How can I avoid getting stressed when I dive?

Stress is a bad thing. Everyone knows this and most of us have adopted strategies to avoid or reduce stress in our working and social lives. However, conventional scuba diver training does not really teach divers how to minimise stress underwater. This is a significant omission as potential stressors are present on almost every dive we make. If you don’t manage your stress properly, you can feel that you are no longer in control of your dive and this will make you anxious, a feeling that can easily lead to panic.

Some of the more obvious examples of diver stress are:

• Time-pressure stress from having a limited air supply

• Task loading stress from having to do several things at the same time: such as, for example, managing an underwater camera and dive light on a night dive while controlling buoyancy and trying to keep in touch with the rest of your team.

• Disorientation, at night perhaps or in poor visibility

• Compound stress, when a number of stressful factors coincide.

The onset of panic is usually followed by a response that makes the situation worse, rather than better. Panic is always life threatening when it occurs under water and is the most common contributing factor to diving fatalities.

A classic example is a nervous diver who is worried that their regulator will not give them enough air. They gulp greedily when inhaling but only partially exhale before trying to take the next breath.

Eventually, because they are not breathing out enough, they find it impossible to breathe in because their lungs are still full.

When this happens, instead of just breathing out and emptying their lungs so that they can take a breath, they assume that their regulator has failed, tear it out of their mouth and bolt for the surface, holding their breath, with disastrous consequences.

7 top tips for avoiding stress

So, how can you avoid getting stressed and make sure you are in the right state of mind to deal calmly with anything that happens underwater? Here are 7 key strategies.

Focus on your skills

Your self-rescue skills need to be learned to the point where they can be performed automatically, so that when an emergency strikes you do not have to think about what to do: you just do it, instinctively. You can practice skills on every dive you do. For example, it takes only a few seconds as you are swimming along to switch from your primary regulator to your octopus and back again.

Breathe like a diver

Develop the habit of breathing like a diver: that is, with long inhalations followed by long exhalations. Breathe from the diaphragm rather than the chest. As you exhale, bring in your stomach to compress your lungs and expel as much carbon dioxide as possible. As you inhale, push your stomach out to allow your lungs to expand and draw in all the air you can. Then repeat. Practice this until it becomes completely instinctive. Then, even if you encounter a potentially stressful situation, your habitual way of breathing will help stop you becoming anxious and allow you to deal the problem with a cool head.

Build water confidence

Work on becoming more comfortable in the water, not just by doing more diving. Go snorkelling or go swimming more often.

Get fit and stay fit

You need to be both mentally and physically fit for diving. The fitter you are, the better you will deal with the task of finning against a current or making a difficult shore exit in full-gear, things that can easily produce stress.

Stay warm

You are more likely to panic on a dive if you are cold. Wear the right suit for the environment you are diving in and replace your wetsuit when it gets thin and worn.


Before a scuba dive, do as the technical divers do, sit in a quiet place and think about the dive ahead. Focus on positive thoughts, think about the amazing things you are going to see and visualize a successful dive.

Don’t dive drunk (or hungover)

Two factors that can make you more likely to panic are fatigue and alcohol so, if the party went on a little longer than planned the previous evening, sit out the first dive of the following day to get a little more rest and make sure you drink plenty of water, both before AND after the dive.

Learn more about this in Scuba Confidential - An Insider's Guide to Becoming a Better Diver