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How Scuba Diving Helped Treat My Chronic Anxiety

When the silent world mutes a diver’s thoughts, it leaves room for a new sense of self.
By Anmol Irfan | Authored On March 9, 2021
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How Scuba Diving Helped Treat My Chronic Anxiety

Diver swims away

"That first dive turned into a hobby which allowed me to shed my everyday anxieties and just take in the brilliant beauty I was surrounded with." Daniels

There’s one moment I can’t forget: entering the water and taking my first proper breath. It felt like entering that new world made time stand still. I always anticipated being in such unknown surroundings would feel alien, but, in that moment, it felt like home.

There had been such a hustle and bustle on the boat as we prepped for our dive, making sure all the gear was working properly and going over the safety signals one last time. Only seconds later, all of that seemed like a distant memory. As I heard my own steady breathing in the calm waters surrounding Pakistan’s Churna Island, I realized I had never been more in touch with myself than I was right then. I became suddenly overly aware of the way in which I fit into this world where I was a complete stranger yet totally at peace.

It’s the silence that sticks with me the most. It was a silence I’d never encountered before, and not because I’ve never been alone. This was the silence of my own thoughts. I’ve always had the tendency to overthink everything. Those close to me tell me I often get too caught up in my own thoughts. They often keep whirling around in my head, and I rarely ever get a break — even when I sleep, they manifest as vivid dreams. My struggled to understand and discuss my feelings drove an increasing fear of my own thoughts. Over my teenage years, I created a routine that was built around me constantly working or keeping busy. This inevitably only made me more fidgety when I would finally stop, but worked in the short term.

Under water that all stopped. It felt so new to just enjoy that silence. In many ways, the anxiety I experienced on an almost daily basis has become such a normal part of my life that to feel it melt away felt unexpected. I’m not sure whether it was due to eliminating all of my normal triggers, or just the sheer excitement of spending time underwater. Regardless of the reason, what I remember most about my very first dive is the absolute calm that descended over me.

It’s not because I was being lax or neglecting procedure — quite the opposite. As fun as it is, diving is also quite technical. Even when you’re not doing anything at all, and it seems like you’re just floating casually in the water, there’s still so much to do with equipment, keeping an eye on your buddy and making sure you’re not harming any sea life around you. With no way to converse with anyone or access distractions, none of these things seemed like tasks. Having a clear head allowed me to connect with my surroundings in a way I rarely experienced before. This clarity let me focus sharply on checking my air supply and equipment. As these became easier to do, they became an outlet for stress relief.

That first dive turned into a hobby which allowed me to shed my everyday anxieties and just take in the brilliant beauty I was surrounded with. Because I had become so used to living with my jittery emotions and need to overthink everything, I somehow forgot that any other, calmer thought process could exist until I experienced it again.

Mental health is not healed in a moment, so I won’t act like that’s what happened. But over the course of my first eye-opening dive, and the ones that followed, I slowly adjusted to being more in tune to my thoughts in a new way. Scuba diving forced me to be alone with myself, and consequently with the thoughts I avoided for so long. Amidst the sound of my breathing, the water rushing by and the gorgeous marinescapes around me, I realized I could focus on myself without worrying about anyone else or any other expectations. In being so aware of my presence as an outsider in a world that worked in perfect harmony without me, I began to see myself more as an individual being than just as a part of a social machine adhering to societal expectations. Through those small moments of self-reflection, I began to understand how I could translate the peace of diving to help me out of the water as well. In many ways, that is what’s helped me find ways of self-care that truly work for me.

Even though I grew up in the beach city of Karachi, where weekends were spent boating, jet skiing or kneeboarding, it wasn’t until scuba diving that I fully realized my connection with the ocean. To me, the world below the ways is almost magical. It works in its own way, without a care for what goes on above its waters. That’s what it taught me too. I still struggle with my anxiety, but I’ve gotten better at identifying how to help myself. And I like to think it all started with that one dive.

Are you ready to step up, help save the ocean, and #LiveUnfiltered at the same time? Sign up for a PADI Open Water Diver course now.