Panic Attacks Underwater – How to Recognize and Prevent Them

Diving is relaxing and serene. Yet, if something unforeseen happens, you might end up battling a panic attack underwater. How can you prepare? What can you do?

What can you do about panic attacks when diving? How can you prevent and handle them?

The ocean is an amazing place with fantastic creatures and even more amazing sights. Luckily, we have the opportunity to go into the sea and see these things for ourselves by scuba diving.

With the proper equipment, we can go deep into the sea to discover things that we couldn’t imagine above ground. While diving is a great experience, you want to be sure to be extraordinarily careful. One of the most dangerous things that can happen is a panic attack while underwater.

A surprisingly large amount of deaths while diving involves panic attacks. Panic attacks cause 20% of scuba diving related deaths, and another 23% of the death attribute a panic attack as a direct cause of death. Being underwater puts people in a vulnerable state.

We cannot naturally breathe underwater, so it’s easy to understand how someone can become frightened when something goes wrong. Struggling to breathe can cause anyone to panic, and that’s only one thing that can lead to panic. Here is everything you need to know about underwater panic attacks and how to recognize and prevent panic attacks from happening underwater.

What are the dangers of diving?

Diving is fun and beautiful, and it connects people to the mysteries of nature while allowing them to zone out and reflect, but it can also be quite dangerous. Here are some of the biggest things to worry about while diving:

  • Decompression sickness
    Depression sickness happens when you breathe in too much nitrogen. When you rise to the surface, this can cause serious problems, including nerve and tissue damage. Not only is this extremely painful, but it can also impede breathing. In some cases, it can even result in death.
  • Drowning
    An obvious danger of diving is drowning. If you aren’t adequately trained, go against your training or panic, it can result in drowning. Water will start to fill in your lungs and prevent you from getting the air that you need.
  • Arterial Air Embolism
    In some unusual situations, you may get air into your arteries that can cause the blood to stop flowing. This can happen if the diver holds their breath while ascending. This can be very dangerous, even fatal.
  • Nitrogen Narcosis
    After descending about 100 feet, divers can experience what is called nitrogen narcosis. The diver may experience brain fog and not be able to think properly. They may even experience the giggles and have a feeling similar to drunkenness. In this condition, the diver may not be able to make proper decisions. This lack of decision-making skills can lead to severe injury or even death. 
Panic Attack while diving

What are panic attacks?

Diving can be a dangerous activity. It’s only common sense to understand and accept this. When you know that you are going into a potentially dangerous situation, your body will release Adrenalin.

When your body releases a lot of Adrenalin, you will naturally respond with fear and anxiety. The proper amount of fear will cause us to go into a fight or flight mode, but too much anxiety may cause the body to shut down.

When the body shuts down, it can prevent us from doing the proper thing in an emergency. One of the most dangerous things about anxiety is that the higher the level of the panic attack, the less you will be able to help yourself. That’s why it’s essential to prevent or minimize a panic attack before it happens if possible.

Causes of a panic attack

There are many reasons that someone can reasonably have a panic attack underground. The deep sea is full of the unknown. This mystery in itself is enough to give someone a panic attack.

There are also heavy currents, dangerous marine animals, equipment failure, and physical problems that can cause someone to have a panic attack. Being underwater and experiencing difficulty breathing can make someone feel like the figurative walls are closing in on them and create a feeling of claustrophobia.

It’s also important never to force someone to go underwater if they are not ready; it will only cause a potentially life-altering problem. These are the reasons that can happen to people who don’t already have anxiety issues.

There are also some basic statistics to keep in mind. If someone has panicked while diving before, they are up to 2.7 times as likely to panic again. It shows a pattern, and you should be prepared to handle the pattern or not dive if you have had a panic attack before.

Women are up to twice as likely to panic as men. 24% of men reported having a panic attack while diving and 37% of women reported having a panic attack. Knowing the facts can take you to the next level.

