Mental Preparation to become a better diver
Diving is described as an extreme sport, although to most recreational divers it is regarded simply as a leisure pursuit most still want to know how to become a better diver. When underwater our troubles and stresses disappear as we enjoy and immerse ourselves in the aquatic environment.
However to become a successful diver it is not just a matter of refining your skills and having the right equipment; it is vital that you also learn how to stay in control of what goes on in your head when you are underwater.
The skills we learn ‘diver training’ are designed to make sure we can deal with anything that can happen underwater. But you also need a clear head and a positive outlook to ensure you function effectively and most importantly make the right decisions at the right time.
Your mental conditioning has a considerable effect on how much enjoyment you will derive from diving, it directs how you will perform in an emergency and how you will manage stress.
We are taught several ways to identify and manage stress in ourselves and our buddies during our PADI training, in particular the excellent ‘Rescue course’, which I would recommend to anyone looking to gain more self-confidence and skills to self-rescue and help others. However the primary aim must always be to do everything you can to prevent stress arising in the first place.
So, How Do I Become a Better Diver?
- Focus on your skills. Self rescue skills need to becoming automatic and instinctive. During any fun dive you can switch to and from your primary regulator to your octopus. Practise deploying your SMB at the safety stop. Can you reach your cylinder valve and turn it on/off, useful if you have (accidentally) entered the water with your air switched off although this should never happen if you are buddy checking properly!
- Build water confidence. Get as comfortable as you can in the water, swim, snorkel, dive as often as time allows!
- Get Fit. The better your health and fitness the better prepared you are to deal with strong currents or difficult shore exits that could easily bring on high stress levels.
- Get comfortable. If you are cold and uncomfortable you are more prone to panic.
- Don’t dive drunk. If you’re tired and hungover then miss the dive – rest and drink plenty of water.
- Learn to breathe. Correct breathing reduces the onset of stress. It helps you keep a clear head should a difficult situation arise. Ideally breath in for 7 secs and out for 7 secs. This will also help reduce your air consumption.
- Think about the dive ahead, reflect and review what you know about the dive site. Think positive thoughts and visualize a successful dive.
- Eliminate Apprehension. Visualisation should help eliminate any apprehension. A minor problem can turn the apprehension into a full blown panic.
- Follow premonitions. If you cannot shake off the feeling that something bad is going to happen then don’t ignore it. Don’t dive or change the dive plan.
- Conduct an in water check. On entering the water and starting to dive take a few seconds to compose yourself. Relax, get a long slow breathing cycle going, make sure your equipment is intact, buckles fastened, nothing leaking and gauges working.
Stress is a potential risk in almost every dive we make. It is particularly unwelcome as uncontrolled stress can quickly lead to panic. Panic under water is life threatening and the most common contributing factor to diving fatalities. To deal with stress you need to recognise it’s there.
- Delayed response
- Fixation on gauges
- Increased breathing rate
Once you have identified it is present your intuition will tell you that there must be a logical reason for it. The secret to coping with the onset of stress underwater is to clear your mind, analyse the situation and then act according to your training.
Clearing your mind
- Stop all activity, grab a rock and rest. Exhale slowly and deeply (get rid of as much CO2 laden air as possible) and then fully inhale. Do this a few times. As your brain clears you will be able to work out what is going on. Do you have a valid reason to be worried? Is urgent action required? Check how much air do you have left, how much deco time remaining. Run a quick equipment check and make sure everything is in place and working.
- It is wise to take a moment to gather your thoughts before you act to make sure you are doing the right thing BUT you obviously cannot afford to take too long when diving deep due to a limited air supply!
- If all is in order you can continue your dive but reduce your effort so that the panic does not return.
- If you are low on air or have exceeded your planned decompression time then your priority is to make a controlled ascent to a shallower depth.
- If you can anticipate stress you can act decisively to reduce it.
Breaking the chain
- Every accident has a chain of events leading up to it, however inconsequential they seem at the time. Often this sequence only becomes apparent in retrospect, that is after the accident. BUT If you see one or just think you see one you need to have the courage to break it. Don’t let ‘peer pressure’ or the fear of criticism from your colleagues stop you.
A Rule used in Tech Diving is…
“Any diver can abort any dive at any time for any reason without having to explain themselves to anyone”
Feel free to contact Orca Scuba for dive courses and packages.
Article by Richard Dolman