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Anxiety and Diving – My Story

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What can you do to help a friend or a dive buddy who experiences anxiety? Chloe from The Scuba Place shares her personal experience dealing with anxiety in and out of the water.

Lockdown is nearly over! None of us knew how long it would last, what to expect or what to do. Throughout lockdown, we’ve been restricted from working, socialising, doing what we love, seeing who we love and so much more. The long-term restriction has affected some more than others and has taken a toll on the mental health of many. I feel it’s important to discuss this so we can better understand how lockdown has affected people not just physically and socially, but mentally, so that when the time comes, we’ll be ready to get back into diving safely. To that point, I would like to share my struggles and experiences with my mental health in and out of the water, so others can learn and become more aware.

One aspect of mental health I want to address in particular is anxiety. Anxiety affects everyone, even though you may not realise it! Anxiety can include feelings of nausea, lack of motivation, becoming lazy or over-active, shutting down, or acting fidgety, over thinking situations or feelings of underachievement, and many many more symptoms. I personally don’t like to define the term anxiety, because I don’t believe there is one specific definition. What we need to take notice of, is that if any of these thoughts start to feel like they can’t be controlled, it can lead to a panic attack. Panic attacks can be life threatening, especially under water, so it’s important we learn more about what to do if it happens. I personally struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, which can be quite difficult, especially when you’re a diver. I thought I would share some mishaps I’ve had in the past, how I overcame them, and how having a buddy who’s aware can reduce stress and danger.

For me, I couldn’t tell you why I am anxious 70% of the time, and that is extremely frustrating. Not knowing where these emotions are coming from is particularly overwhelming for me, and I often work myself up into a panic attack. Over time, I have learnt to accept my anxiety, acknowledge it’s there, and use some coping mechanisms to help although, I haven’t perfected this yet! There are certainly times where I can’t tell myself I’ll be ok in ten minutes, an hour or tomorrow. The feelings can be constant and intense, but I’m learning that it’s ok. Everyone can experience some form of anxiety, and it is normal. For the other 30% of the time, not knowing an outcome can get my anxiety rocketing! So, for someone who isn’t the most experienced diver, I tend to feel sick to my stomach before and during a dive trip – and I promise it’s not the sea sickness, not all of it anyway!

As I mentioned previously, anxiety can be different for everyone, but by sharing how it manifests for me, I hope others can learn more about it, and others who experience anxiety can feel comfortable talking about it. As I’ve not known what causes most of my anxiety, it’s been difficult to pinpoint triggers, but after some time I’ve established that anticipation can be really hard for me. All the build-up to a dive; waking up in the morning, making sure I’m eating enough for breakfast, getting dive kit on the boat, the dive briefing, travelling to the dive site, kitting up and pre-dive safety checks. It can be a lot of waiting and anticipating. Anticipation kills me and I have no idea why.

Let me share an experience from my last diving trip. We were lucky enough to go to Grenada in October 2020. I hadn’t been diving for three years, and in all honesty, I was incredibly nervous. I knew I would be anxious to go diving again because I wanted to make sure I could remember how to dive well, and safely. My biggest fear was putting anyone else at risk, and I think this made me overthink so much. My anxiety was already on board the plane to Grenada before I was!

Luckily, my dad had a conversation with my instructor the day before our first dive to let him know about my anxious tendencies and my panic attacks. I didn’t feel as though I could say anything myself, and I felt a bit embarrassed to talk about it. Looking back on it now, that seems silly. Nonetheless, if you feel as though you can’t speak to your buddy or instructor yourself, it’s perfectly ok for someone who knows to talk to them for you. I know for a fact it made me feel a lot more comfortable straight away. When the morning came for our first day of diving, I was agitated, fidgety, very quiet and I felt sick. However, I did want to go diving. I have such amazing memories from my previous experiences, I knew it was just my brain telling me nonsense through anxiety. But with that first giant stride, my anxiety was literally washed away! I felt all the wonderful emotions that I had on my first ever dive, and every dive since!

