Panic attacks are extremely dangerous underwater, and it´s often difficult to know what triggers them as each person response differently to circumstances. If you have little experience or you are a first-time diver there are some considerations you should learn by heart to avoid any panic attack or know how safely deal with these situations.
Practice Always do a checkout dive to make sure your wetsuit still fits, equipment still works and your skills are sharp. Practice sharing air and clearing your mask and all those skills you may not have done since certification. Review the dive details with the dive master, so there are no surprises. Before a dive, assess your mental state. Ask yourself, ‘Am I anxious? Am I breathing too fast?’ If you answer yes, something about the dive is worrying you. Figure it out and problem-solve it before you go under.
Emergency plan. Stuff happens. It’s rational to be a little afraid when something goes awry
underwater, but if you have planned for it that rational fear is far less likely to become irrational panic. What might send you over the edge? Seeing a shark? Losing your dive buddy? Equipment failure? Have an emergency procedure ready for every situation and rehearse them with your dive buddy. That way if something scary happens, you both know what to do and you’ll automatically do it.
Stop. Breathe. Think. Act. Once panic starts creeping in, you need to do what you can to stop it. It’s nearly impossible to panic when you’re taking deep breaths. Train yourself to stop, breathe, think, act when something unexpected happens. Of course, it’s often breathing — specifically the inability to do so — that causes panic. If you’re out of air or otherwise having trouble breathing, the other steps still apply. Think about your options. Most people can easily hold their breath for a minute. That’s enough time to find your backup air (or buddy) and get a breath.
Know the signs. Identify the unusual behavior your body is going through. There are classic signs that you’re losing your cool like rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, palpitations or heaviness in the chest, muscle tension, headache or just feeling out-of-control. If you experience any of them, stop to relax, breathe, think — and seek help.