scuba diving

Ways to make scuba diving easier

Diving can be challenging & exhilarating or a relaxing escape from everyday life. Whichever sort of diving you are looking for, have you tried these ways to make scuba diving easier?

Stay shallow & stick within limits

Obvious, but frequently overlooked. Deeper and more challenging diving comes with more risks and increased stress, particularly when done before the diver is ready. Limits of depth and certain types of diving are stated during training and course is created with the hazards of these conditions in mind. For example, beginner courses are quite basic on air/gas management, with greater understanding of this worked towards in courses for deeper diving. Also equipment and procedures are needed for more challenging dives: more gas (sidemount or twinset dives; shut-down procedures).

Heading for the sort of dives that need this sort of skill-level and preparation increases stress and risk. Taking on this extra training and equipment does not appeal to all divers; and that’s okay! Keep dives to max.18 metres, 12 metres or even less. Colour is brighter in the shallows anyway.

It can help to get clear with yourself about the sort of diving that you want to do. Peer pressure and factors can force a slide into pushing deeper or more challenging diving, when that doesn’t really fit for you. As a diver, you may want to keep going, to build on your current level and do more. It can sometimes seem that the only way to do that is by going deeper. Instead, check out this article for one way to decide your direction in diving based on what matters to you. In the ScubaFlex course, we spend more time clarifying this, and learning skills to stay on track.

Practice properly & make it difficult

Have you ever been told: “you just need more practice”? Or “just dive, it gets easier with practice”?

In one sense this is very true, … but if you don’t know how practice works, or how to do it effectively, then it this advice can be surprisingly misleading! Knowing how to practice effectively can make scuba diving easier and help you do more. Check out this Ted Ed video for an overview:

Divers will often use the word “practice” to mean “just go diving”. This is a bit of a misuse of the word practice. “Just diving” can lead to experience, and gaining experience can be useful, but just doing something is not the same as dedicated practice. For practice to lead to easier diving, there needs to be a clear focus for what we are working on. This means we set aside time to go over a particular skill or routine in a suitable place (for example a pool, confined water, shallow water or open water, depending on our focus and current level). Breaking down a process into small chunks, identifying which parts we need to work on and developing technique is known as deliberate practice.

Pick something specific

If we don’t pick something specific to work on, then it is tempting to drift off or do something else, as soon as it feels challenging. The focus can be anything we want to work on, such as regulator or mask skills, out-of-air procedures, other emergency procedures, or anything else we want to learn. But, unless you want to risk getting really good at doing something wrong, it’s important to select something you already know how to do. If you do not know how to do it, that is not practice, it’s new learning. Without feedback, we can learn to do a skill incorrectly or even dangerously, so its often preferable to seek instruction for new skills.

If you know how to do the skill or routine already, then effective practice can simply mean repeating the skill over and over a few times. If it’s working well, then you will notice that the skills get smoother and faster. After a while, you might notice that frustration or anxiety disappears and is replaced with calm and boredom. This can be a sign that your brain and nervous system is making the skill automatic, so it takes up less mental space and you gain the capacity to perceive or do more. Do a few more run-throughs, noticing how much easier the skill has become.

At this point, you could end the practice and continue the dive, or shift focus to a different skill. Alternatively, take it up a notch by increasing the task load; making the skill harder by adding an extra challenge that stretches capacity again. For example, if you were practicing mask clearing or DSMB deployment while hovering, once it feels easy, make it harder by practice staying within a narrower window (e.g. at 5 metres, plus or minus 0.5 metres / 0.3 metres). This is known as effortful practice: making the task harder so that the original task becomes much easier. Oddly, the answer to diving easier is to first make it harder; more effort in training or practice brings the actual dive closer into our comfort zone.

Train hard, dive easy

If this topic is of interest, here is a more detailed article on the perils of misunderstanding “practice” and how experience, training and practice work together. You may also want to check out the “Develop in Diving” section of Psychology for Scuba Divers to understand how we learn effectively as divers.

Apply psychological skills for diving

Many of the things that make diving feel difficult are surprisingly easily fixed. For example, sometimes feelings of nausea or panic have been triggered by a build-up of carbon dioxide from overexertion or shallow, stressed breathing. One of the most straightforward ways to be more comfortable, calmer and clear-thinking is to breathe properly. This sounds almost too obvious, everyone knows how to breathe! Well, yes and no. Our breathing habits are affected by lots of things. Stress can change how we breathe dramatically. Often, busy lives lead to changes in natural breathing habits. Breathing can become fast and shallow, and this impacts on our physical, mental and emotional state. The effect of pressure underwater means that the gas we breathe is denser, and so the impact of poor breathing habits can be amplified. Narcosis and hypercapnia can add stress and effort to dives.

Make scuba diving easier with mental rehearsal

It is not just physical. The breath is a bridge between the body and mind. Breathing slowly and deeply can often allow a calm, focused mental; helpful for diving easier. When we are calm, things feel easier, but also means we can be more capable of responding effectively to challenges. This could mean making fewer mistakes and therefore experiencing easier dives. Training divers in diaphragmatic breathing has been demonstrated to help novices in diving training to learn skills and stay calm. If you are interested in this, and more, benefits of breathing for scuba divers, take this short course.

There are many psychological skills that can help us as divers. Mental rehearsal has been shown to have a range of benefits for scuba divers. By “practicing” a skill in our minds, it can be surprising how much easier it becomes. For example, rescue diver skills have a series of steps that can be tricky to remember to do in order. Running through the steps using effective mental rehearsal methods helps with learning, and makes doing the skill more automatic.

Fix physical fitness concerns

If it’s the swims or walking around with heavy kit that is making diving harder than it needs to be, then we can often address this indirectly through improving fitness, strength or flexibility. Making changes to lifestyle is not always easy, but scuba diving is a great motivator for making improvements. Even if that is simply to be a little fitter in order to need less air and gain longer dives. It can be helpful to link the activity to the outcome you are looking for in your diving. Perhaps doing yoga stretches to make putting fins on easier? Losing weight in order to carry less lead? Or building leg strength to support walking with kit during shore dive entrance and exits? Maybe swimming sessions in the pool to help with finning during the dive?

Tackle mental & emotional blocks to make scuba diving easier

Could there be something getting in the way of diving, training or making changes to lifestyle? If you frequently find dives stressful, perhaps there is some issue or trauma being triggered?

Divers have difficult and distressing experiences sometimes: running out of air/gas; entanglement; panic; drowning; decompression illness; or even having a hard time in training. People will often move on naturally from these experiences, but this is not always the case. Sometimes such experiences can lead to stress injuries: unprocessed trauma that holds mental and emotional blocks. If you have had an incident like this and struggle to think of it without feeling anxious, numb or angry, then that’s one sign it may still be impacting you. The experience may not even be diving-related. It could be historic, such as struggling with dive courses when your experience of education in school was problematic. Read more about mental and emotional blocks in this article.

There are various ways to tackle such mental blocks ranging from talking to trusted buddies, asking for support from your instructor to seeking professional therapy.