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!

Scuba diving on Lady Musgrave Island

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?

Great Barrier Reef

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?

Scuba diver looking at a weedy sea dragon in kelps at The Steps (Sydney)
Weedy sea dragon (The Steps)

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.

Wolf Rock Dive Grey Nurse Sharks
Grey nurse sharks at Wolf Rock (Rainbow Beach)

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.

Bull ray on Minjerribah

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.

Great Barrier Reef

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

Scuba diving in Cairns

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

Leopard shark with a scuba diver in the background taken at Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island)
Leopard shark at Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island)

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 instructor

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.

Scuba diver swimming through a door inside the HMAS Tobruk wreck
Scuba diving HMAS Tobruk wreck (Hervey Bay)

My partner

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

SS Yongala dive - School of barracudas
School of barracuda at the SS Yongala (Ayr)

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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This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. A Capone Connection

    Your pictures are amazing. I think I’m scared of trying it but if I get the opportunity I’ll read this again. Saving it for later. Thank you for the encouragement.

  2. Shannon

    I love your motivation and the amazing photos!

  3. Melinda

    As a fellow scuba diver, I agree that it’s smart to be scared at first. I tell people to take the rescue course because once you know how to handle emergencies, you’re much more comfortable! Bravo to you! Your photos are fantastic!

  4. Terri

    You are brave. I can’t even put my head underwater in the pool.

  5. Mashu

    I was scared of water too,i tried it along with the instructor ..it eased my fear a bit..but need to do it more often

  6. april

    wow!Wish I had gotten more comfortable in the water years ago so I go under the water and see such amazing sights! Great article!

  7. Lindajane

    What a great experience! So good to hear you overcame your fear & were able to enjoy the amazing under water world. Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Hannah

    This post is great! Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I have always wanted to try scuba diving but I definitely have a fear of it! The vastness and the unknowns of the ocean have always been a huge hurdle for me but you story inspires me to give it a go! I hope I get the opportunity to give it a try!

  9. Lenore

    Wow, you are very brave. Love that you were able to overcome your fears and accomplish your goal of scuba diving. Your pictures are amazing too!

  10. Pam

    I absolutely love scuba diving, but I still get nervous. Your underwater photos are so much better than mine haha. My partner doesn’t do it anymore he’s scared, so I go on my own with a group. These are great tips – the ocean is magical and should be experienced under water

  11. Rhonda

    I was scared the first time I scuba dived. I usually get scared the second I hit the water but as soon as I am under and going down, the fear disappears with the anticipation of what I am going to get to see.

  12. Sarah

    I love this!!! I’m certified and I always said I’d rather go diving than skydiving! One of my first real experiences was in the Dominican and it was sooooooooo wavy I thought there is no way I’m jumping in there haha! I love it though, I’d just advice against watching movies like Sanctum and avoid caves haha! Great pics!

  13. Elena

    How great that you have overcome your fear! I would love to scuba dive, but I’m to scared for sharks.

  14. Elle Burne

    Your underwater photos are amazing! What kit do you use? This is a great post, I am lucky that when I learned to dive I didn’t have much fear about it, however I still get extremely nervous when going inside shipwrecks!

  15. At Lifestyle Crossroads

    What a helpful post! Def agree that understanding what you are actually scared of is always a starting point. I´ve tried diving years ago and now you´ve inspired me to give it another try!

  16. Jackie

    Took my first dive lesson in the ocean. I did fine with the exception of a few things: I suck at clearing my mask so it makes me uncomfortable, I got cottonmouth on my second dive of that day which raised my anxiety. I literally did everything else without panicking (threw my regulator, swept to get it, rode my bcd at surface, took it off underwater, used alternate air source, had my air shut off). It’s literally just the whole clearing of the mask thing I do not like. Im also super bummed i didnt go today BUT i woke up in the middle of the night with a clogged nostril and some pressure in my right sinus so i played it safe and called off the dive (plus again im not comfortable clearing my mask. I can but it takes a million tries). Got any advice?

