Overcome panic in scuba diving: introduction

This article is one of seven on the topic of how to overcome panic in scuba diving.  Panic is a complex issue, and it is important to explore what is happening for each diver.  This series is simply an introduction to help people raise discussions about their experiences and seek appropriate support.

You lost control.  Maybe you were on a course and got overwhelmed or maybe something stressful happened on a dive.  You panicked, or almost panicked, underwater.  It was scary, embarrassing and perhaps you actually hurt yourself. You feel like you are the only diver in the world who ever freaked out, and you certainly do not want it to happen again … but you love to scuba dive! You can’t bear to give it up, so you want to know how to get past it!

Understanding the problem of panic in scuba diving

Firstly, you are most certainly not the only diver who has experienced this.  Research is a bit limited, but some studies have suggested that around 1 or 2 out of every 4 divers report panic or near-panic at some time during their diving.. so that might be as many as one in every buddy pair! It’s not a disorder, its a relatively common occurrence and we can apply psychology to understand what makes a diver panic.  Once we understand it, we can address the risks and make it less likely a diver will panic. 

Secondly, the feeling of anxiety is not harmful, but losing control of your actions can be, because you may do something that makes the situation dangerous.  For example, panicked divers are likely to bolt to the surface and may be injured due to rapid ascent.  That means it is important to avoid putting yourself in a situation which may cause you to panic.  We will look at what those situations may be in the next article in the series.

Thirdly, for the reasons above, you need to be fit-to-dive, so do consider your own circumstances.  Are you experiencing high levels of stress? Have you any health conditions that may be relevant? If so, consider taking a break from scuba diving until you address those or can access appropriate adaptive diving.  However, for many people, this may well be the first time you have ever experienced panic.  It can be alarming, but it can happen to anyone, even if you do not have any previous issues with mental health. In this series of articles, read how to overcome panic in scuba diving.

If panic, anxiety or any other mental health concern is an issue for you, then seek advice from an appropriate professional (e.g. your doctor, or other healthcare worker).  For scuba diving training and advice on your diving, contact your instructor.