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Taking my mask off - need help
Rochelle - 7/30/2012 9:48 AM
Category: New Diver Q&A
Replies: 23

During my confined water lesson all hell broke loose when I had to take my mask off and breathe only through the regulator. We were in the shallow end, and as soon as the mask came off I freaked-out. Not just a little, but big time – right down to rapid breathing and shaking limbs. All my claustrophobic feelings came back in waves.

I’m schedule to go back in three weeks and try again, but how in the hell can I put my fears aside and teach myself how to overcome this? I know there’s a little water around my nose in my mask most of the time anyway, but it must be the combination of full face in water, bubbles hitting my nose, and having to breathe only through the regulator for 1 minute that makes my blood run cold.

Does anyone have any previous experience with this? I admit, I’m an ’old dog’ and breaking old habits is hard, but dang it all anyway, I really want to do this!
btw2459 - 7/30/2012 10:35 AM
I may not have the definitive answer but you may want to try the following. In a swimming pool try swimming around using a snorkel, nose clip and swimming goggles. This should get you used to water around the nose and eyes. Once you get comfortable with this try removing the nose clip (still wearing the goggles and breathing through the snorkel). Once you’ve got used to breathing in and out through the snorkel try removing the goggles ans breathing through the snorkel. In the end it is a case of one step at a time until you are comfortable breathing without goggles/ mask. At the start you may want to do all the above holding onto the side of the pool and then progressing to swimming around.

Hope these suggestions help
Rochelle - 7/30/2012 2:09 PM
Thanks for the encouraging words and useful advice. What I’m hearing you say is to take baby steps, which I will do. Only wish I had a handy pool to practice in, so I may start in my deep tub and work my way up to a local hotel and rent some pool time. It’s frustrating because I know the problem is in my mind. I will begin with btw2459’s advice, with the goal of breathing out of my nose and in through my mouth as Greg suggested.

I’ve got 3 weeks ... I’ll keep you posted.
diverray - 7/30/2012 2:37 PM
Another trick is to crack your mask slightly and let some water leak in, not enough to cover your eyes. Let some water into mask, then clear it.Then as you get more comfortable, let a little more into the mask, then clear again, etc. Once you can flood your mask comfortable, you may be able to remove it easier. Good luck. BTW.
mikey1077 - 7/30/2012 3:45 PM
my wife had the same problem she hates water on her face and we actually did our confined water dives in the ocean so that didnt help the instructor let her plug her nose and that seemed to help her get through it
AngelFish63 - 7/31/2012 9:35 AM
I did alright in my confined class but when it came time to do open water cert became a different story. I am such a nose breather that I kinda freaked when it was time to do so. So my instructor had me to practice without my mask and just reg on the surface. After a few times it worked!!. I went back down that same day and did perfect. Just concentrate on your breathing and hang in there. I have all the faith you will suceed!! Good Luck!!
sphinx903 - 7/31/2012 11:56 AM
I would also use care when you remove the mask and do it gently as diveray said. I sometimes find my students yank the mask to flood it quickly and in doing so force water up their nose. You might also try taking off the mask then sitting/standing in shallow water with your face underwater and breathing off the regulator may help as well in getting used to the water being in and around your nose, i .e, no mask breathing. If you want to conquer the problem, I have never had a student who couldn’t. Good luck.
SeaGoat - 7/31/2012 12:01 PM
I had the same problem!!! I honestly didn’t get comfortable with it until I went for my instructor cert and had to do a "demonstration quality" version. (I still hate it but my students don’t notice.)

Here’s what I did when I was at home: Focus on becoming a mouth breather while your watching TV or doing chores (most ladies tend to be nose breathers). Pretend you have a cold and try not to breather through your nose at all - bonus points is you talk funny. Then, lay face down in your bath tub and practice breathing through your snorkel. You’ll have to hold it up out of the water since you won’t have your mask on.

This is what worked for me in the pool and what I do with my students: Put all of your gear on except for your mask and sit down in the shallow end of the pool. Let your instructor or dive master hold the mask for you while you get into a meditative state and are able to breathe comfortably through your regulator. (If you find that you get water in your nose, tuck your chin a little - it helps.) When you are ready, hold out your hand so your instructor can give you your mask and put it on and clear it. Then, try a couple of times to remove and replace it. At first, I found the removal part more unnerving.

Ways to break it down further:

PADI requires you to have a snorkel but if it gets in your way, remove it until you are comfortable with just the mask.

Also, invest in a fabric strap since the rubber strap will catch in your hair. I LOVE Marsoops b/c they float but the others are okay.

Finally, if blowing your nose and clearing your mask is also a problem, I have my students return to the surface, keep their reg in and place their finger below their nose. This way they can inhale through the reg and use their finger to gauge the forcefulness of the exhale through their nose. (I offer to buy them a soda if the get a booger on their finger. Whatever works.)

Good luck - you’ll get there eventually.

Scuba-Smurf - 8/01/2012 9:40 AM
I had the same problem at it took me 3 days to take it off... That god my instructor was the gem he was and was happy to stick with me... Don’t let it discourage you as you will do it!

