We’ve all heard people say they’re too afraid to try diving for a variety of reasons — claustrophobia, sharks, drowning — and maybe we felt that way too before we fell in love with the sport. Here’s how to address and overcome those fears.
We don’t have to tell you that scuba diving is a fantastic sport. We regularly travel to exotic locations and bond with our fellow divers over our shared passion. And although scuba diving fascinates many people, most of them never try it. Or, they stop partway through their first scuba-diving certification course because of fears that they can’t shake. Fears that stop people from scuba diving run the gamut from drowning to marine life. But with proper training, you can address and overcome all of these.
First and foremost, it’s important to know that scuba diving is a very safe sport. More people die playing tennis or running every year than from scuba diving. And almost everything we spend our time learning, in particularly in the early scuba courses, is about safety.
Fears That Stop People From Scuba Diving
Second, it helps to address the specific fear that’s holding you back. Diving is not for everyone, but assuming someone wants to give it a try, here are five fears that stop people from scuba diving, and how to address them.
Fear of drowning
It’s a natural fear: we’re terrestrial animals, not aquatic ones. So suddenly finding yourself below the surface of a pool, lake or ocean with a foreign apparatus in your mouth can be daunting. Unless your fear of drowning is an actual phobia, most people find relief by simply slowing down and staying shallow. Don’t go further or deeper until you’re quite ready. Don’t start on any underwater exercises too quickly; simply take some time to sit quietly on the bottom and get accustomed to breathing underwater.
Fear of sharks (or other marine animals)
Some people find the idea of entering the realm of sharks unpleasant, and imagine ferocious feeding machines lurking in the depths, waiting for them. Others find octopus or eels unpleasant, or even scary. These fears are unfortunately stoked by the media, but if this is a full-on phobia, then potential divers many need to address it with a professional. If you’ve got a friend who’s anxious about diving because of sharks, show them the numbers and explain that very, very few marine animals are dangerous to people, and that attacks are very rare, particularly against scuba divers. It can help a new diver address this common fear to realize that most animals, including sharks, avoid us because of the noisy bubbles we produce every time we exhale.
The feeling of being “trapped” underwater, perhaps exacerbated by the pressure of the water, can make some people feel claustrophobic. This can cause anything from discomfort to all-out panic, which can lead a diver to ascend too fast from depth.
If this feeling commonly afflicts you or a dive buddy, the best thing to do is try to calm your mind. Focus on your breathing; remind yourself that you can surface at any time; and keep your mind on what you’re doing and seeing, rather than on the water between you and the surface. Take it easy and don’t push yourself too far. Slowly get accustomed to the feeling of being underwater. In phobia treatment, this would be called systematic desensitization. If you feel the claustrophobia getting the better of you, it’s better to abandon the dive while you’re still relatively calm and can ascend at a normal rate, rather than to push yourself too far and then risk panicking at depth. It’s also much more likely that you’ll want to dive again after an experience like this if you simply end the dive when you need to.
Fear of running of air
While related to the fear of drowning, this one is more specific, and focuses on the air supply stopping suddenly, either because of equipment failure or that the diver simply runs out of air.
One of the best ways to overcome this fear is to simply breathe in the regulator to get used to how it feels. Start on dry land if necessary. Learning good air management is also helpful, including teaching divers to check their air gauges regularly. Learning to trust your equipment also helps. I usually tell people that I have never, in my 20-plus years of diving, seen properly used equipment fail. If a regulator should fail, the modern construction means that such a failure will cause it to free-flow. It will essentially provide too much air, not too little.
Fear of failure
Scuba diving is unlike anything most people have tried before. It requires you to navigate in 3D and puts demands on your body that are very unlike most other sports. You must also master a specific skill set, such as mask clearing, hovering weightless and more. All of these new demands can seem daunting for some people, and they fear failing and looking foolish. I’ve found this, paradoxically, to be especially true of people who are quite used to the water, such as former competitive swimmers. Their water experience means they put high demands on themselves in terms of comfort and skill mastery. This is unfair as the skills needed to master scuba diving are only partially related to surface swimming.
If you’d like to try diving but you’re afraid it will be too complicated for you, accept that it’s a new skill, one that will require work to master. Embrace the idea of being a novice at something again. Enjoy the challenge of learning something entirely new. Know that the fears that stop people from scuba diving are common — you’re not alone. As an instructor, I always remind people that scuba diving is very much a non-competitive sport. There’s no need to “be the best.” Each diver develops skills at his own pace. A somewhat slow learner in the beginning may outperform everyone else later on.