Five Ways To Overcome Pre-Dive Nerves
Whether you’re a first-time diver or a seasoned pro, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced acute nervousness before a dive at some time or another. For some people, pre-dive nerves are an rare occurrence that only affect them in particularly stressful circumstances; for others, they are a serious affliction that tarnishes the enjoyment of every single dive. There are many reasons for a diver to feel anxious before a dive- perhaps because of past experiences, like losing control in strong current or becoming separated from the group; or perhaps due to feelings of unpreparedness, inadequacy, the fear of evaluation either by an instructor or by an unfamiliar buddy, or simply the fear of the unknown. For many divers, it’s the thought of what could happen, rather than anything that has already happened, that causes pre-dive nervousness. Often, these nerves disappear soon after entering the water, but if left unaddressed there is also a risk that extreme nervousness could eventually translate into full-blown panic. Panic is a major factor in many diving accidents and fatalities, due to the inability of a panicked diver to deal with a situation rationally. Therefore, learning how to minimise pre-dive nerves improves diver safety as well as the level of enjoyment we get from the sport. This article explores five easy ways to help achieve this goal.
One of the biggest mistakes that nervous divers make is in thinking that they are alone in their anxiety. The idea that everyone else on board is both supremely confident and competent can be intimidating, and often exacerbates already existing nerves. Communication is therefore an important part of combating nervousness- if you share your concerns, you will often find that other divers onboard feel the same way, and together you can talk through and rationalise your fears. If you are nervous about a particular aspect of the dive, make sure to let your buddy or dive guide know- that way, they can help you deal with your issues whether they are real or imagined. Don’t be afraid to ask your dive guide as many questions as you need to about the proposed dive site- often, knowing the details about an imminent dive can help counter the fear of the unknown.
Equally, make sure to communicate properly with your buddy so that you feel well-prepared for the dive ahead- agree on a plan including maximum depths and time, agree on what signals you will use throughout the dive and on what procedures you will follow if any emergency does arise. Finally, be honest when it comes to communicating with yourself- you alone know your abilities and your limitations, and you alone know whether you are fit to dive on any given day. Issues unrelated to diving can severely decrease a diver’s stress management threshold- for example, if you are having relationship or financial problems, the added stress could mean that you are less able to deal with nerves than you might otherwise have been. If you’re having a bad day, don’t be afraid to pull out of a dive- save it for another day when your stress levels are lower and you can enjoy the experience instead of dreading it.
If you find yourself imagining everything that could potentially go wrong underwater all the way to the dive site, you may find that visualisation techniques could help rationalise your concerns. Take the time before entering the water to sit quietly and go through the dive mentally from start to finish. Consider the steps of kitting up, of entering the water, of descending etc and make sure that you feel comfortable in your ability to complete each stage of the dive. Think of the issues that you might encounter, and instead of panicking, calmly work out what you would do in each situation. In doing so, you will realise that you are equipped to deal with the emergency in question- and suddenly, the prospect of a self-inflating BCD or being overweighted doesn’t seem like a cause for panic, but rather a challenge that you can overcome in the unlikely event that it should occur. As well as considering what could potentially go wrong, consider the reasons for going on the dive in the first place. For example, if the dive site is known for its population of pygmy seahorses, make finding them a positive goal to focus on. This will not only provide a distraction from the cause of your nervousness, but will help to remind you that diving should be fun, rather than frightening.
Worries about malfunctioning equipment are often one of the biggest causes of pre-dive nerves. To counter this, you need to be confident that you can rely on your gear underwater, and that you have everything you need to remain safe throughout the dive. The first step is to allow yourself the time to set up your gear at a relaxed pace, so that you can be sure to check your set-up sufficiently and address any issues you may have. If you are unsure about any aspect of your gear, don’t be afraid to ask your dive guide or your buddy for assistance- there are no stupid questions when it comes to ensuring your safety. Similarly, make a point of performing your buddy checks before entering the water- that way, you can reassure yourself that everything is working as it should be, and make sure that you and your buddy are familiar with the specific configurations of each other’s equipment.
If you are diving with new gear, familiarise yourself with it and practice setting it up before diving with it for the first time. If you are worried about being under or overweighted, ask your dive guide for the time to perform a weighting check on the surface before descent. Discuss your weighting with them and let them know it may take you a while to get it right- that way, they can carry extra weights for you in the event that you are underweighted, and be prepared to take weights from you if you are overweighted. Carrying specialised equipment can also help to assuage other causes of nervousness- for example, if your biggest fear is becoming separated from the group, carrying a delayed SMB in your BCD will reassure you that even if separation should occur, you will be able to be found on the surface. Acknowledge your concerns and cater to them in order to give yourself the confidence you need- if you worry about air consumption, dive with a bigger cylinder; if you worry about being unable to communicate with your buddy underwater, carry a dive rattle. Being prepared for all eventualities is one of the most effective ways of combating pre-dive nerves.
For some divers (and particularly those that are recently qualified) pre-dive nerves stem from a lack of confidence in their own ability. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for new divers to feel as though they lack understanding or proficiency after their entry level course, whether as a result of poor instruction, large class sizes, or rushed skills. If you are one of the many divers that feel this way, consider enrolling in a refresher course before attempting to dive recreationally. These courses allow you to reinforce and practice vital skills under the supervision of an instructor, and will help you to feel more confident thereafter. Refresher courses are not just for new divers- they are also a good idea for any diver who has spent some time away from the sport, or who feels nervous about their ability to perform certain problem skills, like mask clearing or regulator recovery. Skill development is about acquiring new skills as well as practicing and perfecting old ones. By enrolling on further education courses, you will inevitably become a better diver- and therefore, a braver one. Completing your underwater navigation specialty will help you to feel more at home in the water, and more confident that you won’t get lost, for example, while completing your underwater naturalist specialty will teach you to be less afraid of potentially dangerous marine life.
Know Your Limits
Above all, know your limits. Make sure to stay within the boundaries of your training and experience- if you know that you are equipped to deal with a situation, you will feel less nervous about entering it in the first place. For example, the fear of becoming trapped inside a wreck is a very real one for a diver that has not been trained in wreck penetration, and therefore has no idea how to deal with an emergency of that kind. Be honest with your buddy or dive guide about your abilities, and pick a dive site that corresponds to your training. Knowing your limits not only means recognising what you are capable of as a diver, but also what you are comfortable with- you may have the skill set to cope with strong current, for example, but if you don’t enjoy it, is there any point in putting yourself in that situation? Never lose sight of the fact that diving should be fun- if you feel uncomfortable and afraid every time you go diving, you need to change the way you do it. Never allow your fellow divers to pressure you into agreeing to a dive that you aren’t comfortable with- and remember that you always have the right to decide to pull out of a dive, at any stage. For some divers, just acknowledging that they have the right to opt out is enough to calm pre-dive nerves and allow them to feel in control of the situation. Trust your instincts, and learn to tell the difference between normal nervousness and debilitating fear- and make the decision on whether or not to dive accordingly.
Following these five steps will not only help you to overcome pre-dive nerves, but will also make you a safer and more competent diver in general. Most importantly, following these five steps should ensure that enjoyment, rather than fear, is the defining emotion of your diving experiences.
Article by Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson