A few weeks ago I spent three whole days with my feet planted firmly outside of my comfort zone. I endured three nights of fitful sleep, woke up each day feeling anxious and on more than one occasion had to have a serious word with myself. As a result I not only faced and overcame a couple of fears but I also had a number of experiences that will stay with me a lifetime.
Over those three days I took the PADI Open Water Diver course to become a qualified scuba diver and in the process I learnt a few more things about dealing with fear and in particular what to do when panic strikes.
In one of my earliest posts, I talked about the different levels of fear I face. High-level, medium-level and low-level. I tend to experience high-level fear when I participate in ‘the kind of activity that gets adrenalin pumping around my veins causing my heart to race and my palms to sweat.’ For me, learning to scuba dive meant dealing with a number of high-level fears. Namely dying either from drowning, getting trapped underwater, being attacked by an underwater creature, decompression sickness or in my darker moments a combination of all of the above.
When faced with these kind of threats, I have a tendency to panic. It’s the type of fear I hate the most and it’s what I experienced a few weeks ago trying to break up a dog fight and it’s also what I experienced when I jumped out of a plane at 12,000 feet.
There are obvious times when panic (or the fight or flight response) is necessary but in a situation like this panicking is really unhelpful and if anything it’s more likely to make a dangerous situation even more dangerous. One of the most important things you can do when scuba diving is to breathe slowly and deeply. This is not so easy to do in fight or flight mode.
After spending day one split between the classroom and the swimming pool, my mind was filled with scenarios of what could go wrong under the water. I also learnt for the first time, just what I was going to have to do in order to pass this course. On days two and three I would complete two dives a day during which I would have to perform a number of ‘skills’ in order to pass the practical aspect of the course. One skill in particular nearly became my nemesis.
There’s always one
What’s so scary about scuba diving? You may (or may not) ask. Imagine this if you will, mask removal and replace. Yes that’s right, whilst under the water, I had to completely remove the mask that helpfully covers my eyes and nose to stop water getting in and then replace it over my eyes and nose filled with water. Keeping calm (preferably), I then had to use an out breath from my nose to clear the water within it.
In actual fact it’s a fairly straightforward thing to do but throw panic into the mix and you’ve got a different story. I had tried it in the pool and came up arms flailing, gasping for air, and coughing up the large amounts of water I’d inhaled. This time I was going to have to do it under the water in the ocean and there would be no popping up to catch my breath. This skill above all other fears was what kept me awake the night before my first day of open water diving.
Something I’ve learnt about fear is that who I’m with can have a bearing on my fear levels. Being around the right kind of people in a scary situation can most definitely help. I was lucky enough to have a very patient and supportive instructor who on more than one occasion said to me “Fear is temporary, regret is forever” which, without him even realising it, was exactly the kind of mantra that will seriously motivate me to dig deep.
I also had a conversation with a lovely woman on the two-hour boat ride to the dive site, which changed everything for me. Firstly she was one of those people who I made such a connection with that for most of the boat ride I found myself so engrossed in our conversation that I barely had time to focus on my fears. Eventually as we neared the dive site, I confessed to her that I was doing my best not to panic. Immediately without hesitating she said “don’t focus on not panicking, focus on staying calm”. Of course she was right, if I told myself not to panic as I had been doing where is my focus? On panic.
You got this!
Immediately, I switched my thinking to staying calm and I then remembered a Danielle LaPorte video my friend had sent me earlier that week in which Danielle tells us “you can do this, you got this” and with that flash of inspiration my mantra went from “don’t panic” to “you got this”.
It changed everything.
I won’t lie, I still struggled with my mask removal and replace but I did it nonetheless and went on to complete four incredible and mind-blowing dives and become a qualified scuba diver.
I wish I could put into words what scuba diving is like. I wish I could upload some larger than life pictures to show you how stunningly beautiful it is down there. But I can’t and nor should I. If you would really like to know then I suggest you put it on that list of goals and dreams I keep telling you to write and then go do it!
Do you have any tips for dealing with panic? Or have you overcome panic to achieve something incredible? If so I’d love to hear about it. If you enjoyed the post, please don’t forget to share it by hitting one of the buttons below and if you ever find yourself on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta in Thailand and want to dive, use Ocean Divers, they come with my highest recommendation!