seems riskier to be an infrequent diver. I won’t have many opportunities to dive each year, unless it is in a lake. I don’t like lakes but that is what happens when you live in Oklahoma. So the certification dives are in Tablerock Lake in Missouri. That scuzzy lake water part kind of grosses me out. Between the lake dives and now understanding all of the risks and what can go wrong, I am not sure I am finishing. The divers I know love it. Everyone else thinks I am crazy for even considering something so risky. I am generally fairly risk averse.

    • Reply
      Kari
      February 28, 2018 at 8:44 am

      I was worse and scared. I did a try dive and was anxious. I was anxious through out the skills and Dives. But if you know how to calm yourself down and process only one dive at time in your head. You will get thru. If you listen to your instructor and trust him/ her, there are not so many risks. Don’t give up. It gets better. I just finished my first PADI open water course and I am afraid of open spaces. So you can do it!

  • Reply
    Krystal
    April 6, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Hello,

    I also get dive anxiety before leaving for a trip or if I haven’t dove in a while. I feel like I’m going to forget everything. Eventually I figured out why. When I swim, I hold my nose. That being said, I’m scared that if my mask comes off, water will go up my nose. I’ve really been trying to practice this in a pool and get better at it. A few weeks ago, I was able to do it a bunch of times without panicking. It’s amazing how much of the anxiety was lifted from my shoulders.

    Think to yourself if there’s something that’s holding you back or giving you that fear. I’m still a little nervous for my next trip in a few weeks but I’m gonna try it in salt water during a shore dive so we’ll see how I do.

    Also another thing, we got in with a scuba diving group and take trips through our local scuba shop. When doing this it’s nice because you know the majority of the divers with you. Even if the dive master isn’t good, you have multiple dive buddies if your direct dive buddy isn’t around. If my husband is taking a picture of something and I can’t get to him in time but need help, I can ask one of my friends from the group. Also helps with anxiety to know there’s other who you know will help you!!

    Keep trying. It’s amazing but yes, a little nerve wracking at time!! 🙂

  • Reply
    Ocean Scuba Dive
    September 20, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Great blog post Sam! I am in love with scuba diving and would encourage anyone to try it at least once. It’s awesome! Thanks for sharing this blog post and also your experience 🙂

  • Reply
    Katie @ Zen Life and Travel
    February 15, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    Great post!! I am so glad to know I am not the only one who has a love/hate relationship with diving. I have had a bunch of bad experiences including a small panic attack and was pretty sure I was done with diving. Then my husband wanted to go shore diving so I gave it a try since getting on and off a boat is the part I really hate. Not all of the dives were awesome, but the good ones outweighed the bad ones. I’m going to try it again but I still have anxiety about jumping off the boat!! : )

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