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Claustrophobia & Panic Question
Rochelle - 7/12/2012 11:48 AM
Category: New Diver Q&A
Replies: 13

I took one "intro to scuba" class in a pool and was hooked from that moment – knew this was something I wanted to do. However, most of my life I’ve had feelings of claustrophobia and moments of feeling panic in closed spaces. My first breathe underwater was taken only after I shut my eyes, calmed, then reopened underwater – something about seeing the water line as I went under I couldn’t get past. But now I don’t want to risk my diving buddy or myself at 30ft and all of the suddenly feel panicky.

So I’m curious, does anyone have feelings of claustrophobia or fear of open spaces when you dive – and if so, how do you handle this?
DIVERHERB - 7/12/2012 5:15 PM
My wife is very claustrophobic. It took a lot of time to get her to even try snorkling. My son is the same way. Neither are able to get past the feeling of the water closing in around them. I have seen alot of people able to get over it with the proper training, but I would really be sure that you can by maybe working in a pool alot before you commit yourself to the open water. Panic is the worst thing that can happen at depth. I would think that by working in the pool you should be able to overcome your fear. If you have to close your eyes until you are under the water I am not sure that is to good a thing and should be overcome before you venture any further, for your own safety.
LatitudeAdjustment - 7/12/2012 5:28 PM
I’ve seen some that can get past being claustrophobic in clear water but can’t handle bad viz. I would be sure to get in lot’s of pool time before venturing out.
Rochelle - 7/12/2012 6:44 PM
Thank you for your advice(s)! I will focus on working with my instructor, and see what advice he has for me. I was just wondering if other divers have developed internal coping strategies to address this. The last thing I want to do is to freak out - I want to overcome this - I want to dive.
DIVERHERB - 7/12/2012 8:01 PM
I wish you all the luck in the world. I believe that we can overcome anything. I have had people who are certified but never been on a boat dive freak out as soon as you are out of sight of land, and others who needed me to hold their hand as soon as we left the anchor line become totally absorbed once they started seeing all the sea life and completly forget about their phobias so I know it they can usually be conquered. You just have to put everything into perspective :-) And again good luck
SeaGoat - 7/13/2012 6:49 AM

I was a terrible OW student. Ken gave you great advice when he told you to spend lots of time in the pool. My instructor let me do my OW pool sessions three times in a row. (In hindsight, he couldn’t have asked for a better problem-child student to train his dive master candidate.) When I started, I couldn’t sit at the bottom of the shallow end. I actually had to stand and just blow bubbles with my face in the water.

My first instructor told me I was the worst student he’s ever seen but he predicted that if I stuck with it, I would be a good intructor. His prediction came true and I’m still diving and have been teaching for three years. Sometimes I’m still nervous but I’ve even gotten to the point where I have tried cave diving (it’s okay but not my thing).

The biggest thing is to be patient with yourself and I hope you have found an instructor who is even more patient (if not, find someone else). Then you’ll always want patient, more experienced dive buddies who don’t mind if you hold their hand in rough, murky or whatever other water conditions you don’t like. You’ll get there eventually. It took me about 70 open water dives before I felt like I hit my stride.

In the meantime, if you get nervous it helps to close your eyes for a bit, focus on your breathing and just remind yourself that as long as you have plenty of air, you can work through any problem or anxiety you have underwater.
John_giu - 7/18/2012 2:11 AM
I’m not easily scared, but a lot of apprehension went along with my first 30’ dive It seemed like 100’ to me. Only the amazing sights on the reef took my mind off the gear and at that point the gear seemed to almost disappear and I was hooked.

So, I guess what I am saying is that claustrophobia aside, using the equipment can be a bit daunting. As others have said a lot of pool time is the way to go, it will help you relax in the equipment.

I also hyper-ventilated like mad the first time I used the regulator.

Hopefully, given enough time it will all come together for you.

Good Luck

RockRat2008 - 9/06/2012 5:20 AM
Good advice offered so far and I agree. My wife has claustrophobia and knew she wanted to get certified after a Discover SCUBA class as well. We found a dive shop with a pool onsite that would let me work with my wife 1 on 1 so she didn’t have the pressure of other students around as she learned. She spent close to 2 months in the pool 2 nights a week until she was totally comfortable and had her skills down solid.

