I often get asked how diving helps with PTSD. Usually I give a pretty high-level response about building confidence, joining a community, grounding, etc. But I wanted to go a little more in depth and not overwhelm a reader. So I the next few blogs I am going to highlight the benefits from many different perspectives. In this one I am going to focus on just Oxytocin, one of the helpful chemicals that helps our brains to remain happy and feel secure.
“Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another”. Military vets tend to flock to each other often in search of those things that remind of the brotherhood we all once shared. When we find that community of acceptance we trust. Trust is a huge part and helps guys who are in transition, working through a tough day, need to find a battle buddy to lean on, or be the battle buddy to lean on. When we trust our brains release Oxytocin, the trust drug in our head.
Oxytocin is one of the four “feel good” chemicals that also includes Dopamine, Serotonin, and Endorphin. We will cover the other three in another blog entry.
Oxytocin gives you a good feeling when you’re with people you trust or in a situation that promotes trust. The military and public safety communities often promote trust and camaraderie and when a service member transitions into civilian life and his community no longer exist, trust can be absent.
Diving offers the opportunity to build social trust. Social trust provides comfort and reduces anxiety because social alliances promote survival. Diving allows a veteran suffering from PTSD or transition barriers to build new trust bonds in small steps over time. Each time one of our divers participates in dive training, a social dive, or even a “Breathe” session with fellow veterans they have the opportunity to build bonds.
Divers can learn methods to induce Oxytocin when not on a dive as well. A diver can learn to stimulate oxytocin by reflecting and enjoying the trust they have instead of focusing on the trust they don’t. This is one reason I encourage dive journals instead of dive logs, especially for our hero divers. Pictures, reflections, and small mementos placed in a dive journal are good reminders of the experience and whom they trusted on the dive. Out of the water a vet needs to learn to set expectations in a relationship and trust builds each time those expectations are met. Trust can be gained with almost anyone by making the steps small enough and parties are able to negotiate expectations that both parties can meet time and time again.
Military veterans, law enforcement officers, EMTs, and others feel a bond when they are with others who have been in similar situations, diving allows for those opportunities to meet, share similar experiences, and build new bonds of trust.
Though not a primary focus, in our “Breathe” program, small steps of trust are introduced between the instructor and the diver. We actually focus on the trust aspect in our Scuba certification, Advanced certification, and rescue diver certification where Oxytocin and other chemicals that helps us feel good are highly stimulated.