The ocean is the perfect getaway from everyday life, and you’d love nothing more than to dive in and explore. There’s just one thing in your way: how to get over a fear of scuba diving!
While fear is normal and guides us away from danger, it can hinder progress and enjoyment in less-threatening situations. Perhaps you haven’t tried scuba because of a fear of the sea, or you’re struggling to finish your PADI Open Water Diver course due to scuba diving anxiety.
Either way, don’t worry — here’s how to get over a fear of scuba diving. You’ll be certified and ready to Live Unfiltered before you can say thalassophobia!
Why is scuba diving scary?
The first step to overcoming a fear of scuba diving is to ask yourself, ‘Why do I have this fear of scuba diving?‘ or ‘Why do I panic when scuba diving?‘. Be as precise as you can when answering these questions, because you need to figure out exactly what you’re scared of before you can find the best way to overcome that fear.
What is the fear of diving called?
There isn’t one word for the fear of scuba diving, but there are many related phobias, such as claustrophobia (a fear of confined spaces), bathophobia (fear of depth), or even submechanophobia (a fear of submerged objects). Other fears are specific to scuba skills — like mask clearing or jumping off a boat.
This article may also help those who have a fear of scuba diving: 4 Reasons Why People Are Afraid of Diving (& Why They Shouldn’t Be)
Thalassophobia vs. Aquaphobia
The phobia closest to scuba diving is arguably thalassophobia, an intense fear of large and/or deep bodies of water, such as oceans, seas and lakes.. Aquaphobia is a broader fear of water, including drinks or baths.
Learn the facts
Uncertainty can make fears worse. Ask lots of questions and research the facts behind what seems scary, and you’ll probably realize it’s much less threatening than you thought. There are a lot of myths about scuba diving and marine life which, when researched, are simply not true. Demystifying the myths will help to eliminate fear.
For example, a common phobia is sharks (galeophobia). It’s important to recognize that sharks have had bad press from Hollywood movies, dating back to the Jaws movies in the 1980’s. Discovering that most sharks are harmless and several everyday things are more dangerous can put everything into perspective and reduce your fear of scuba diving with sharks.
Practicing meditation and mindfulness moves your focus to what’s happening around you rather than your inner thoughts and fears. Deep breathing physically relaxes the mind and body. When learning how to get over a fear of scuba diving, use relaxation techniques before your dive (to build a calm, positive state of mind) or during your dive (to regain composure during any moments of anxiety).
Think happy thoughts
Positive thinking is key to overcoming any fear:
- Instead of thinking about what can go wrong, try listing the best things you might experience.
- Challenge your negative thoughts.
- Focus on what you want to achieve rather than what not to do.
- Recall a time when you overcame another fear — remind yourself you can do it.
- Use coping statements to reassure yourself.
- Try using visualization techniques – imagine yourself in your happy place or in a place where you feel safe.
- Cast your mind forward and think about the nice things you will do after your dive instead of thinking that your dive will be the last thing you do.
Eat well, hydrate well with water or fruit juice (but avoid caffeine and alcohol which actively dehydrate you), and get a good night’s sleep before diving. Turn up on time, and wear decent exposure protection. Your fears will feel more daunting if you’re tired, cold, hungry, or rushed!
Face your fear
A popular phobia treatment is exposure therapy (in particular, systematic desensitization). A ‘fear ladder’ will list the smaller steps needed to reach your goal. Starting with the easiest, you’ll face them one at a time, only moving to the next level once you feel comfortable.
For example, if you fear fish (ichthyophobia), you might start by looking at photos of fish, then watching videos. Next, you might visit the beach or an aquarium, and so on, until you’re swimming with real fish. Virtual diving and visualization can be useful in this process, too. It’s important to start small and not overstress yourself – which can make the problem bigger. If in doubt, seek professional help.
Visualization goes hand-in-hand with positive thinking, exposure therapy, and meditation.
Picture yourself successfully performing each step in mask clearing, if that’s your nemesis. Or imagine how you’ll feel after finishing your PADI course. Studies have shown that by mentally rehearsing scenarios in which you pretend to overcome your fear, your brain will be tricked into believing there’s nothing to be scared of.
Remember your ‘why’
Whether it’s an underwater photography goal, saving the planet, or being free to Live Unfiltered, reminding yourself of the reasons to get certified and how diving can change you will undoubtedly motivate you to overcome your fear of scuba.
You might try:
- Browsing photos on Instagram
- Watching scuba movies or reading books
- Listening to inspirational stories from other PADI divers
- Keeping your favorite ocean quote somewhere you’ll see it every day
Know your limits
A little excitement or challenge can be healthy, but being peer pressured or pushing past your limits can lead to setbacks or even incidents. This will only amplify fears in the long run. Instead, stick to baby steps. Work on building your confidence slowly and safely, and your fears should naturally fade away.
Never be afraid to call a dive off if you are not feeling up to it.
Talk about it
Face your fear and speak up about it. Firstly, make sure your PADI Instructor knows about your scuba diving fear. They can adapt their teaching style to show you how to get over a fear of scuba diving at a pace you’re comfortable with. What’s more, their expert ocean knowledge can dispel any myths behind your fears. Tell your instructor exactly what you are afraid of, whether it’s fear of depth, water in your mask, or simply feeling constrained by your gear.
Tell your buddy, too. Then they won’t, for example, accidentally cause panic by blowing bubbles at you if you’re terrified of them (ebulliophobia). They’ll also be ready to give reassurance if you encounter something frightening, and they can share their own experiences and tips to put you at ease.
Another method is assisting someone else. Help them into their wetsuit, identify a fish they’ve seen for the first time, or practice pre-dive checks together. Focusing on other people’s needs can distract you from your own anxieties!
Get professional help
If the above isn’t working, then consider professional help. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and hypnosis are common treatments for phobias, while ergo-therapy and adaptive techniques guide divers through mental and physical barriers.
How to get over a fear of scuba diving
Our final tip for how to overcome a fear of scuba diving? Go diving!
The more you avoid your fears, the bigger they grow. Instead, being able to Live Unfiltered through scuba diving promotes positive mental health, which in turn empowers you to conquer your fears head-on.
Ready to face your fear? Get your PADI and #LiveUnfiltered.