The elevated heart rate that just won’t ease.
The faster breathing.
The sense that somethings not right and the constant distraction like a buzzing bee hovering around your head.
Yep, you’ve just seen a shark OR your imagination (or 6th sense) has just triggered your anxiety. Not a pleasant feeling and one that most of us who dive in waters with plenty of the ‘men in grey suits’ aka ‘the taxman’ can empathize with. Although, like many things in life that scare you, exposure can steadily desensitize you. The caveat to this is to NEVER lose your respect for sharks OR believe that you ‘have control of them’ because you don’t.
“Newbie spearo here (got my first fish the other day) with a question: How do I manage shark anxiety? I know the stats and ‘rarity’ of being attacked, but I just can’t shut off the anxiety switch. I need to get past this as providing for myself is a large life goal. Cheers for your help in advance.” – Lee (Rewritten from a Facebook Group Spearfishing Victoria)
Some good advice and wisdom was shared following this post;
Galin “Someone told me that a trip to QLD and diving with the blokes up there can break any shark anxiety. Maybe worth a go?”
Blake “Second Galin. I went to QLD and dived in some crappy vis. When I got back to Melbourne I didn’t even think about sharks anymore.”
Luke “With any anxiety, you slowly introduce yourself to the environment that is making you feel that way until your brain no longer perceives it as a threat. So start by doing short trips and you’ll eventually adjust.”
These guys have tapped into some wisdom here. Psychologists describe this process as desensitization and if done gradually can habituate spearos to obstructive fears. Over time they find that their reactions to sharks and/or situations where they begin to experience anxiety decreases. Exposure can help to weaken previously learned associations between sharks and bad outcomes (think JAWS movies). Possibly the greatest benefit to healthy shark exposure teaches spearos that they are capable of confronting their fears and can manage the anxiety. During positive exposure to sharks, a spearo can learn to attach new, more realistic beliefs about sharks, shark behavior and how to adapt their own personal response to them.
I’m not trying to minimize the risks from Sharks as I’ve talked to people who have suffered personally (Evan Leeson Interview here) or lost someone to a shark attack (Rob Tratt Interview here). What I am trying to do though is help people overcome the anxiety that keeps them out of the water OR helps them break out of the Freeze/Flight/Fight response. Tim Kavermann laid out some actionable points to help overcome anxiety in a recent interview. Here is summary of a few of his points;
Actionable Tips to Reduce Shark Anxiety
- Accept anxiety, don’t fight it, sit with it and learn to bear it. It will diminish.
- Learn breathing techniques to relax on the surface and reduce fear and anxiety.
- Being in situations with sharks when the water is clean and the sharks are relatively calm can acclimatize you to the fear.
- Turn fear into curiosity – learn about sharks. Observe their behaviour. Research their body language and cues. Knowledge dispels fear (gradually).
- Ground yourself in the moment by paying attention to the details.
- Prepare to not be prepared. Do what is in your control and listen to your dive buddy.
Is it worth it?
Sharks an be unpredictable and dangerous, they can kill you. They are often big, unimaginably fast, sometimes sneaky and you are in their environment however MOST of the time they are wary of us and you can learn techniques to dissuade their attention. You can also avoid shark red flag moments to minimize the risk too;
🚩 Dusk – when the last light of the day hits the water, sharks can be at their most erratic.
🚩 Struggling Fish – blood in the water is far less of a turn-on for sharks than a fish flailing on a hook and line OR a spear. Dispatch quickly and spearfish in pairs/groups.
🚩 Dirty Water – Brisbane Bullsharks are notorious for their confidence in dirty water and they aren’t alone. When you see big sharks in <6/7Meters (20ft) vis, get out and move spots.
“I don’t want to not live because of my fear of what could happen. If you stop exploring, everything becomes smaller. Fear is an unbelievable motivator. Fear is a natural response. Without it, we wouldn’t survive. Meet up with your fears. If you’re afraid of sharks, go learn all about sharks. Get into the water with one.” – Laird Hamilton.
What Do You Think?
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Which technique from today’s post are you going to use first?
Are you going to get in the water with sharks? Or try some breathing techniques to calm down?
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.