While on vacation in Mexico last week, I got to talking to some fellow travelers who were taking part in a SCUBA trip to the marine park on western side of Cozumel. Within minutes everyone was swapping stories, each person attempting to one-up the other with their record for using as little oxygen as possible while underwater.
All of this talk reminded me of my first certified dive. My tank registered the minimum level of air (700 psi), before being required to surface, within about 30 minutes. It was an additional 15 or 20 minutes before the other, more experienced divers reached their “time to go up” levels.
While I was able to match those longer “down times” on subsequent dives, that first dive for me was so full of fearful “what ifs,” it caused me to use way more air than my body actually needed. During those 30 minutes, I remember thinking about what would happen if I saw shark. My mind raced with concerns over whether I could survive a coughing fit under water. What if I breathed in water instead of air? What if I was swept away with the current or lost my group?
Stress of any kind on a dive will shorten it and make it less enjoyable. Over the years, I’ve watched many people give up because they let their fears take control of their rational mind. They surface within a few minutes of being underwater, or just refuse to get jump off the boat at all. When you dive, you know you have a limited amount of oxygen (i.e. time) underwater, and making the most of it requires you to gain the upper hand over your “what if’s” and other fears.
What I’ve learned since that day is that keeping calm and literally going with the flow is the best way to conserve oxygen, and maximize time and enjoyment underwater. When you fight the current or attempt to chase fish to get a better view, your exertion uses air more quickly. But soon you realize that missing a good vantage point for a type of fish just means you will likely see another one near by. With practice, you also discover that holding your breath near a particular specimen gives you longer time to observe them, as they are not scared away by your movements or respiration bubbles.
Conversely, when you do fight the current to get a better view (especially for a video recording), it’s a conscious choice. You know you will use more air, and the entire time you are evaluating whether trying to get that perfect shot is worth the extra effort, and the extra stress.
Above the surface, stress has these same limiting and disrupting effects on our lives. It’s just that we don’t have an air gauge telling us just how much it’s hindering our experiences. And because there’s no external gauge measuring our stress levels, it’s up to us. We get to choose what level of stress is healthy, and actively work to stay within those limits.
We must be constantly on watch for where we are fighting the current; where we are chasing desires like they are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, when there’s likely another—perhaps better—option right around the corner. And we must learn to discern when we are allowing fear of a “shark” to take over, and—if a shark is real—to recognize if it is truly a threat, or if it’s more scared of you than you are of it.
Reducing and maintaining a minimum level of stress in one’s life, while still acting on one’s ambitions and achieving one’s dreams, requires unrelenting vigilance. One must be dedicated to achieving their optimum experience, while also prolonging their “underwater time” to the maximum. Failing to do so impacts our health, our relationships and our total life experience.
In this new year, where do you feel the current taking you? Where are you fighting it? Where are you fearing sharks that are harmless to you or may not even be real? What are three steps you can take today to turn yourself into the current, and benefit from its flow?
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James