Panic attacks can be prevented by initially checking the anxiety level of the diver. Such is undertaken since anxiety tends to increase as nitrogen narcosis inevitably occurs below 100 feet. Checking of equipment also prevents the occurrence of panic attacks since confidence results from awareness that diving equipment have been serviced regularly and are assembled correctly. Before descending, divers need to adjust their breathing in a controlled, deliberate manner to promote relaxation.
Panic is a direct or contributing cause of many diving accidents, but you can stop it in its tracks.
STEP 1 Reality Check.
Panic prevention starts before you get wet. Are you anxious about this dive? Is the current stronger, the water colder, the vis worse than you’ve experienced before? Or is it deep? Nitrogen narcosis is almost inevitable below 100 feet, and when it strikes it may well increase your existing anxiety. If you look at the situation and realize you just don’t feel right about this dive, don’t do it.
STEP 2 Equipment Check.
It’s usually the little problems, the leaky mask or the slipping tank, that start the panic snowball rolling. On the other hand, knowing that your equipment has been serviced regularly and is assembled correctly will give you confidence. Double-check your gear before you dive. Equip yourself with redundancy: a back-up air supply, a back-up cutting tool, etc.
STEP 3 Surface Check.
After entering the water, pause on the surface for a few minutes. Put enough air in your BC to be comfortable. Check that your equipment is still in place, and locate your controls. Relax your breathing before beginning your descent in a controlled, deliberate manner.
STEP 4 Watch For Warning Signs.
Panic normally stems from task overload. Typically, you have too many things to do at once – control your buoyancy, equalize your ears, clear your mask, tighten your weight belt, etc. If you find yourself switching from one problem to another and then to another without solving any of them, if your fingers are awkward and fumbling, if your movements are getting faster and jerky, if your breathing is getting faster and shallow, you’re beginning to panic. Before the impulse to lunge for the surface becomes overwhelming …
STEP 5 Stop.
Physically stop moving to reduce your sensory inputs and your work level. Hold onto something – the anchor line, a rock, or some kelp. Now breathe slowly, concentrating on exhaling. Your rapid, shallow breathing of a few moments before has built up your carbon dioxide level, and you need to reduce it. You’ll most likely find you can now breathe easily again, as you are no longer hyperventilating or possibly overbreathing your regulator (demanding more air than it can supply). Remind yourself that as long as you can breathe, you are not in immediate danger. You have time to solve your problems. When you’ve calmed down, focus on your problems one at a time. Think first, then concentrate on making slow, deliberate movements.
STEP 6 If All Else Fails, Get Buoyant.
If you can’t get your problems or yourself under control, make a controlled ascent. Drop your weights if you have to. Look up to open your airway and try to slow your rapid breathing. At this point, it’s better to risk decompression illness than drowning. As you ascend, you may find your panic receding. If so, make a safety stop before surfacing and exiting the water.
STEP 7 Report.
An incident of panic should be reported as soon as possible to your dive leader, who should monitor you closely for any signs of decompression illness. Most of all, you need to work with your dive leader to understand the causes of your panic and how to handle them differently in the future.