Here we’ll look at managing stress, this will take a few forms. First we manage stress by dealing with the things that predispose us to stress or make it seem worse when it occurs. Some of these are pretty simple and don’t need psychological skills, eg. Fatigue, nutrition and hydration levels. The solution for these is pretty much in most dive manuals. Be fit to dive so you don’t get tired, get a good nights sleep, eat well, stay off the booze, drink plenty of water checking urine colour for hydration status. Bearing in mind this must be consistent over weeks, upping the fluid the day or two before a dive is literally going to mean you are pissing in the wind. Maybe a bit on motivation to train and eat right might be needed! Sleep quality might be a good future article as well.
Ok, now for the more interesting stuff.
Pre-dive emotional status. This, if not right, can really increase the risk of you having a disproportionate emotional reaction to any incidents or stressors on the dive. Not the ideal calm mind, solution focussed reaction we would prefer. So, you got up and left to the spouses “oh,diving again is it, when will you be back, you won’t be drinking with your buddies, how much was that new thingy”, then you were stuck in traffic which made you late for the boat, some inconsiderate prick pinched the last parking space so you had to haul your gear miles and the skipper is treating you like a recalcitrant toddler. Add in a shitty trip out and 20 minutes waiting for the shot to hit metal and I’m guessing, just guessing mind…. that your emotional status is not evenly balanced. How can we regain the equilibrium? It’s going to take a few new skills. The best way to apply these is to put them into an emotional control routine. This can then be transferred to any situation, in or out of diving and may save you some bruising to the knuckles.
Step 1. Find a place where you can be undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Sticking on some headphones works for some people, even if you don’t have music on…. If you do have music have a tune you find calming.
Step 2. Engage in some deep tidal breathing, not to relax, but to just gain a sense of physical control over the body, this tends to be naturally associated by most people with a sense of control over the mind. Some contract relax muscle exercises can help as well.
Step 3. Park all the crap that’s currently bothering you or has the potential to bother you. Now, you can’t just forget about it. Try this….. Forget about a white elephant, now, no seriously don’t think about it….. You can’t can you! Ok, now imagine you have walked the elephant into an enclosure and you’ve closed the gates. Now, you can see the gates, but not the elephant. It’s the same with stuff that bothers you. You have to convince your subconscious mind, which is rather like a hyperactive child, that you aren’t trying to block out its concerns, but you are putting them away and will return to them later. I just imagine myself writing them down and putting them in a box I can open up later. I then imagine putting this box with all the issues away in a safe place. I use a pocket of my dive bag, I don’t want to bring this stuff on the dive so a drysuit pocket won’t do. The key to stop these issues coming back is to plan and stick to the plan of coming back to the issues and dealing with them at the right time, ie when you’re not diving. If this doesn’t work for you there are other techniques. Let me know!
Step 4. Choosing the right mood to be in. Personally, and I encourage this in my students, I like to be a little bit up, I think a small degree of ‘being up for it’ gets me over the danger of complacency that I’ve done this or similar dives 100’s of times before. I don’t like the concept of relaxing before the dive, I think it’s ok once you’re in the dive to relax into it after all the pre and start of dive planning, what if and safety drills have been done. It’s choosing the optimum level though, too excited or worse, nervous, and you’ll likely miss stuff.
How do I get into the optimal mood…. I use cues that key me into it. Music, a few key words that stimulate that mood, set physical routines such as kit prep, putting on the drysuit etc and some imagery that recreates the perfect mood for the dive. (A discussion on imagery versus visualisation will have to wait for a future article).
Step 5. Rehearse the dive plan (using imagery – not visualisation) and if the mood hadn’t changed – ok maybe a bit more positive excitement is ok, then all is good. Re rehearse with the team. You’re ready to go and the chances of any stressors having a disproportionate affect is greatly reduced. At this stage put the consequence into context of your planning and preparation. Ok, it’s a 100m dive, but you’ve built up to it with a good few 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, kit and gases have been thoroughly tested and checked, you’ve a great team plus safety divers, there’s ample backup. Conditions including the environment, the team and vitally, your attitude and approach are optimal.
If the rehearsal, either your own imagery or with the team is not smooth and clear, then you’re not ready to go and should not dive until you have a great mental and actual run through of the plan. Treat it like there has been an equipment failure…. There has, your head!
Ok, we are ready to dive and should start to engage in the normal pre dive routines, flow checks, safety / buddy check, final plan reviews, s drills descent and bubble checks etc. What can reinforce the value of these is to create an association between the physical routine and your thoughts at each stage of the routine. It’s not just something we do, but it has meaning for you and the dive.
Think about why we do each check or action in the pre dive, not only does this ensure you are ready, but it also reinforces the why. IE check long hose clear, yes safely clear and also reinforces that this is our response to an out of air diver. Turn stage on for bubble check, yes ensures pressurised but also “fixes” in the head where the stage is, how it’s marked, what its for and ups the confidence knowing it’s working.
A solid consistent pre-dive routine is a piece of pure gold in psychological terms. Firstly it will provide all the mood and attitude cues you want, if it doesn’t you need to refine the routine. Second it will have checklists, even if they are not written or ticked off (though that’s good practice, especially until your routine is rock solid), third, you will find you shut out all but the most relevant or required stimuli from the world around you, you are very difficult to distract. As a sense check if you can be distracted, again your head is probably not in the right place. You can rehearse this routine time and again, without being any nearer the water than your own bathtub! Practice, psychologically is as important to do as physical skills practice.
Ok, let’s get wet….. Part 3 will be on how we can react to stressors on the dive, how we can control the reaction and the things we need to do in training and preparation to ensure the reaction we have is the reaction we want.
After part 3 I’m going to do a more specific article on imagery and how visualisation is only one aspect of imagery. I’ll include a few imagery exercises to help develop the skill, before you try and apply it in diving. It’s probably one of the most powerful mental skills there is and is great to have in the armoury.