Mental stress is a real thing. Your mental state while diving can (in my opinion) be your biggest liability outside of properly maintained equipment and diving within your limits. When briefing and debriefing dives, some may find it beneficial to discuss with their buddy how they’re feeling mentally before, during, and after the dive executed.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the opportunity to get out diving for pleasure, introduce new divers to New Jersey diving, and finish a few courses with students. Different series of dives, different series of goals, and all different challenges. My first mental revelation came on a dive in 90 feet of water and about 5 foot of visibility. On this particular dive, I had 1 student completing Advanced Adventure Deep dive, 1 buddy tagging along, and I planned on doing some hunting.
All 3 of us descended and got to the bottom safely. My student and I completed our small list of skills for the dive, tied off my wreck reel, and proceeded to lead the 3 of us around the wreck. This is where the mental fatigue started to add up. Every few kicks, my fish stringer is catching the wreckage. Then my lobster bag is getting caught on the wreckage. Then I’m making sure I check in on my student. Then my bag or stringer catches more wreckage. Then I’m looking for our 3rd diver (still tagging, along, just can’t see him).
My next dive, once again, found me finishing up another Advanced Adventure Deep dive with a student. Different dive site, different goals, less equipment (no stringer/gun) and another student I had yet to dive with personally. We descended into about 95 feet. Upon reaching the end of the anchor line, we run into our first issue. One of our divers had misplaced their buddy coming down the line. There was a bit of a traffic jam at the bottom.
I had this diver wait on the anchor line for a short time (less than a minute) and their buddy returned. Good. Problem solved (unforeseen mental stress added). We tied off our reel and started a nice swim along the wreck. Visibility was a bit dark, but relatively clear on bottom. I was able to grab and bag one lobster, but on the effort, silted myself out on the bottom making it difficult to see and relocate my buddy. Additionally, on this dive, we were picking thru some old glass bottle treasure. Every bottle we picked at created more and more silt. Keeping our cool, we turned the dive at my student’s planned gas pressure and I got him back to the line for a safe ascent. Because I still had the gas and some time, I decided to poke around a little bit solo (certified solo). Our second dive of the day went just as well and I logged around 15ish minutes of solo bottom time. My comfort helped his comfort.
So, what did we learn? This series of dives was much less stressful. One, I had decided to only carry my bag, complete the skills for the deep dive, look for lobster and bottles. Cutting down on the overall amount of equipment and tasks made ME more comfortable thus less mental stress. Two, less mental stress allowed us to make better dives. I was able to complete more time in the water with a few minutes of solo because I was comfortable. I do not dive solo if I am not confident and comfortable. Third, on the hang line, I had my final revelation about mental stress on dives.
Here it is: It’s OK to be under some stress while diving. YOU need to understand your differences between your triggers of stress that cause discomfort vs which triggers can cause more panic to both you and or your buddy. What do I mean by this? Don’t lie to yourself. There are major differences between the two. Putting yourself into a mentally stressful situation that simply causes a little discomfort (hitting a pocket of silt, shooting/looking for fish or lobster, doing a few minutes of solo if certified) is a mental stress that can help you grow more confidence as a diver and would be expected. Triggers that can lead to too much mental stress or panic (descending too fast, losing a buddy, carrying too much stuff, not having a clear dive plan/goal in mind) should be noted and can be prevented if recognized ahead of time! If you are stressed, your buddy could be affected. If they see you big eyed and uncomfortable, it might affect their confidence to complete the dive as well. In the worst case, your stress triggers cause a serious panic and now you and your buddy have a major problem.
Mental stress is a real thing. Your mental state while diving can (in my opinion) be your biggest liability outside of properly maintained equipment and diving within your limits. When briefing and debriefing dives, some may find it beneficial to discuss with their buddy how they’re feeling mentally before, during, and after the dive executed. Your buddies will not shame you for honesty. The best thing I did after I had this realization was discuss my thoughts with my wife and my buddies. Talking about the mental aspect of diving helped me and it could help you too. Always be learning.
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