I usually post about destinations to inspire visitors to visit new places. But what about inspiring you to visit a new world?! I am talking about the underwater world. The ocean covers more than 70% of Earth! And if you have a fear of scuba diving or the ocean, don’t close your browser yet. You may be interested in my story. I used to find scuba diving scary, but I now love it!
I was scared of the ocean, so I obviously found scuba diving scary too. I remember how as a teenager during our summer holidays in Brittany, I had no issues playing in the pool at the campground but would stick to walking on the rocks when we went to the beach.
Weirdly, I had always been curious about the ocean. I could spend hours daydreaming in front of it from a dry, safe spot. But when I watch the ocean today, I cannot stop thinking how much I want to go in. My fear of scuba diving is gone. I fell in love with the underwater world and even got the Rescue Diver certification. I hope my story can help you.
Is scuba diving scary?
Yes, scuba diving is often scary when you first try it. It’s quite overwhelming to enter a new world where the rules are different to what you’ve always known. But it’s also very exciting. I actually think it’s normal to find scuba diving scary, and it would be dangerous if you thought there were no risks involved in scuba diving. Scuba diving is considered an extreme sport, so it’s not an irrational fear to find it scary. But it shouldn’t stop you from trying the experience – like any other experience on your adrenaline bucket list. I’m so glad it didn’t stop me.
Although I don’t have a fear of scuba diving anymore, I understand why many people think scuba diving is scary. There’s no point in trying to list all the things that may make people think scuba diving is scary, I wouldn’t want to give you new ideas! But the most obvious ones we all think of:
- Marine animals – so many people are scared of sharks or poisonous animals. Trust me, this fear will slowly disappear as you get to know underwater creatures.
- Accidents – scuba diving is an extreme sport with big risks if something goes wrong. However, it’s also a sport with a lot of rules and regulations to minimise risks, so things rarely go wrong. I personally find skiing a lot more risky and I’ve seen more accidents while playing soccer than while scuba diving.
- Lack of control – we’re supposed to be land animals and depend on a lot of equipment to survive underwater. I’ll talk about this later in the article, but you’ll feel more and more in control as you learn more about scuba diving.
I was scared of all this, and more. But I’m so happy I pushed through and tried scuba diving!
How did I overcome my fear of scuba diving?
I hope you will find tips to apply to your situation by looking back at my experience. I am not a professional and all my comments are based on my personal experience.
1. My first step: understanding what I was actually scared of
Finding what you are afraid of and what you are uncomfortable with is a big step to start fighting your anxiety and fear of scuba diving. It will help find solutions to make you more comfortable. Are you afraid of drowning? Of sea creatures? Of sea predators? Did you have a trauma? Or a relative who has the same fear? How do you feel about depth?
I realised my fear of scuba diving was actually from being scared of not being in control.
At first, I first thought I was scared of the ocean and the unknown. I didn’t like going into the ocean because I hated the idea of not seeing what was around me and not being able to move freely. I was scared of stepping on something. But this is no longer the case when you scuba dive as you actually see underwater. Still, I was scared of scuba diving.
Before scuba diving, I had never realised how being in control was important for me and how hard it was for me to let go.
2. I thought of other situations where I managed to overcome my fears.
Diving into the unknown is always challenging, and I had always succeeded in doing it in other areas. I love travelling, and you never really control everything when you travel.
I also liked to compare my fear of scuba diving to my passion for hiking. I’m scared of heights and of snakes. Still, I go hiking in places where I have to climb and I know snakes live in the area. These fears don’t stop me. There’s been a few episodes when I had to turn around because my fear of heights kicked in and wouldn’t let me continue. I’ve encountered a few snakes from way closer than I ever wanted. I admit these moments weren’t fun. But I ended up being fine and I still love hiking.
So if I can push through my fears for hiking, I felt I could do it for scuba diving too.
3. Finding ways to gain confidence to reduce my fear of scuba diving
I was sure something would go wrong with my ears.
I used this excuse a few times to postpone the first time I’d try scuba diving. I had never heard about equalising before and had ear pain once while swimming in a pool. I thought it would come back with scuba diving.
Even if it wasn’t required, I chose to see a doctor who knew scuba diving and get my ears looked at. My ears looked fine and nothing indicated they could have issues while scuba diving, as long as I equalised when needed of course. I learnt that although beginners struggle with equalising techniques, it’s rarely a physical problem with their ears. I had no problem flying in airplanes, so the doctor wasn’t worried about it.
I tried different techniques for equalising my ears at home and in the pool. I actually could equalise very easily. It was reassuring and one less thing to stress about.
No matter what your fear is, it’s good to practice as much as possible in the pool before doing the open water dive.
You may even want to take extra lessons in the pool if needed. For me, just practising breathing underwater are re-doing all the basic skills (removing the mask, removing the regulator…) made me feel a lot more comfortable. To reduce your fear, you can also start in a very shallow area where you can stand up to be out of the water.
I was lucky: learning how to scuba dive was actually a solution to reduce my fear of not being in control.
Scuba diving would allow me to see what’s under me when I’m in the water and I would learn skills to gain control back in this unusual environment. But I didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars to get certified without knowing I would use my certification. I wanted to test if I’d actually liked scuba diving before committing to the course.
