By: Ingrid Hasselquist
When it comes to being a scuba diver, safety is consistently kept in the forefront of our minds. Safety is integrated into every aspect of the journey. Without feeling this sense of security, it is near impossible to relax and enjoy the beautiful special experience that diving is meant to be.
So, what does this look like?
Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself on the dive boat, maybe at one of your favorite dive sites. You’ve triple checked your gear, a steady inhale into your regulator gives a cool rush of air to the lungs, a press of the LPI comforts you with the hug of an inflated BCD. Fins and mask are on, and the number of bells and whistles that are now a part of you almost makes it feel secure enough to go into the sea. Everything seems to be in order.
But do you ever consider another totally different, and equally important factor?
What is my emotional state today?
When was the last time I took note of my mental health?
How will my thoughts affect my overall safety?
It may seem irrelevant, silly, or even shameful for some. But these questions should be considered with the same importance as confirming your PSI levels. Divers are responsible for self-regulation, meaning it is up to us to decide if we are fit to dive, physically and mentally.
In fact, stress is the cause of most difficult experiences, after all it originates at biological level. Not surprisingly, the main causes of diving accidents are not the environment, but rather human error. According to researchers Peter Buzzcott, Michael Rosenberg and Terri Pikora, the most common of these errors include making rapid ascents, losing buoyancy control, and running out of air; all of which can be correlated with a lack of mindfulness and/or an increase in anxiety or panic. Dive instructors are typically not mental health professionals, but that does not mean we can’t integrate simple emotional regulation techniques to help manage a stressful situation both in and out of the water when teaching their diving curriculum and working on practicing foundational skills.
So, as a diving instructor (or recreational / technical diver) perhaps a few minutes should be spent asking:
Have you considered implementing mindfulness techniques and coping skills for anxiety into the diving curriculum?
How could this change the way we react to stressful underwater circumstances?
Could a moment of mentally checking in with the self as part of the BWARF or buddy check make the difference?
Could breathing work calm the nervous system help manage a dangerous loss of buoyancy control?
Could coping skills catered specifically to panicked divers make the difference in a life-or-death situation?
There are many factors that go into a panic-driven diving situation, but with safety being the collective priority of everyone in the diving community, we can all agree that anything we can do to heighten that is a priority. Before your next dive, please think of how you will focus your mind and what coping skills you will turn to reflexively. This is a call to action for all of us to consider how we approach and manage those moments of panic in a more holistic and mentally conscious level … for the safety and love of the sport, our fellow divers, and most importantly ourselves.
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.