As we transitioned her to open water we made her first dives shallow, 15’-20’ feet max, so that she could go deeper than the pool but still see all the concepts are the same as in the pool. We are slowly increasing her depth still, not rushing anything, and she has made dives to 35’ so far and is still doing fine.

There is plenty of time for diving so take your time and don’t rush anything.

Rochelle - 9/06/2012 12:54 PM
From RockRat2008: Good advice offered so far and I agree. My wife has claustrophobia and knew she wanted to get certified after a Discover SCUBA class as well. We found a dive shop with a pool onsite that would let me work with my wife 1 on 1 so she didn’t have the pressure of other students around as she learned. She spent close to 2 months in the pool 2 nights a week until she was totally comfortable and had her skills down solid. As we transitioned her to open water we made her first dives sh...

Very well stated ... for me, it ended by taking very small baby steps. I was determined to discover what the root cause of my panicky feeling was, eventually realizing that it was water by my nose. I posted a request for help on this forum to ask more experienced divers how to overcome this fear of mask removal. I received so many good ideas, that I compiled all the ideas into a step-by-step document and started in. From sitting in my tub and just putting nose in the water for 5 sec to being able to pass my OW certification by removing/replacing my mask, took me daily ‘training’ for three weeks. The first breath after going under the water line and the feeling of descending into ‘nothingness’ in open-water, may always cause my heart to initially jump – but once I’m at depth (current record is 23ft) I feel free.

Please tell your wife she’s not alone – there are others like us who are willing to share their experiences too. One step at a time … in the end, it’s so very, very worth it! If I can oversome this... what else can I overcome!
SvenNotOle - 5/04/2014 6:02 PM
I had my first panic attack today which was day 2 of my contained water dives. Yesterday no problem. Today arrived late and got the last regulator on the rack which seemed a little hard to draw air from. Just didn’t feel right. First skill was taking off and replacing weight belt which required a small amount of exertion. Was immediately starved for air. My instructor was right there and checked to make sure my tank was fully on then handed me a slate (which kept me from shooting up 6 feet to God Blessed Air). I wrote "not enough air, high resistance to flow" having some physics background. He gave me my Octo which never occurred to me and lo and behold I had all the air I could possibly want. Finished 50 minute skills dive no prob. Went back to original secondary when tank pressure dropped to about 2000 and everything was fine. I will never forget the panic feeling though. The less experience you have the more important it is to be with a highly skilled buddy.
SvenNotOle - 5/04/2014 6:59 PM
My post would have made more sense had I mentioned I have a history of claustrophobia. I did not expect it would make me more likely to panic underwater.
My point about the experienced buddy is that having confidence in his skills and focusing on his guidance may help a panicked diver work through the crisis.
Enough rambling on my part.
USACMASDiver - 7/21/2014 1:09 PM
I have seen this question before. Step back and look at diving again. Just because there are limits that are written on cards and charts and regulations, that does not mean that a diver needs to "push" those limits. Pick your favorite body of water. Walk out into it stand waist high, half of the body in the water, half out, put your regulator in your mouth, and put your face in the water. Assuming you are a certified diver, from that point, just how comfortable are you with just your face in the water? There is nothing that says that you cannot dive several dives at just 5 meters in clear water. There is also nothing that says you cannot just get comfy with your gear, put your regular in your mouth, and walk about just looking at the sand. For goodness sakes, get comfortable with your own, personal limits. My first 8 dives were at 2 meters, then 3, then 4. If your open water certification says you are good for 45 or 60 feet, where in the world is the rule that says that your "dive" must be to depth? Find a buddy who will be cool with walking into a tide zone, find a eco-friendly place, and a harzard safe place, and just sit down and enjoy the show. If it gets freaky, well, stand up and get your wits about you and relax. Incrementally ease your way into it. Don’t force it at all. I think my first 3 dives after I was certified I just went out with a buddy, found a cool spot, and just sat down in the water and looked. Now, years latter, when I went for my first Instructor rating, the trainer asked to see all the log books. Out of the 15 people in the class, he held mine up as an example. He only passed two of us, and I was one of those two. In other words, listen to yourself and dive within your own personal limits. Your agency should have told you that somewhere, and I bet they did.