Written by Arti Jalan

Claustrophobia for First-Time Divers

I’d been thinking of going diving for years. The underwater world fascinated me, but my intense claustrophobia had me terrified.

About a month ago, I found myself on the beaches of Nusa Lembongan, in Indonesia. Somehow, my friend convinced me to take the Discover Scuba® Diving course. My instructor had 22 years of diving experience under her belt, so despite the pool simulation being a little harder than I expected, my trust in her was unfailing, and I felt reassured knowing she would be accompanying me on the ocean dive the next morning.

On the boat, the fear coursed through me. What if I panic and can’t breathe underwater? What if my regulator falls out of my mouth? What if my intense claustrophobia kicks in and I need to get out? When the boat stopped, we were instructed to tip into the water. Midway through our descent, I panicked. I shook my head fiercely, trying to communicate to my instructor that this wasn’t for me and I needed to get out. She was firm in her response, used her hands to tell me to cut it out, lock eyes with her and remain calm. She then guided my breathing with her hand, conducting my inhales and exhales in rhythmic and controlled breaths. Her straightforward and no-nonsense attitude was exactly what I needed to quell my unease.

Pushing Past Claustrophobia for First-Time Divers

Things changed for me after that. I calmed down. When the realization hit me that I could take as many deep, filling breathes as I wanted, just like on land, my body released the tension, my stomach settled and I could focus on the incredible underwater world around me. My instructor held my hand the entire time, kept checking in with me to ensure I was okay, and pointed out interesting marine life. I was soon distracted by the tropical little fish darting around us, and the amazing colourful reef.

Two dives later, I was elated. I couldn’t believe that someone with such intense claustrophobia did it! While I always thought it was an irrational fear of my own, speaking with other interested potential divers confirmed for me that this is something many people suffer from.

So, if you’re someone who is interested in diving but is being crushed by the fear of not being able to breathe, here are some tips:

  1. No matter what, remain CALM.
  2. Remember to breathe. Sounds crazy, right? How could you forget? Trust me, you can and it’s the lead up to a panic attack. Remember that you can freely breathe. So, breathe as you would on land and do not hold your breath!
  3. Take in the facts – you have a tank of oxygen with you, you have a certified instructor with you the entire time, and you’re close enough to the surface that the sunlight still streams through.
  4. Keep in mind that the pool simulation is not fully representative of the ocean, and it will actually be easier to navigate your body in the ocean, rather than the pool!
  5. Focus the fact that you’re doing something a lot of people only dream about. If you’re lucky enough to be doing it in a beautiful ocean environment, take in the marine life and reef around you. The ocean world is so diverting – just allow yourself to get lost in the fish, the turtles and the magic surrounding you.


For those of you who suffer from claustrophobia, keep these tips in mind and get out there! It’ll be an amazing experience you’ll never forget.


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