    1. mii.eloise@gmail.com

      Hi Jackie, Congrats for your first ocean dive lesson and for doing most of the exercises. It’s always recommended to play it safe when scuba diving, so you got that right too! I remember I didn’t like the mask removal exercise either, but it was easy for all the others in the group so it reassured me. Now, I don’t even think about it and clearing my mask is a normal thing to do. My first tip is to talk to your instructor about it. They’re the best to help you because they’ve been trained for it, but they also see what you’re doing and can give you personalised advice.

      You can train to put your mask back on your face with your eyes closed and while breathing through your mouth when you’re out of the water, and then inhaling through your mouth and blowing through your nose. I find that repeating the exercise makes it easier to execute as you don’t have to think about the how (it becomes almost automatic) and can focus on breathing. For me, as long as I control my breathing (long, regular, deep breaths), it lowers my anxiety. So when you do it again in the ocean, and you feel the anxiety increasing (even maybe before starting the exercise), forget about the exercise and focus on getting your breathing right first. Don’t move so that your buoyancy isn’t affected, just breathe. Then continue the exercise.

      If you can find time and have snorkelling gear (as you can’t hire scuba gear without being certified!), I highly recommend training in a pool where your feet touch the ground (so it’s easy to go back up and feel in control) until you’re comfortable with whatever is making you anxious (or even your bath if you can’t get access to a pool easily, but it’s a lot less comfortable!). If you can find a buddy who is at ease doing this and can train with you, you may find it helpful to see someone who has no issue doing the exercises.

      You can also try to understand which step(s) is a problem – and I’ve tried to include some tips too that may help which each step but again the best is to ask your instructor:
      – Is it being underwater with your eyes closed when you no longer have the mask on? In the pool, you can put your head in the water with your snorkel out of the water so you get the feeling of breathing through your mouth underwater with your eyes closed.
      – Is it because you want to breathe through your nose or because of the feeling of water entering your nose? Just practice blowing through your nose first by putting your nose in the water with a snorkel to inhale with your mouth. You may start with your nose pinched, and then without pinching your nose as a second step. It’s easy to come out, so you can push to your limit and stay a bit longer every time. After a while, you should feel more comfortable.
      – Is it when you have to clear the mask by pushing water out through your nose? Then, you can add a little bit of water in your mask while snorkelling (it’s okay if your full head isn’t underwater). Just quickly slide a finger at the bottom or side of your mask to unseal it from your face when your head is in the water and let some water come in). Then you can inhale through your snorkel and exhale through your nose while holding the top of the mask to blow the water out (you should tilt your head back a bit but most of your mask should be in the water otherwise it won’t work). You have your face down when you snorkel so the feeling is different (less pressure, and the water fells away from your face). But the technique is quite close so it may help to practice it. Then, the big difference with a mask full of water is that you’ll have to look up a bit when your head is fully submerged (it’s hard to do with snorkelling gear).
      – Is it only when your mask is full of water that you feel anxious? Practice the partially flooded exercise and then the removal exercise first. Once you’re at ease with these two, the fully flooded mask should feel a lot easier.

      I hope it helps. Good luck! I know it can seem hard I promise we all can do it 🙂

    2. Jackie

      Thank you! I just made another post! I’m certified now. I used your tips about clearing and it was stupid easy. Dive 3 I kind of spazzed with the full removal then putting it back on but I think it was just nerves of the day. I stopped, held my mask, controlled my breathing, then continued. Clearing a mask is SO EASY from practicing how to clear while I showered. Didn’t even think about it. Thank you! You helped me make my dream come true!

  17. Jackie

    I was excited then scared to death after my first breath underwater. Though I did complete the first day of diving (most confined water skills), my instructor was not safe so I didn’t feel comfortable continuing with him. I went with a couple who own their own dive business and were military as well. They were calm, made funny faces which helped me relax, and made it fun. It’s literally the only ewason I got my cert was because they helped me build my confidence. My first two open water dives I got to see sea turtles and an octopus (we had some air left so we hung out with the octopus a bit). Our last two we also saw sea turtles. That showed me that I truly did belong where I was. I love it now (though I still am not confident swimming without a skilled diver as my buddy who makes me comfortable and knows I’m still a little nervous).

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