Breathe Your Fears Away

During a relatively recent trip to the Maya Riviera with some close friends, I was given the opportunity to participate in a scuba diving excursion in the cenotes (under water caves) and jumped at the chance.

I was told that it was a different experience when you dive in caves, but since I had already dove in some really great spots like the Red Sea in Egypt, in Thailand & Cozumel, Mexico I figured I would make it no problem. I mean, how hard could it be, right?

Well, the time came as we, my friends, were preparing to enter the water and begin our dive adventure. As I got closer to the entrance point a cold dread hit me. My whole body froze and I began to breath irregularly. I could feel all the blood rushing to my heart as utter panic engulfed me. This was something I have never felt before. As I was preparing to enter the water I stared helplessly into our entrance point at what seemed like a tiny crevasse in the tons of rock that surrounded us.

At that point I began running through all the possible scenarios and “what if’s” in which I would die mercilessly. What if I got trapped underwater? What if the cave collapsed on me? What of I got wedged in the crack and all my air ran out? How will I be able to see in the pitch dark of the cave? What if I lose my guide? Lose my lunch? Is our guide legit or luring us unknowingly to our deaths? So on and so on…

I was seriously freaked out and there was a moment when I contemplated not doing the dive and quitting before I even started. That began my downward spiral of feeling like a failure and worrying about what others would think about me? Would I be perceived as a wimp, pansy? Would I let everyone down? What was I supposed to do? Should I just go the safe route and not risk hurting myself?

Now, this would be a pretty pathetic story if it ended there, but fortunately, this story has only begun. My challenge in this instance was fear and my irrational beliefs. I was allowing myself to get all worked up about ridiculous stories my imagination cooked up that were highly unlikely to happen. Truthfully, going the “safe route” in this situation would actually have caused more damage to me than just sucking it up and taking action.

First thing I had to do was get a grip. So, with the help of a close friend, I was able to calm down and look at the situation from a different angle. Understanding that if I could just get myself under water and into the situation most, if not all my fears would probably fade.

The first action we took was for me to get comfortable breathing with my regulator. Once I accomplished that task without collapsing in a heap, I added the simple action of breathing (with my regulator) in the water. As soon as I had action #2 complete, something amazing happened.

The stifling fear that was freezing me in my tracks just a few minutes earlier was no longer present and I made the dive with very little anxiety. Ironically, the “tiny crevasse” that seemed so daunting previously was actually a fairly large gap and our guide turned out to be a real good guy. Go figure…

What just happened? How could making one small step like breathing in my regulator make such a big difference?

I’ll tell you why, I took ACTION, I moved forward in the face of my panic and the fear dissipated. It didn’t disappear completely, but it became so much more manageable in my mind and I was now under control of my emotions and able to see clearer.

Fear is the great neutralizer and we all, at some point will stare into the crevasse with dread. In that moment, we are faced with the choice to turn and run from the fear or literally, as in my case, breath and approach that fear head on… This may sound obvious, but unless you like being a weenie and backing away from challenges, I would highly recommend the second option. It will make your life a lot more enjoyable and exciting.

My experience cave diving in the cenotes was another wonderful learning experience and opportunity for me to exercise the old axiom that action cures fear and has been instrumental in me turning my perceived setbacks into successes.

How have you turned your fears around to accomplish a goal, task or activity?

What actions have you taken to conquer or overcome a fear?