How to Safeguard Seafarers' Wellbeing and Enhance Performance?

Aug 09, 2023

Reducing stress at sea is crucial for seafarers to safeguard their mental and emotional wellbeing, enhance job performance and safety, maintain physical health, establish a healthy work-life balance, and promote long-term career satisfaction. Here are some techniques for seafarers to reduce stress at sea :

Surround Yourself with Positive People: Choose to spend time with colleagues with a positive attitude and outlook. Being around optimistic individuals can help counteract negativity and contribute to a healthier work environment.

Foster Team Spirit: Focus on teamwork rather than individual rank. Recognize that the strength of a crew lies in collaboration and mutual support. Treat everyone with respect, regardless of their position, and be willing to lend a hand to others, even if it's not part of your official duties.

Avoid Comparisons: Avoid comparing yourself to your colleagues regarding earnings or status. Instead, seek appreciation from your crew for a job well done. Comparisons often lead to feelings of jealousy, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. Focus on your accomplishments and contributions.

Be an Active Listener: Actively listen to your fellow seafarers when they speak. Developing strong listening skills not only helps build relationships but also improves your performance. Being a good listener is highly respected and can aid in resolving conflicts both personally and professionally.

Seek Proper Training: Before boarding a vessel, ensure you have received adequate training from a reputable crew manning agency or institute. Acquire practical and theoretical knowledge about personal survival techniques, personal safety and social responsibility, first aid, fire prevention and firefighting techniques, and proficiency in security awareness. This training can reduce risks for both yourself and the crew.

We all encounter stressful personal, professional, or social events. It is important to remember that not all stress is negative; some stress is positive, motivating us to maximize our productivity and creativity.

In contrast, 'distress' is negative stress, which is evident when a person perceives himself as lacking the ability or the resources to control a stressful situation.

Stress is defined as "a negative emotional experience accompanied by physiological, cognitive, and behavioral changes and responses aimed to reduce or change the stressful event or effects of it. How well we cope with stress is mediated by our appraisal of the stressor and the resources available to deal effectively with the stressor.

Unequivocally, seafaring is a strenuous occupation, and seafarers are exposed to an increased number of work-related stressors: fatigue, long hours, monotony, noise, vibration, temperature changes, a multinational environment, limited recreation, isolation, and long periods away from home, in other words- Factors that may produce an imbalance between work demands and personal resources leading to a decline in physical and psychological health and an increased risk for accidents and injuries. 

Most seafarers can suffer from moderate to high stress that can lead to a vicious cycle of unhealthy behaviors that are difficult to escape: sleep disturbance, unhealthy eating, and weight gain, causing mental and physical ailments.

Physical symptoms of stress include anger, irritability, fatigue, nervousness, lack of interest or motivation, anxiety, sadness, muscular tension, faintness, dizziness, headaches, indigestion, stomach aches, appetite changes, erectile dysfunction, change in sex drive, and teeth grinding.

Tips for dealing with stress

1. Identify the strengths and skills that increase your confidence. Think of a survival resource that helped you cope with a stressful experience in the past.

2. Assess, recognize, and develop your creative resources: talents, traits, skills, or competencies. What are your resources? Optimism, humor, or flexibility?

3. Evaluate your resources. Are they internal or external? Internal resources refer to personality traits like humor, optimism, courage, flexibility, spiritual connections, or accountability. External resources include hobbies, activities, team or religious associations, or social support.

4. Use cognitive reappraisal when evaluating a negative event. Notice the negative thinking causing your emotional tension. It comes down to how we interpret events that evoke negative emotions.

5. Engage and interact with other people onboard. Do not isolate yourself - become interested in learning and engaging with your teammates.

6. Establish an open communication channel to discuss your difficulties or concerns with somebody you trust.

7. Do not let negative emotions overtake you. When something bothers you, address it immediately - don't turn it into rage, sadness, or resentment.

8. Be realistic about your expectations.

9. Be accountable for your actions.

10. Develop a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, maintaining a sleep and rest schedule, exercising regularly, and partaking in recreational activities.

11. Keep a diary to note your thoughts and feelings.

12. Practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques.

Stress is the body's physical, mental, or emotional reaction to any change that poses a threat or pressure. When external and internal demands exceed our resources to meet those demands, we experience stress. Stress is a normal part of life, but it can lead to physical and mental illness when it becomes too much and continues for too long. 

Things to remember:

Stress is the body's reaction to feeling threatened or under pressure. It is very common and can help to motivate us to achieve things in our daily lives.

But too much accumulative or chronic stress can increase the risk of developing depression if you are not coping with the stress well.

Stress and anxiety are not the same. Stress is a response to daily pressures or a threatening situation, while anxiety is a reaction to that stress.

You can easily take steps to relieve and control stress at work and home.

Effective stress management helps you break the hold stress has on your life to be happier, healthier, and more productive.

There are also effective psychological and pharmacological treatments for moderate and severe anxiety and depression.

Many things can trigger stress – such as worries about home, relationship problems, the tension between colleagues, bullying, and harassment, too much work, and not enough rest.

Why is managing stress important?

If you are living with high levels of stress, you are putting your entire well-being at risk. 

Stress wreaks havoc on both your emotional and physical health. It narrows your ability to think clearly, function effectively, and enjoy life. 

 Stress is linked to some leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, and suicide.

Chronic stress can lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorder.

Research has found that stress can negatively affect the immune system.

Stress also becomes harmful when people compulsively use substances or behaviors to try to relieve it – such as food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping, and the internet.

Stress spills into our personal lives in many ways, affecting the quality of our close relationships. 

Chronic stress can affect job performance. For example, it can lead to physical symptoms on workdays (like upset stomach, headaches), difficulty making decisions, and accidents due to human error. 

Learn how to control stress levels. Master that skill and remain calm regardless of circumstances on the ship.