It’s certainly important to take the small wins with anxiety to help you when you can’t seem to shake it. For example, the first day of diving in Grenada was a good day for me. Granted, I felt dreadful all morning, but as soon as I hit the water, I was fine. So, how do I deal with my anxiety when it doesn’t disappear, or panic creeps up on me in the water? If you’re a Rescue Diver, you’ll remember that PADI advise an anxious diver to Stop, Think and then Act. This is done through communicating with your buddy, signalling, and then slowing down or stopping until the feeling subsides. This is great advice! Great communication with a buddy massively helps an anxious diver and is another reason why your buddy should be informed if you tend to get anxious during diving. I want to take PADI’s advice a bit further and share what helps for me.

Unfortunately, I have had anxious moments underwater that have led to panic attacks, but how my buddy(s) dealt with it saved us from being in any serious danger. When I feel a panic attack coming on, its sudden and immediate, and the massive wave of anxiety scares me so much I go into a panic. When underwater, I tap my buddy, if they haven’t noticed first, and tell them there’s a problem, and signal it’s my anxiety and I can’t control it. What has helped me best is when my buddy signals if it’s ok to put their hand on my arm – sometimes I welcome a physical touch, other times I feel claustrophobic and want as much space as possible – and look into my eyes. Then with a signal to take slow, deep breaths, we do this together. After a minute, I decide if I feel well enough to continue the dive. Most of the time this is the case, and we continue the dive but if I can’t control my breathing, we end the dive. It’s as simple as that. We get to the surface as quickly and safely as we can (including the safety stop, I must force myself through this) and I have help removing all my kit on the surface.

I can feel trapped when I have a panic attack, so I’ve learned that removing my kit helps a lot. If I still can’t control my breathing, I have been lifted onto the boat and I lie down until I can calm down. Having my buddy next to me and reassuring me it’s ok really helps! The one thing I appreciate most when I’m anxious is acceptance. Having someone next to me telling me what’s happening is ok can be so helpful. So much more helpful than someone who is freaking out about what they need to do to help. For me, I typically need space, reassurance, and water when I’ve calmed down.

I hope sharing my experiences, and how I deal with my anxiety, helps you or someone you know feel more comfortable when dealing with anxiety. If you get feelings like me, I hope you’ll now feel more comfortable talking about it. If you have a dive buddy who gets anxious, I hope this gives you a little insight on what you could do to help. Make sure you ask them about their anxiety, what triggers them and what helps them. Everyone is different! As we build up to a dive, many people have feelings of nervousness, fear, or apprehension. Is this what we call anxiety? However you take it, these feelings are completely normal and I’ll say this over and over again! It’s become my mantra because as an anxious person, I worry so much about affecting other people with my anxiety. I hate slowing down a dive because I feel wobbly, I hate having to end a dive because I’m panicking for an unknown reason. These thoughts will stay with me for the rest of the day and into the night because I feel so guilty. Yet, it happens! It happens to a lot of people and the more we say it is ok, the less people will feel isolated, guilty for having normal emotions, or that they can’t talk about their feelings.

When we scuba dive, we are literally jumping into a new world, an alien environment. It is so important to remember that we aren’t built to breathe underwater, so the concept of doing so may throw our brains sideways a bit! Anxiety can be different for every person and that’s why it’s so important to share your feelings with your buddy, instructor, and others. Anxiety is normal, and it’s perfectly OK! Everyone experiences it and the best thing we can do is talk about it and educate people. We can then be more aware so we can help those who need it. But remember, even if your buddy isn’t an anxious diver, always check up on them, because a great buddy relationship makes for even better divers.


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

The Scuba Genies are John and Mona Spencer-Ades, owners and Directors of ATOL and ABTA bonded Tour Operator and Travel Agency, The Scuba Place Ltd. The Scuba Place design and custom-build exceptional diving holidays around the globe, and have been doing so since 2011. They provide travel services to groups, clubs, buddy-pairs and individuals, and have a wealth of hands on experience when it comes to destinations as they are fanatical divers themselves. John has been diving over 30 years and is a PADI Dive Master, having logged over 2600 dives. Mona started her diving career in 2004, and has logged over 600 dives – she is currently a PADI Rescue Diver. The Scuba Place also provide hosted trips to both new and their favourite destinations each year, providing expert support, under their banner ‘Come Dive with Us!’ Previous trips have been to the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bonaire, Florida, the Maldives, Malta, Bahamas, Thailand, Truk Lagoon, Grenada, St Lucia, Cozumel, Cuba and Egypt. For 2022 and beyond, Palau, Bali, Raja Ampat, Ambon and Coron are in the planning stage.