Avoiding Panic Attacks underwater

What are early signs?

When you immediately recognize that you have a panic attack, you have a much better chance of doing something about it and preventing something hazardous from happening.

There are some signs of an anxiety attack. First, you may experience a general feeling of fear and inability to concentrate. Next, you may feel dizzy and short of breath. Other signs include irritability, nausea, muteness, and sweating. You’ll also notice that your heart is beating at a much faster pace than usual.

In its most severe form, a panic attack can cause the diver to act irrationally and make possibly fatal mistakes. The mask could flood, causing drowning and possibly death. 

It’s important to spot these signs in other divers, too. Remember that not all signs of a panic attack can be identified while underwater so be sure to pay close attention to the people you are diving with so that you can help in an emergency.

How can you reduce the risk?

There are several things that you can do before you even start a dive to prevent a panic attack from happening. Here are just a couple of prevention techniques:

  • Skill Training
    Get a refresher course if it has been over a year since your last dive. This will help you feel secure in your abilities. It will also remind you of safety procedures and what to do in the case of an emergency.

    If you feel the need to have extra assistance, go on a trip with an instructor or experienced divers so that you know someone is there to help you in the case of an emergency.

    Even if you are experienced, you also want to study the specific dive and practice your skills. Create a plan and follow it. You also want to be aware of your skills. It’s extremely dangerous to dive past your skill set.
  • Don’t dive drunk
    Never dive while intoxicated. Alcohol and drugs inhibit your ability to make the right decisions. It can also prevent you from being able to follow a plan and impair your motor skills.

    Finally, it can cause depressive thoughts which exasperate anxiety. Even caffeine can create anxiety, so be careful! You may think that a couple of cups of coffee before a dive is a good idea, but you could end up regretting it.
  • Acknowledge existing disorders
    If you already have an anxiety disorder, do not go diving until the disorder is entirely under control. Talk to a psychiatrist and get the proper medication.

    Remember that it can take a while to get your medication under control, so be sure to give it some time to ensure that you have the proper medication and proper dosage.

    Be sure to take note of any side effects and consider how they might affect a person while diving. Tell your doctor if you plan to go diving so that they can keep that in mind when they prescribe you medication. Also be sure to mention all other medical conditions and medications that you are taking.
  • Go with people
    While you may be tempted to go alone if you can’t find others to go with, you should seriously wait until you have a group of people to go with to help you in case something goes wrong. Learn how to communicate with your other divers effectively so that you can all be safe. This involves a lot of body language and merely being alert to those around you.

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Situations to cause panic attacks underwater

What should you do when you have a panic attack?

If you notice that you are having a panic attack while diving, you need to take immediate action. First, take a deep breath and analyze the situation. Next, concentrate on small breaths. If you are around other divers, get their attention for help. At the very least, you want to let them know that you will be heading back to shore for air.

Safely come back to the surface by having control over the regulator and keeping yourself as calm as possible.  It’s imperative not to ascend back to the surface rapidly. This can be very dangerous and lead to decompression illness.

This happens because of the dramatic change in pressure. Primarily, you will breathe in nitrogen. When you come back to the surface, you may create nitrogen bubbles. These bubbles, especially when left untreated, can be very painful and can even result in death in some cases.

Every diver is taught not to do this, but it can be hard to remember when having an anxiety attack. Luckily, 85% of people remember not to move up too quickly.

You cannot find an experience quite like diving. The more you dive, the more you will want to explore. After you get certified in diving up to 100 feet, you can learn more and get certified to dive even deeper.

When you dive deeper, you can see even more. Just remember that the deeper you dive, the more dangers you may face. Training will help you handle these dangers properly.

They will also help you learn how to manage the fear and anxiety that may come from these dangers. Be sure to take a deep breath if you become afraid and remember your training to reduce as many hazards as possible.

What can you do about panic attacks when diving? How can you prevent and handle them?
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