Panic attacks are a common issue experienced by SCUBA divers, and they can manifest in many forms, ranging from short, shallow breaths that can lead to hyperventilation, or even a heart attack if one has a history of heart trouble. A panic attack can strike before or during the dive, and the causes of them include poor nutrition and dehydration, reactions to prescription drugs, or just good old fashioned anxiety about being in open water. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, don’t be ashamed! You are part of a large percentage of divers that have experienced virtually the same feelings. Even if you have never experienced panic on a dive, it doesn’t hurt to be well-versed on how to handle it if it happens.
Stopping a panic attack before it’s too late can be the difference between life and death underwater. If you feel an attack coming on, take slow, deep breaths. A panic attack can almost always be averted when someone is taking deep breaths. Taking deep breaths also gives you more time to think rationally and resolve any issues that might have led to the attack. Never be afraid to call the dive if you feel that your symptoms will not improve!
If it’s within the parameters of your dive plan and training level, heading to a stable surface like the seabed when panic on a dive strikes can help you regain your sense of control. It may seem like an odd thing to do because your natural instincts may be to head to the surface instead, but when you need to handle panic on a dive, shooting to the surface is not the right choice. Once you’ve reached the bottom and have stabilized your body, take long, deep breaths to restore your calm and clear thinking, closing your eyes if it helps.
All divers should use the buddy system throughout their dive, but it will never be more crucial than when you are experiencing a panic on a dive. If you feel panic setting in for any reason, let your buddy know immediately so they can assist you. Often just holding their hand or looking into their eyes can give you the reassurance you need to allay your panic and continue the dive, but if you don’t want to for any reason, your buddy will be right there to help you safely ascend.