Dive Training Blogs

Diving into the Gift of Choice

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A guest blog by Chad Sinden

Chad Sinden is a PADI Master Scuba Diver Instructor and owner of Ocean Fox Dive Centre, a PADI ® Dive Centre in The Bahamas. His journey to becoming a diving professional has been anything but easy, yet despite all odds he continues to choose to dive-in to seek adventure and save the ocean every single day. Here is his story.

 My mission is to inspire others to feel good about themselves regardless of their challenges and to fall in love with the ocean. An ocean full of magic and wonder. If I can inspire just one person with my own challenges and failings, then I have succeeded.”

While I have been a PADI Open Water Dive Instructor since 2009, a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer since 2019 and the proud new owner of the PADI Dive Centre Ocean Fox Dive Centre, I wasn’t born loving the ocean.

I’ve been lucky enough to introduce a wide range of people to the beautiful underwater world. Regardless of age or ability, my goal is always the same with my diving students—to teach them to love the ocean and encourage them to explore and protect it. I am a firm believer that there truly is nothing more magical than the planet we live on and the contributions you as an individual make to it.

My love for sharks and the underwater world, that I am blessed to explore as a diver, arose from a time in my life where the world held no magic, wonder or mystery above the surface.

In fact, my journey to get to this point has been anything but magical. But my challenges and choices have led me to find sanctity at sea.

Learning to Love the Water, and Myself

I was born with a rare medical condition called ‘Poland Syndrome’, which left me without my right-side pectoral muscle or lateral muscle, made my right hand smaller than the left and gave me webbed fingers on my right hand. My medical condition also left me with severe depression, anxiety and a lack of confidence for most of my young adult life.

I also grew up with a fear of water. I nearly drowned three times before I was 16 and didn’t learn to actually swim until I was 25. And getting in the water with sharks? No thanks!

At the age of 11 my family moved to Australia. While we were surrounded by the New South Wales oasis of green valleys, I remained scared of the ocean and life there was anything but easy. We were illegal immigrants and were very poor. We first lived in a 30-foot-long caravan before moving into a small house that didn’t even have a real toilet.  But looking back I realise this prepared me to deal with less than ideal living conditions in years to come.

When I moved back to the UK as a young adult, I got run over by a drunk driver and was left with severe brain swelling, amnesia and post-traumatic stress that took me three years to recover from.

But my time at hospitals also led to my journey as a PADI Professional. It was at a hospital in Northhampton that I did my first PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience. Shortly after I went on to become a PADI Open Water Diver at Stoney Cave near Leicester. My instructor on that course inspired me to start my own journey to become a PADI Open Water Instructor. I had discovered a whole new world beneath the surface and had fallen in love with the ocean.

The ocean and all its inhabitants accepted me without question. I found home. I found peace. All the struggles I went through did not define me underwater.

A World of Underwater Adventure

Soon after diving into a life underwater, I discovered my passion for megafauna.

I remember the first moment a huge shark glided past me and looked me straight in the eyes. At first, I felt completely powerless and all I could do was stare back. But then that transformed into a beautiful moment of mutual curiosity and respect. A moment of connection between two species who realise they don’t want to harm each other. It is a moment that I will remember forever and I never felt more alive.

I eventually quit my full-time career as an electromechanical engineer to pursue ocean conservation. This led me to the beautiful Fiji Islands, where I volunteered for four years teaching reef conservation and scuba diving to international volunteers and indigenous locals. I was also there in 2016 when the devastating Category 5 Cyclone Winston devastated the island nation. But I will never forget the hospitality and kindness that was given to me by people there who lost everything. They taught me a valuable lesson in hope and kindness.

After continuing to work for many dive centres around the world, I found myself in the Bahamas in 2018. I invested my small life savings into 10% of a dive centre on the beautiful island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. It was the biggest financial risk I had ever taken.

Finding Shelter and Hope in a Dive Centre

After two years of working at this dive centre, and for reasons beyond my control, the relationship with the other owner had taken a turn for the worse and I was looking for ways to get out of my partial ownership.

