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Understanding Water Anxiety and Fear

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Overcoming fear and water anxiety is a huge big deal to countless people. It's a subject I feel quite passionate about.

At least 30% of the trips I have been on have at least one passenger on board who is very hesitant to even get in the water, much less put on a mask, fins, snorkel and have a happy-go-lucky water excursion. For those people, there is something in them that truly wants to enjoy the water, but whether family conditioning about danger, a terrifying experience earlier in life, dumb movies, shark week, disengaged snorkeling operators in previous companies... it's a very complicated set of issues. Most of the people are not even 100% sure where their fear comes from. BUT, it's powerful. They know it. I know it. Yet, I rarely walk away from a challenge. Is there any chance I can be of service? Obviously they have some desire to overcome these powerful feelings and enjoy a beautiful coral reef in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean. But how?

I never thought of myself as much of a teacher. In fact, in my prior life I considered myself pretty inpatient. But I suppose that is because I was not doing what I was destined to do... And, now, it's without any doubt that I am absolutely confident, that while I am pretty old to have found my calling at 54 years old... I am exactly (in a quasi spiritual kind of way) where I am supposed to be.

One of the methods I use is to just let the guest talk about the issue. Usually this is best when other family and friends are off the boat. They need to feel freshly heard, to new ears. I get a sense of the fear. I usually will explain why Puerto Rico is an excellent place to learn to swim or to float...because of the salinity. We find calm water in a protected cove where there is little distractions or stressors. Once they get in the water, it's a matter of those first few moments...the panic. Tense muscles, climbing on top of flotation devices or climbing on me is a natural first response. My goals then are to stay calm and encourage them to relax their arms and shoulders. A strange thing about floating and feeling safe in the sea is that when you relax, you float. When you tense up, you sink. Yet that's counter intuitive. Your mind says fight, kick, crawl...stay on top with all your power. The actual answer is to surrender, relax, feel the water supporting you... Crossing that bridge requires trust. And overcoming water anxiety is not an intellectual problem, rather it's one that only can be overcome through a positive experience.

For whatever reason, I seem to have found a natural gift in this area. I truly want to help them for one and I have overcome so many obstacles of my I know it's possible. In my own life, I remember a young boat captain and mate in the Florida Keys who helped my elderly mother have her first snorkeling experience. My mom had been afraid to put her face in the water her whole life. Yet, their patience and encouragement with her have always stayed with me. She passed away in February of this year, but even on the night of her death, she reminded me of her bravery and how she swam with me on a coral reef. She never forgot that, and it literally stayed with her until her last day on Earth. I recognize my own chance to help others, as my own Mother was helped. Plus I have known the shame of trying and not quite getting there. In my earlier life, I was a 3 time scuba diving failure. I just could not seem to equalize my ears. I was in a group setting and not wanting to hold others back, and I just gave up. THREE TIMES. It wasn't until I came for private scuba lessons here in Puerto Rico (with our old company we used to work for) that I found an Instructor who was patient enough with me, who listened to me and gave me this talk saying "my time is 100% yours" and with that patience, I spent 15 minutes doing a skill many accomplish in 2. But those 15 minutes of his patience literally changed my life.

So, if you find yourself considering a first time water/ocean experience, please consider allowing me to help you. It an enormous honor to earn trust and a huge big deal to be a part of helping people have a safe and positive memory. One that you can build on for years to come. The fishies are waiting to meet you... and welcome you to be a part of the beautiful world under the sea.

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