Recognizing Stress

This week's tip has to do with recognizing stress in a diver. We've all been there before, a little nervous about going into the water. Maybe you have not dove in a while and you feel a little rusty, maybe the conditions are not as ideal as you would like. Either way you are stressed.

As a diver we tend to think of stress a something we fell at work when the big project is due. Clearly upsetting the boss is a lot worse then tumbling around a bit upon entering the ocean right? Not exactly. The problem with dive related stress is that it has a great ability to compound.

Here is an example, you get to the dive site and start pulling out your gear only to notice you left your mask at home. A friend of yours says "No problem I have an extra". You pop on his mask and it fits pretty well. Problem solved right? Well you are starting to slowly build stress. In the back of your mind you know this is not your mask and it may not fit you like "your mask" does. Overall though, not that big a deal. Now you go to set up your gear and you notice your regulator has a little leak in it. Not a huge issue but again adding to the mask stress from earlier. The rest of your gear goes together easily and we encounter no more problems. Just as we are about to hit the water you cell phone rings... Your wife is calling to tell you to hurry home after your dive because her Mother is coming over tonight and she need help cleaning the house. More Stress??? Yup. Now we feel pressure to do the dive quicker then we wanted to. Okay no more distractions lets get in the water. As we get down to the rocks we notice the surf zone is a little rough. We try to hold onto a rock and put our fins on. Low an behold we get smacked with a wave and all our buddies laugh at us. Uh oh, did anybody see my fin? More stress. After searching for a couple of minutes one of your pals finally finds your fin. Okay now let's get going. We finally battle the surf zone and get out past the big effect of the incoming tide when your dive buddy loses his tank. You see the look of fear in his eyes and you swim over to help him. You hand him your primary regulator and grab your octopus while you are trying to reseat his tank in his vest. Stress??? You betcha! Now that we have all that situated we finally get back to diving. The rest of the dive goes pretty smooth. You check your trusty time piece and figure we better get out because you don't want to hear your mother-in-law complain that her little girl lives in a pig-sty. You then get out and get your stuff off and head home.

Did anybody get hurt? Nope. So what 's the big deal? The problem is by stress loading we have a great chance of getting hurt. Let's review what happened. You forgot your mask, the new one may leak when you wear it. Your regulator hisses. You are using air faster then normal and your mouth is constantly filling up with excess air. No a huge deal but you are not as comfortable as you normally are. Your wife called, now you are in "rush mode". No time to check your gear, no time to check your buddies gear, no time to talk about a dive plan and no time to pick a good entry and exit point. You end up in a tough surf zone and lose a fin. You are lucky you got it back. Your buddy lost his tank, not your fault right? Well maybe, but had you been relaxed and not hurried or feeling like a fool because you forgot your gear and your regulator leaks you most likely would have noticed his tank riding a little low and mentioned it to him.

See the effect? It is a very real problem. No only do new divers run into it but so do crafty old veterans. I was with a diver once that had well over a hundred dives under his belt when we went for a dive. I was suited and bobbing in the water while he put his fins on. We were both wearing dry suits and he was new to dry suit diving. (Stress, oh yeah). After one attempt to put his fin on it would not stay buckled. After a second attempt it appeared to be fine. He then kicked out to meet me and his fin fell off. He tried to fix it and he just could not make it work. He looked at me and apologized and said "I think some one is telling me not to dive". He got out and so did I. We found out the problem was that a little rock was stuck in his buckle and we fixed it in 2 minutes. I was proud of him for calling the dive. It takes a much bigger man to call a dive on the shore then it does to dive to 100ft.

So what do I look for?

The first thing you want to do when you look for stress is to listen to yourself. Think about what is going through your mind. For instance are you thinking, "Great I have a mask I can dive" or are you thinking, "Well I have a mask I just hope it doesn't leak when I get down there". See the difference. If you think you shouldn't dive, you absolutely shouldn't! Diving takes a clear mind. You don't want to be clouded by stress when you need to make a decision underwater.

Stress in others

This one is much easier. Here are some key signs. Look to see if they are having trouble remembering how to set up their gear. See if they are shaking, some people do when they are nervous. Are they impatient? That too is a sign. Basically anything that doesn't seem to be business as usual is a sign of stress.

So what do you do?

The difference between being safe and getting yourself into a potential problem all lie in one area, your ability to stand up and do what is right. My friend with the fin strap made the right call. It took courage to say "I'm not going in today sorry". A good dive buddy will understand. If they don't, do you think they would be a great buddy when you needed them? Also don't embarrass people. Saying things like "Hey pall you should stay out of the water since you were not smart enough to get your regulator fixed". It may be true but all you are doing is challenging that individual to make the dive to spite you. The best way to handle it is to be encouraging. "I had the problem once and dove and my dive was miserable, you may want to get that thing checked before you go out again, I wouldn't push it."

The moral of the story is this, stress effects different people differently. Will you always recognize it, nope. But if you are keeping your eye out for it then you'll see it more then you think. Don't be afraid to say something but think about how you would like to be treated in that situation. Embarrassing a diver in front of all his/her buddies is not going to make them respect you or listen to you. You will have actually done more harm then good. Standing back and saying, "wow I'm glad that's not me" won't make you feel any better if that person comes out of the water complaining what a miserable dive they had. You could have stopped it so do it.

Until next week stay wet, stay happy.

Oh and bring your mother-in-law some flowers, you might as well stay on her good side. (It keeps the stress level down) :-)

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