By: Ingrid Hasselquist
Integrating mental health awareness and applicable coping skills for anxiety into the sport of diving could make a significant difference for panic-induced situations as well as our overall diving experience (check out my most recent post for more details). Here you will find some tangible ways to put this into practice. Below are some step-by-step ways to:
Guide you through checking in with your mental state,
Center your breathing techniques to try both in and out of the water
Coping skills for stress that are specific to scuba diving.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself! Even if we have hundreds of dives logged, it does not mean we are exempt to having stressful or disorienting moments. Every dive boat has a slightly different procedure and set of expectations, or perhaps something uneasy is manifesting in your personal life that is causing distraction. Before you dive into the water, consider these mindfulness techniques to help you come back to yourself no matter how far out at sea you may be:
The 5-4-3-2-1 Method: This can apply to any situation where you feel ungrounded, but I find it especially helpful for diving because we are so out of our natural element, plus it can be great for seasickness. As you are gearing up and feel some uneasiness, take a deep breath and find: 5 things you can see (the water, your buddy), 4 things you can hear (the ocean, other divers chatting), 3 things you can touch (your LPI, your mask), 2 things you can smell (the salty air), and 1 thing you can taste (your last sip of Gatorade, perhaps). Anxiety over exaggerates potential threats to prepare us for the worst-case scenario, and this can really help to bring us back to reality.
Visualization: Take a moment to close your eyes and visualize the dive before you enter the water. Picture what you consider a `normal` diving experience. Imagine what you may see or hear or the feeling of weightlessness under the water. In addition, go through what you may do if something goes wrong, but also try to remind yourself of peace that diving typically brings.
Familiarization: This may sound like a given, but as we become more experienced, familiarizing ourselves with our gear and buddies can often fall at the wayside. Take the time to double check your gear, and if you have never met your buddy, engage in a friendly conversation. You will likely have more trust between each other once you enter the water, and it is also a great way to get out of your own head and into the present moment. Pranayama (Breathing Techniques): In the yogic philosophy, there are dozens of breathing techniques that apply to different intentions. A few I find to be applicable to diving-related stress are called Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and Dirga (3-part breathing), both of which can be done right from your seat on the dive boat.
Nadi Shodhana: This breath is designed to cleanse various channels in the body and calm the nervous system, often used to ease racing thoughts, and prepare the body and mind for meditation, and what more is diving than a moving meditation?
Begin with the hands in the mudra shown to the right. Using the right hand, place the thumb on the right nostril and the ring finger on the left nostril. Alternatively, block one nostril and inhale fully, and then unblock the opposite nostril while re-blocking the original nostril and exhale, making sure to switch which side you inhale and exhale from (it sounds a bit complicated but is quite simple-see video below for further instruction). Breathing through one nostril at a time slows the heart rate and relaxes the nervous system which reduces stress and anxiety. (Video: https://youtu.be/HkRqEtbHcSA)
Ground down into your seat, straighten the spine, and relax the shoulders. Place the hands on the belly and breath into the lower abdomen. Exhale fully and feel the belly contract in towards the spine. Repeat a few times, then move the hands to the rib cage. Breath into the low belly and this time allow the breath to expand the rib cage out to the
sides . On the exhale, allow the rib cage to contract inward and the belly to hug in towards the spine once again. Lastly, bring the hands to rest on the collarbones and breathe into the belly, the rib cage, and finally into the chest. Exhale from the chest, then the rib cage, and then the belly, connecting these three parts of this breath. This breath promotes the focus inward and again, allows the heart rate and relaxes the nervous system. It is also great once you are under the water as it encourages long, slow, even breaths-a great way to maintain buoyancy control.
Ingrid is a trained Divemaster and mental health counselor with a degree in psychology and social work. Additionally, as a yoga teacher she has been able to combining these two passions on her travels around the world providing community service on coral restoration projects and providing therapeutic guided adventure expeditions.