At the same time, the global pandemic upended the dive industry and my livelihood. Tourism was shut down in the Bahamas and we entered one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. From Monday to Friday each week we were not allowed to leave the house, not even for food or medical care. The hospitals were simply over run on and the beautiful beaches we were surrounded by were now off limits.

After five months of zero income, a depleted savings account and a maxed-out credit card, I had to give up the small house I was renting and moved into my trusty 22 yr. old Toyota Rav4. It then dawned on me that the dive centre I used to work at was empty. The company couldn’t close or function due to all facilities being shut down.

The wetsuit racks became my wardrobe. The retail floor of the shop became my bedroom. And the occasional crab would become my roommate while the crickets sang to me all through the night.  I lived off generosity of friends family and locals.  And I reminded myself how lucky I was in comparison to those who suffer worse than me.

But I would still cry myself to sleep wondering if I would ever see my family again. I wondered how on earth I would pull through. I hit rock bottom, but reminded myself that I don’t go down without a fight, ever.

I began to formulate a plan to borrow money to buy the remaining assets of the dive centre. Since the banks were not lending, I made a list of every person and company I knew of affluence who I had met over my career that could be in a financial position to help me. I created a business plan for the dive centre and pitched it to everyone on the list. I expected zero response, but to my surprise I had three offers within a month! People recognised the importance of continuing shark interaction training and, more importantly, the excellent professional reputation I had attained from years in the industry.

But the hard times weren’t quite over yet. I managed to return to the UK after eight months of solitude, only to be put through another four-month lockdown with my family. In total, I had now spent more than 12 months without a single paycheck. But hope in my dive centre kept me going.

Diving into New Opportunities

I eventually returned to the Bahamas and reopened the dive centre in March this year. Things were slow at first. I found myself having to apologise to guests as they entered the dive shop and saw my bed leaning up against the wall and my clothes next to the wetsuits and a gas cooker in the corner. But my guests were very understanding. In fact, the tips this year have been the best ever!

Miraculously, we have had a successful season this year despite all the uncertainty and are looking forward to next year being one of our best years ever!

I’ve moved out of the dive centre and into a new home. The bills are paid. The dive centre has teamed up with the beautiful Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina and are looking forward to becoming a PADI 5 Star Resort and Dive Centre very soon.

Since taking over this dive centre, life has been on the up for both myself personally and professionally. After a whole year out of the water, I am now back diving with my favorite animals on the planet—sharks—and teaching others to love these beautiful creatures as well.

From humble beginnings I am now the proud owner of Ocean Fox Dive Centre in the Bahamas. I am a PADI Master Scuba Diver Instructor who gets to introduce people of all ages and abilities to the magic that lies beneath the surface of the ocean. I get to dive with sharks and be inspired by them every single day.

Life is about choices. What choices will you make today?

For more information about the Ocean Fox Dive Center visit their website by clicking here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Jeff chats to… Rich Somerset, Territory Director PADI EMEA (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Rich Somerset, Territory Director PADI EMEA Regional Support about Dive Project Cornwall and PADI’s conservation work.

Rich began diving as a teenager on the south coast of England. His university studies took him to the North of the UK and he developed a passion for cold water wreck diving in the frigid waters of Scotland. After finishing university, Rich became only the second person to be awarded the European Our World Underwater Rolex Scholarship. This experience allowed him to travel and develop training in a wide range of scuba related disciplines, including hyperbaric medicine, technical diving and marine conservation. Rich then worked as a PADI Instructor in Australia, Micronesia and the Caribbean before setting up and running dive centres in England.

A PADI Course Director and Instructor Examiner, Rich is now the Territory Director, leading a team of PADI staff supporting over 800 dive centres across the UK, Ireland, Maldives, France, Greece and Portugal.

Find out more at www.padi.com/padi-dive-centers/regional-support/emea and www.diveprojectcornwall.co.uk


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Egypt | Safaga, Brothers & Elphinstone | 27 January – 04 February 2022 | Emperor Elite

Jump on board this famous Red Sea liveaboard and enjoy diving the famous wrecks of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer.  Emperor Elite offers a contemporary living space combined with the best itineraries available in the Red Sea.

Price NOW from just £975 per person based on sharing a twin cabin including:

  • Flights from London Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Booking deadline: Subject to availability.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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