Try to partially flood the mask to a level that you are comfortable with, then take a few breaths, then when you can do that, do it again with a fully flooded mask, take a few breaths, then when you are comfortable, it doesn’t actually make a different if you have mask or no mask as you eyes and nose are fully surrounded by water anyway.

Don’t forget to tip your head to the side to avoid the bubbles going up your nose! This way worked for me...

YOU CAN DO IT! Just be patient, don’t panic, you will get there :oD

Good luck!
DIVERHERB - 8/01/2012 9:41 AM
Let me throw my 2 cents in. Alot of time it just takes practice. If you do not have access to a pool or body of water, just practice in your tube, a little cramped but can be done. I would not try to get through this by holding you nose or using nose plugs. It may seem like a sensless skill but I can tell you I have had my mask pulled off by a strong current, it has been kicked off by other divers fins, the mask strap has broken. All this over alot of years of diving, alot of it tech diving, but some of it just easy dives. This is one skill I always stress that must be learned. With practice you can overcome this, I have only known one person who could not/would not. Most people breath through their nose so it is hard habit to break. Keep trying.
oceanfloor - 8/01/2012 10:25 AM
I had the same problem... The biggest aid was the desire to dive!!! I just kept repeating it, "I want to dive... I will overcome this... I’m going to dive ... No matter what!!". Over and over and over again. Don’t tell anyone but I would walk around with my mask and snorkel on at home, just forcing myself to get use to breathing through my mouth... I was a nose breather too :) 135 logged dives now:)))
hectorj84 - 8/01/2012 8:33 PM
Baby steps. Start on dry land, move to the water.

Get acquainted with each piece of gear, that will reduce the amount of discomfort piling on top of your phobias. Fins, BC, regulator, gauges, etc. (dry land then water).

I find that when I concentrate on what I am scared of, my fears distracts me from being able to do what I really intend on doing (example, when you’re up high somewhere you always hear people say "don’t look down"). Our instincts are usually pretty accurate, so if I entertain myself with something else (don’t look down, just look straight ahead) the rest comes unconsciously and instinctually. Before you know it, you’ll forget your fear and you’ll realize "whoa, I’m doing it". The psychological part of the task isn’t as tough anymore when you shift the focus in another direction. Maybe there can be an objective to remove your mask, unzip your BC pouch if you have a pouch on it and take out something from the pouch, maybe a small toy or puzzle that you can blindly put together.

Hope that helps. =)
ks54 - 8/02/2012 2:11 PM
for what it is worth. there is only one really bad situation inderwater. that is out of air. if you have air you can survive. given that when you loose the mask stop, breath untill stable, close eyes if needed, become calm , determine your problem and then think of he solution for your problem, and then preceed with recovery. the worst part of any problem is the transition from all is ok to the all is not optimal. NOT UNMANAGEABLE BUT not perfect.

lost mask , you got air no problem

lost fins, you got air no problem

got tangled, you got air no problem

seperatered from your buddy, you got air no problem

you have to believe this: and... the only time you should become stressed is when time is working against you, if IF YOU HAVE AIR YOU HAVE TIME.

it is premature to adress the obvious question at this point of your training. one step at a time.
Rochelle - 8/09/2012 12:54 PM
Just a
quick update. In 8 days I retake my confined water dive - mask off test, and
I’ve made progress thanks to this forum.

I took the comments and divided
them into three categories, what-to-do, how-to-react, and words of encouragement.
I’ve put myself through the paces (don’t laugh now): bathtub with mask &
snorkel, shower with mask, and into pool to take off mask. I’m now able to SLOWLY take off my mask underwater. It
takes me a while to work up the nerve to remove the mask, but I’ve done it a
few times.

Yesterday, my son pulled me
through the water a few times, with my snorkel on and my mask off.

If it wasn’t for this forum
- I KNOW I wouldn’t have made it this far.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m dealing with something so fundamental
at 52 years old, but becoming certified is on my bucket list – I will do this.

Thanks everyone for being my
Scuba-Smurf - 8/15/2012 11:47 AM
Rochelle, Thats great! Well done!!! You should be very pleased with yourself! Thats massive progress, and the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be. I was just reading this article and thought about your post, hence coming back to check on your progress.

Keep up the great work and practice and you’ll be more than comfortable before you know it! :oD
Rochelle - 8/15/2012 1:42 PM
From Scuba-Smurf: Rochelle, Thats great! Well done!!! You should be very pleased with yourself! Thats massive progress, and the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be. I was just reading this article and thought about your post, hence coming back to check on your progress. Keep up the great work and practice and you’ll be more than comfortable before you know it! :oD...
This article is fantastic! Thank you so much for passing it along. The mask test using "Testing soft palate control" is a perfect way for me to practice around the house. This weekend is my M-Day (Mask days) I’ll keep you posted. Thanks again.
Scuba-Smurf - 8/15/2012 9:40 PM
I’m glad its helped! I found it quite interesting and a great technique. Also remember to tilt your head to the side so the bubbles pass by your ear rather than bubbling over your face and nose. This is what got me every time when I was learning! A combination of these two will hopefully help :oD

