Overcoming diving anxiety

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For many people, learning to scuba dive is a time of fun and utter joy as they breathe underwater for the first time and realise there is a world under the oceans to explore. It is a time for expanding horizons, making new friends and carefree exploration. But what of the rest of us? Is it like that for everyone?

There are a number of scuba divers who will readily put their hands up and confess that learning to scuba dive was not an easy path. It involved facing fear and anxieties that were overwhelming enough to tempt them into never leaving the dive centre changing room. Yet those same people worked at it and eventually found their way through the mire to discover the joys of diving.

All fears can be overcome with work and patience and there are techniques out there to help even those with acute anxiety to achieve their dreams. Here are our top five tips for overcoming fear as you learn to scuba dive.

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  1. Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy helps people to overcome fear and create change in any aspect of life and it lends itself well to scuba diving. It is a form of psychotherapy that allows the mind to learn new responses, behaviours and feelings in situations that previously caused a fear response. The patient is fully aware during hypnotherapy, it is not ‘mind control’, and it can successfully alter beliefs such as ‘If I put my face underwater I will drown’ and more general anxieties such as claustrophobia underwater. Undertaking hypnotherapy sessions prior to learning to scuba dive is a great way to understand your fears, start removing them and also learn relaxation techniques to prevent panic when diving.

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  1. Visualisation

Visualisation is a form of learning that is used by professional athletes, highly successful business people and many others throughout the world. It is a simple technique that allows the mind to learn new skills and create success by imagining or ‘visualising’ what the person wishes to achieve. An example in scuba diving would be overcoming a fear of removing a scuba mask underwater. To overcome the fear, a diver would visualise each step of removing the mask whilst remaining calm and relaxed. The process would be repeated many times until the mind has learnt there is nothing to fear with mask removal and how to do it calmly and completely. Visualisation can be learnt without assistance and can be completed at home, during a run, when meditating. Any time that feels relaxed and natural. There are a wealth of resources and books about visualisation, which allow you to choose the approach that works for you. Try Google and Amazon searches to begin.

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  1. The right instructor

When ready to take the plunge and commit to a dive course, the right instructor is essential for fear management. By ‘right’, we mean someone who the student feels comfortable expressing their anxieties with and an instructor who is compassionate and will adjust their learning style to the student’s requirements. There are many dive centres, ways to learn and instructors in the world. It is important to shop around until finding an instructor and way of learning that is the right fit. An example would be the choice between learning in a group on holiday overseas compared to one-on-one training with an instructor who focuses on fear management and the psychology of diving. For the latter, we highly recommend Steve Prior Course Director. His YouTube channel is well worth exploring as a novice or experienced diver.

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  1. Skills practice

This may seem an obvious point to make but skills practice is essential for all divers and not just those new to the sport. Regular practice is a great way to manage diving anxiety throughout a diver’s life and is something often overlooked when divers become experienced and think it no longer applies to them. Complacency can kick in and that is when old fears can resurface without warning. A diver who has tackled fear should occasionally keep practising the skills that caused fear in the first place and keep exposing themselves to situations that broaden their dive skills and knowledge. With experience, the mind is taught to relax and continues to learn that there is nothing to be afraid of in different situations. The body also learns muscle memory for skills that, in the case of panic, it can handle safely without the mind’s clarity.

  1. Acceptance

Conquering fears and anxiety takes time and effort. If you are reading this as someone who has such fears, it is important you accept that the above techniques all require patience and it may not be a smooth and easy path from acute anxiety to carefree diver. Keep anxiety levels low by accepting there may be setbacks along the way, they are okay and it is very normal. With time you will succeed. Also accept that, as an experienced diver, there may be times you do not dive on a given day because old fears resurface. One golden rule of diving to remember always is that it is okay to cancel any dive, at any time and for any reason. If you are uncomfortable or something doesn’t feel right, dive another day.

All of the above advice comes from a diving instructor who began her journey with an acute and chronic fear of putting her face in the water let alone actually diving. All fears can be overcome with work and patience.

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About Author

Kathryn has lived in the UK, Egypt, South Africa and New Zealand and is a trained scuba diving instructor and Great White shark safari guide. She is the author of No Damage (December 2014), the Managing Editor of The Scuba News New Zealand, a freelance writer, public speaker and co-founder of the marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks (August 2014). In 2015 she organised and completed a 10-month global speaking tour in aid of shark conservation: 87 events, 8 countries, 7000 people. Learn more about Kathryn’s book, No Damage at: http://www.kathrynhodgsonauthor.com/books/no-damage/

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