Dealing With Stress & Panic

There are many kinds of stress, each originating due to a distinct cause. Stress needs two primary ingredients to show itself, the initial cause, and individual predisposition. The two fundamental forms are: physiological, which originates from the effects of stimulus on the body, and psychological, which originates from beliefs and attitudes. The greatest threat of stress is a failure to recognize its influences. By external, or internal stimulation stress factors throw the body out of balance, and then the victim attempts to restore that balance. Physiological stress is external stimulation that can be provoked by: cold, fear, illness/injury, fatigue, discomfort, and drugs or alcohol.

Psychological stress is internal stimulation, it also can be caused by a physical state of stress. The individual's belief and attitudes, task loading, peer pressure, and a perception of risk, all work on the mind to develop psychological stress. Stimulus can be either real, or imagined. Many sport divers dive for the adventure of entering a potentially hostile, and foreign environment. It is this thrill of adventure that directly motivates both the sport diver, and the rescuer. It is not only a search for pleasure through the underwater environment, but also the gaining of, and controlling successfully one's behavior in a potentially hostile environment.

Stress results in anxiety, distraction from work, impaired function, and leads to panic. Researchers assume that panic accounts for most of the water related deaths. How stress behaves, or the physiology of stress is it starts with a stimulus. The body reacts by releasing adrenaline (flight or fight effect). Breathing rate increases, there by resulting in decreased efficiency or oxygen exchange, and a feeling of suffocation ensues. This results in perceptual narrowing that ends in panic.

When a sensation of uncertainty over takes a person about his ability to cope, it is refereed to as APPREHENSION. Divers entering the water for pleasure, assume that the situation is under their control, due to their equipment and instruction. Apprehensive divers normally orient themselves towards shore, or the dive boat. As stress levels increase, their breathing rate also increases, swimming becomes irregular, and the diver is more involved with checking his gauges and other equipment. This suggest a lack of comfort and control of the situation.

When a person relinquishes control of their situation, they perceive a psychological narrowing and experience acute anxiety, terror, or fright, this is PANIC. The likelihood of a victim of panic coping with any situation is slim to none. Water accident statistics suggest that panic is a major cause of death. In the study of divers death, many had the weight belt still in place, mouthpiece had been removed, buoyancy compensators were not inflated, and air was still in the tank. This all suggest panic.

Most accidents occur in relatively shallow water, or on the surface. When seen in divers, they will usually bolt to the surface or try to take away your air supply while heading topside. Once on the surface they will rip off their mask right away, and be fighting to stay afloat. They will not drop weights, or anything they may be holding, and wont inflate their BCD.

When managing a panicky victim, attempt to communicate with him. It may be possible to calm the person down, and coax him to safety. Try to find out what is wrong, or what the problem is. Panic is caused by stress either real or imaginary. When it occurs, the brain's higher functions no longer control but the primitive responses take over. It is caused by someone having the feeling of not being in control of his environment, or self. In active panic the classic symptom is "saucer eyes", or eyes that are wide open and shift about. Respirations and heart rate increase and movements are uncoordinated. If you must go after a panicky victim, this is where the team approach works best. Most panicky victims only need their buoyancy established and reassurance. If need be, hand him your BCD. Tell him not to climb on it, but to hold on to one side. You can tow from the other, this is a BC tow. Watch him constantly and always adjust your assessment. If the victim gets panicky again, release him. Never make yourself a personal flotation device (PFD). As a last resort the rescuer can try a total underwater approach. If the victim is a diver grab their tank valve and a strap for control, keep their back to you. When dealing with a swimmer, grab both arms from the rear. This is a last resort and surprises the victim, which may trigger a fight reflex. If you get into trouble submerge, you will not be followed down. Never pull a panicky person underwater. Remember that when approaching a panicky victim to keep out of reach. Always try to take a ring buoy with you when going out after him and use the team approach.

Another form of panic is PASSIVE PANIC. These divers or swimmers are perceived as calm, they will sink, and perish without a call for help. The buddies of these divers thought their associates were non-stressed, and normal. Recognizing this form of panic is very difficult, the victims show no outward signs of any difficulty, but most will have "saucer eyes". Underwater they may lose their regulator and not try to replace it. They will not try to save themselves.

After identifying a passive victim quick action is necessary. Typically a passive victim will seem confused, or vague and then slip underwater. It is his total inability to look after himself and willingness to sink that appears in most case studies. It is usually due to exhaustion. By developing observation skills, recognizing stress can relive problems before they occur. Interview, or investigate to determine the cause, or meaning of any unusual behavior. Be alert to inappropriate demeanor.

The Rescue Diver also may be apprehensive due to the high level of stress in dealing with the situation he is facing, if well trained, he can still cope, gather information, and function skillfully. Managing stress is done by trying to eliminate the root cause. Training builds confidence thereby reliving fear. Encouraging analytical thinking or the stop and think principle, relives stress and panic. Problem recognition in self, and others is the key to management, as is a strong training program.

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