Good Luck!
USACMASDiver - 7/21/2014 5:44 PM
By the way, I once taught and certified a man who as a boy had legally drown. He was about 12 at the time that he decided to just "jump in" off the reef. Someone saw him floating out there, got the medics out there, and they some how brought him back to life. 30 years later, finding that he was an islander surrounded by water, and living with other men who were either fishermen, divers, or speared fish to eat, he was in a constant state of "freak-outer-y." Suppose a tsunami, suppose a flood, suppose a bit wave!!! And the list went on. Well, at about 40, he walked into my shop and explained. This was all in Japanese by the way. I took all the fish out of one of my aquariums, cleaned it up and used that as a "face pool." With feet on terra firma, we got to where we could put "our" face in the aquarium with a regulator in "our" mouth while breathing. That didn’t just happen all at once by the way. We practiced even just putting our face in the water and pulling it right back out. Also, today, that chap is a very successful diving instructor hundreds of dives under his belt. Just take your pace. Analyze what freaks you out and why, and take that fear apart piece by piece, address each piece with a method, practice each piece, and then one by one, work on them. Soon, you can put those pieces back together, and do them all at once. All this will make you a much, much better diver, and if you keep going, a truly hot Dive Master. You will have an ability to sense when people are at their stress limit that another Dive Master might not even notice. You are the man, man, you are are it.

Oh, sure, there are probably a lot of Instructors out there who would say, "Don’t teach a person like that." The difference, they are in a hurry, I was not. So, if you have total water-freakout-ability thing, get an aquarium, put it in the
USACMASDiver - 7/21/2014 6:07 PM
As a somewhat long in the tooth diver, when I move to a new area because there is some unique diving there, or if I am visiting an island to dive it, I often find myself shopping for a dive buddy, and more often than not, a dive buddy who doesn’t dive the way I do, or in the language I was trained to dive in. One of the things that I look for is a diver who might not have the most dives in the world, but at one point in their life "dived their limit to the edge" and had to pull it out. Those divers know how easy things can get freaky, and have felt that, and if they survive the experience, it often makes them more aware of potential risks and potential trouble areas. For example, one of my favorite dive buddies was a man who on his 37th dive "thought" he had a favorite spot dialed him. Well, that place was not far from a current that was not far from a 10 foot underwater cliff. Well, long story short, he and I have been diving all over the Western Pacific, and when he shows up to a boat, his first question is, "Tell me about the currents!" Now, he can ask this question in French, English, Japanese, Italian, and I think even dolphin! When he flies in to an island from his side of the world when we meet up, he has all the maps and charts of the currents of the area and often has data on the thing that goes back to the whaling days!!! Why? Well, he got trapped in a current and his BC at first couldn’t do-diddily-do about it and down he went. So, be proud of what comes in your way. Don’t fight it. Take it apart. And take the parts that look easy one step at time, and always with a safe zone behind you. My student was so afraid of water that his wife could only give him a glass of water that was 1/3 of the size of a regular drinking glass - he thought he would choke. If you watched this chap teach diving today you would see that his eye contact with his students is very, very different. You see, his once deep seated fear of water was an experience that dials him in to other people’s fears at a sensitivity and depth that few people will ever be able to do. You might look back one day and think, "Wow, so that is why I am a uber-hot diving instructor!"
Knobee - 8/31/2015 2:14 PM
I hate bringing back "zombie" threads, but I wanted to express my appreciation for those that have posted responses to this.

I’m dealing with the exact same problem as the original poster (in 2012!).

I’ve passed the written portion of the class, the bookwork has been fine, I "get" the concepts and I’ve been able to do some of the non-mask flooding/removing exercises - stepping off is a blast. 8)

Thanks everyone, and I’ll let you know what happens.
ks54 - 9/01/2015 2:11 AM
First you need to remember that there is only one emergency. And that is ??? Right out of air. Every thing else is just an annoyance. Easier said than done to put in practice, but you have to believe that. When the mask comes tell your self I have air and things will be OK then breath slowly out your nose to keep it water free. That should stop the flooding and drowning sensations from taking over,,,,, close your eyes. , If you cant see then you done’t need them feeling the water also and fueling the survival reflex.

Take your mask in the shower, fill it with water and put it on. work on getting over the feeling of water in the nose and initiating the cough and sneezing to clear the nose. I trust you can swim in a pool and it is the transition of mask to no mask that is getting to you.
Pam2016 - 4/22/2016 10:32 AM
Thank you so much for these tips. I’ve been struggling with this too. Just started to learn scuba diving—two times in the pool so far. I love to snorkel, but with a mask!! Don’t like water up or around my nose. Always plugged my nose going underwater w/o a mask in the past for many, many years.

These tips are really helping me too. I practiced in the pool today with just goggles and a snorkel (clipped to my goggle strap) and swam for over an hour blowing bubbles out my nose and breathing in through the snorkel.

I definitely have more confidence now and feeling more comfortable. Will keep practicing. Next scuba pool session is a week away. Should be doing much better by then. Thanks again!!