Why do I panic underwater?

Because your mind and body sense a threat

We are underwater.  We would not survive long without our scuba equipment.  Experiencing emotions like anxiety and fear is perfectly normal.  These emotions are our signals to detect problems.  But anxiety can sometimes get out of control, and its useful to reflect on the question “why do I panic underwater?”

We have an instinct for survival.  We fight, flee or freeze to escape danger.  When a threat appears the survival system kicks in and drives our actions.    Sensations, thoughts and emotions can all trigger the survival reaction.  The system was not designed to work with scuba!

Scuba diver panic is common          

Experience of panic and near-panic is reported by between 25 and 54 percent of divers.  This means perhaps as many as one diver in every buddy pair has panicked, or almost panicked, at some stage during their diving.  You are likely reading this now because it has happened to you or your buddy. 

Panic is a problem in scuba diving

A panicked diver cannot think clearly.  That means they are incapable of solving the problem that is freaking them out.  They have probably no idea what the problem even is anymore.  Their only focus is to reach safety at all costs.   This leads to dangerous actions.  Panic has been reported as a contributor in 68% of deaths in scuba diving.  It is also likely that episodes of panic are under-reported.

Diver panic is a complex issue. It’s tempting to want to pin it down to an obvious cause, which is why you will hear people saying things like, “the diver should not have panicked” , or “the instructor should have…” . When in fact, the events that lead up to an incident are multiple. But, it can be hard to hold all the different aspects in mind. This is the reason for the panic triangle model, which reminds us to look at the whole situation and work out what needs to change.

Emotions like fear and anxiety are okay.  Losing control of our actions is not.

What to have a deeper understanding of “why do I panic underwater?” – pick up a free eGuide to reflect on to what makes divers panic and some ways to avoid it.