To say this year has challenged the mental health of many is an understatement, with calls to Lifeline having reached record highs during 2020. Australian freediving champion Adam Sellars knows what it’s like to suffer debilitating depression and has found his chosen sport is an excellent way to deal with not only depression and anxiety, but also everyday life pressures.
The Point Cartwright father of two runs freediving workshops and retreats around Australia and overseas that double as self-development courses and has shown more than 400 people that learning to control the mind underwater can translate to better outcomes in work, relationships and all areas of life.
“Freediving is a great vehicle in terms of hierarchy of human needs,” Mr Sellars says. “Oxygen is number one. When you take oxygen away from someone, you hold up a mirror to them. Very quickly you see how they deal with their stuff, how they deal with anxiety. Instead of worrying about how long you’ve been holding your breath, you work through the muscle groups of the body and tell them to switch off.
“Some students come along and the first breath hold they do for the day is like, 45 seconds. Then I work with them and install the belief that we’re built for it – humans do the same thing when they dive as whales and dolphins, the mammalian dive reflex, which helps us dive on one breath. By the end of the day, the average people can hold their breath underwater is three to four minutes.
“This is where the meditation world meets the freediving world,” he says. “You can build the ability to stay present and control your nervous system. One of the easiest ways is through breath. It’s something you can change on a dime and it’s directly linked with your nervous system. When you’re about to get into a disagreement, your breath will change, telling your nervous system that whatever is going on right now is not good. This inhibits your digestion and your immune system. All the stress and anxiety of coronavirus is repressing our immune systems and triggering the sympathetic nervous system.
“What I teach is as simple as having three to five minutes of targeted breath. Closing the eyes down is really significant because it tells the brain where you are is safe. Breathing through the nose gives you much better quality of air, belly breathing with a long exhale stimulates the vegas nerve, which is responsible for putting us into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is where you want to live, rather than the sympathetic nervous system.”
As an Australian freediving champion, Mr Sellars competes around the world (when we’re not in the grips of a pandemic), diving to 74 metres and holding his breath for six minutes and two seconds. He discovered freediving only five years ago, but took to it immediately and found it had life-changing effects on his mental health.
“For 27 years on this earth, I was always happy,” he says. “Then all of a sudden, I just wasn’t and I couldn’t find the answers. I had an inability to deal with the pressures of life. For the first time I was responsible for small humans eating, when I had kids. I had a business that wasn’t doing too well, my marriage was falling to pieces.”
A turning point came when a friend invited Mr Sellars to go spear fishing one fateful day in 2015. “I was a swimmer, but I hadn’t been in the open ocean,” Mr Sellars says. “I was like, I’m pretty sure sharks live here. In those two hours, I was back to feeling like Adam again. I knew I wanted more.
“I went and did a freediving course in Bali because you couldn’t do it in Australia. That sparked what I have today with The Pressure Project. I went from deep, dark depression to representing Australia in 12 to 18 months. Everything that freediving embodied and all the principles of it helped me get out of my depression and has kept it at bay ever since.
“My first instructor asked me, ‘what’s the difference between scuba diving and freediving?’ He said, in scuba diving, you go down and look around at the pretty fish. In free diving, you look within. Over my journey I’ve come to realise what he was talking about and I’ve been able to implement it in my life and help others implement it in their lives.
“With coronavirus, there’s a constant stream of bad news. Even before that, it was ‘I can’t afford the rent next week, my boss is riding me, I’m fighting with my partner.’ This stuff won’t kill you, but our brains flag it as a threat to our life. Stress is the biggest killer of humans bar none.
“Stress chemicals are really bad for our health. If you have the ability to be present and not be future thinking, you can build it like a muscle. You just get better and better at it. It’s about controlling the controllables, in everything you do.
“We stress about so much stuff we can’t control. We can’t control what happens to us in life, but we can control our response to what happens.”
For more information visit thepressureproject.com.au.