That’s how I found an excellent compromise. I signed up for an introduction to scuba diving session that included some theory, some practice in the pool and then one open-water dive with full supervision from a qualified scuba diving instructor. Time in the pool helped me build confidence. I got to use my equipment and tested how it felt to breathe underwater. I practised the exercises outside the water (as if I were in the water) before practising them in the pool. It wasn’t easy at first but after a few tries, I could clear and remove my mask. Of course, I was far from being in control, but it still gave me more confidence. I understood how things worked and what I had to do.
What if I cannot equalise and my ear hurts? What if I run out of air? What if my regulator breaks and I cannot breathe? What if my mask fills up with water? What if I lose the group? What if I want to get out of the water? I had all the answers and knew what to do. Of course, none of this happened.
Still, I struggled in open water and discovered a new fear.
I felt kind of in control in the pool. But when I started going down in open water, I panicked. I could only see the big blue and it was terrifying. I was breathing rapidly and felt unwell. We went back to the surface.
If I went back to the boat, it was over for that day. My instructor and my partner took the time to calm me down and talk to me to better understand what happened. I needed to catch my breath. And we found a solution for the big blue that looked so scary. We’d stay very close and I’d look into their eyes all the way down. And it worked. When we reached the bottom, I forgot about the scary big blue. Beautiful corals and fish were everywhere around me. The wow effect kicked in and my fear of scuba diving disappeared.
Looking back, I might have been less scared the first time if I had scuba dived from the shore where I could have always seen the bottom and avoided this “big blue” effect.
I’m glad we didn’t see a hammerhead shark.
I am scared of hammerhead sharks to the extent that I almost call it a phobia. Other sharks are fine (although I wouldn’t particularly want to meet great white sharks or tiger sharks), but just thinking of hammerhead sharks give me shivers and make me feel nauseous. I don’t know why. Still, I dive in locations where they could show up (“if you’re lucky”, they say).
How do I cope? Well, first of all, I don’t know how I would cope if I encountered one, to be honest. So I made sure my buddy is aware of that! I also forced myself to read positive stories about them as a first step, and sometimes watch videos of them. I always feel uncomfortable, but I also feel like it helps. I find the more you know about a species, the less scary it becomes as you understand better its behaviours and the actual dangers.
And I have a plan that I have rehearsed a few times in my mind in case one shows up. Hopefully, I’ll go in automatic mode and execute it rather than panicking… I’d go closer to my buddy and watch his excitement and how calm (or excited!) he is. And I’d focus on my breathing (slow and deep). Breathing is really important to deal with anxious situations.
Not all fears are easy to control. Some would take more time and effort. If you can talk to a professional about your fears, they often have excellent advice to help you move forward.
4. Putting all my chances for a successful dive
I’m grateful we had the best conditions for scuba diving and a stunning dive site.
If you’re scared of scuba diving, you don’t want to try it for the first time in bad conditions.
On my first dive ever, the sea was flat, there was no current and the visibility was good. It made it a lot easier to be able to talk to my instructor and partner and try going down a second time. I didn’t feel rushed or pressured.
The stunning underwater life also helped a lot. I was mesmerised and was touching a dream so I forgot I was ever scared in the first place. The excitement really helped me to relax and have a positive experience.
I took precautions to feel at my best for my first dive.
Anxiety can trigger behaviours before the dive that may jeopardise your achievement. I didn’t drink alcohol the night before. I also made sure I drank plenty of water and had enough to eat.
It’s a good idea to learn about breathing techniques for relaxation before your dive. Breathing can really help lower anxiety and better deal with a scary situation.
5. Finding the right people to dive with
Talking to other people really helped me reduce my fear of scuba diving. Most scuba divers have fears of their own that they had to face.
If you’re part of my scuba diving group, I wouldn’t want you to stay quiet and be scared before going underwater. If I notice someone is uncomfortable, I try to make them speak as it reduces the risks of having issues once we’re actually diving. One of the main rules of scuba diving is respecting and finding it brave to call off a dive if someone doesn’t feel comfortable.
My introduction to scuba diving session was an opportunity to spend time with the instructor and build trust before going to the open water. It was very important for me to be surrounded by people I trusted.
Instructors are used to people scared of scuba diving. They have experience dealing with common fears and may provide comforting words and advice to help you conquer your fear.
My partner is a smart person who wouldn’t take big risks. He had scuba dived before and was at ease in the water, so his confidence helped me see the activity without the scary lenses. Why would he be so excited about scuba diving if it was that scary?
If I had tried scuba diving with a friend who was scared of scuba diving, I’m not sure I would have been able to push through it. I’ve seen multiple times a couple of people dropping from the course together. My recommendation: if you see someone else who’s scared of scuba diving, don’t get too close to them as you’re trying to get over your feelings. Get close to the ones who are confident (but not reckless).
6. Ongoing: I keep learning and scuba dive regularly
Scuba diving has its dangers. Finding scuba diving scary isn’t unreasonable. Even when you know your equipment and have experience, bad things can happen. But I find that if we scuba dive regularly, we continue to gain experience and keep learning. It’s a good way to make scuba diving safer. We often look back at what happened during the dive. Of course, we talk about the cool things we saw, but also things we did that we could improve.
I feel incredibly lucky to have a buddy I can trust. It makes scuba diving a lot less scary. As we know each other very well, we communicate very well underwater and above water.
Even if you find scuba diving scary, I highly encourage you to give it a go.
There are ways to overcome your fear, and diving is such a wonderful experience that it’s worth the effort. Take it slow and do it with people you trust, one step at a time. Good luck!
Do you find scuba diving scary? Or did you overcome your fear of scuba diving? Share your experience in the comments below!
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