When Things Go Wrong. Understanding The Panic Cycle

The panic cycle is a simple process and quite easy to understand.

A problem causes stress. If that stress leads to anxiety, a couple of things take place. The diver’s heart rate increases. The diver’s breathing rate increases. This rapid breathing is usually shallow breathing. Rapid, shallow breathing results in a decreased gas exchange in the lungs. This causes the carbon dioxide level in the diver’s lungs to increase. As we all know, an increased carbon dioxide level in the lungs triggers the need to breathe. Breathing becomes faster and shallower in a snowball effect. Now in addition to the original problem the diver is feeling he can’t get enough air. The diver focuses on the original problem and the problem of not getting enough air. That focus is not on what can I do to solve these problems, but on what the result might be. “I’m underwater and I can’t breathe. I have to get to the surface now!” Panic is mere seconds away.

What causes this cycle to start?

A problem that leads to anxiety. In diving, things go wrong from time to time. If you have a leaky mask, that’s a problem. Is it a big problem or a little problem? If you clear your mask with ease, it’s a little problem. It’s such a small problem, you may not even recognize it as a problem. If you have difficulty with this skill, it could be a big problem. The more skills we possess and the more confidence we have in our skills, the more likely any given problem will be a small one. A class that includes confidence building goes a long way toward preventing the panic cycle from ever starting.

On the other hand, no one is perfect. No one is immune to anxiety and fear. When a diver feels anxiety, he needs to recognize it and concentrate on slow, deep breathing. Taking slow deep breaths stops the feeling of being air starved. The diver then needs to think, not about the problem, but about solutions to the problem. Look at the big picture and solve the problem. In Dennis Graver’s book Scuba Diving, he says something I think is very important, “Take control of your thoughts before they take control of you.” Concentrating on the problem and possible consequences can be deadly. Divers need to concentrate on the solution to the problem.

This article is courtesy of “Walter”