"How are you?” It’s a question we ask our friends and colleagues daily, that seems simple enough to answer. And yet, if we think about it more deeply, we realise it is surprisingly complex.
Being well is more than just being fit to work.
Life at sea can be incredibly rewarding, but it is not without its challenges.
Being far from home comforts and loved ones, with limited communication, for months on end is tough. Throw in fast turn around times, cultural barriers, and concern of threats such as piracy, it is easy to see how fatigue, loneliness and stress can throw your well-being out of balance.
Incidents at sea are often attributed to the ‘human element’, a term that disguises a variety of underlying problems. They can be the difference between a fulfilling career and a tough working life; the difference between safe transit and a major incident.
In order to fully embrace your career and stay healthy at home and at sea, it’s important to take charge of your own well-being and consider five areas of wellness: social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual.
Think about how you interact with others – your family, your community, your colleagues on board. By understanding you own attitude and perceptions you will be better equipped to handle conflict and enjoy positive relationships with your crewmates and loved ones.
How do your emotions influence your behaviour? By recognising, accepting and taking responsibility for your feelings you will be able to deal with these emotions and help to live in harmony with yourself and others.
This is not just about having a balanced diet and good exercise regime. It’s important to care for your basic medical needs such as dental check-ups as well as knowing how to protect yourself against illnesses (e.g. Ebola) as you travel the world.
Use the resources around you to improve your knowledge and skills, and share them with others. For example, read up on your rights and responsibilities as a seafarer and find out who you can contact if you have a problem at sea. Check out some of the free money saving and budgeting apps that are available to help relieve financial concerns. Talk to your family so that they understand your contract and know who they can contact in a crisis for welfare support and emergency funding.
Reflect on your spiritual identity, your morals and ethics. Stay true to your core values in your daily behaviour.
Top 10 ways to look after your health
1. Share your problems
Talking about your feelings is a positive step towards good mental health. Try to talk to people you trust about your experiences and concerns. If all else fails, try to write your emotions in a diary and keep track of previous days and your general mood.
2. Eat healthily
There is a strong link between what we eat and how we feel. Make sure that you are comfortable with your diet and be on the lookout for food that triggers certain emotions.
3. Stay in touch
Friends and family can make you feel included and cared for and offer you a different view. It’s sometimes difficult to keep in touch when you are at sea, so write a letter about what you are experiencing and post it in the next port. Make ‘remember notes’ on important stories you want to tell your loved ones.
4. Be comfortable in your own skin
Some of us make people laugh, some are good at maths, while others cook a fantastic meal. We are all different and that’s what makes each of us a unique human being.
5. Keep fit
Regular exercise not only keeps you physically fit but can boost your self esteem and help you concentrate, sleep, look and feel better. Many exercise programmes exist that are specifically aimed at helping you keep fit on board. Work out a routine that fits in with your shifts on board and with life at home between contracts.
6. Have a rest
A change of scene or pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five-minute pause from the task you are busy with or a half hour lunch break in a different location on the ship. A few minutes can be enough to de-stress you.
7. Watch your alcohol intake
We often drink alcohol to change our mood or to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only temporary and can have long-term effects on our physical and mental health.
8. Do something you enjoy
Enjoying yourself helps beat stress and boosts your self esteem. Make sure you take an activity you like with you on board.
9. Ask for help
None of us are superhuman.
We all get tired or feel overwhelmed at times. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you can’t cope, ask for help. There are many organisations that are there to help you.
10. Look out for others
Caring for others is an important part of keeping up relationships. Reach out and give a helping hand where you can.
Sailors’ Society’s free Wellness at Sea app gives users a range of healthy living tips, recipes and exercises to help monitor and maintain your physical and mental health.
Both Android and iPhone compatible, it also holds port directories and contact details for services offered by maritime welfare organisations. Supported by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, it enables users to track their journey using AIS data provided by MarineTraffic.
The app forms part of Sailors’ Society’s wider Wellness at Sea programme which includes a coaching course and learning events.
Sandra Welch, Deputy CEO, Sailors’ Society - In addition to her role as Deputy CEO, Sandra leads the Society’s programme team, having previously worked with The Salvation Army, where she served for more than 18 years. Sandra’s previous roles include Assistant Projects Secretary for The Salvation Army’s community development projects in Southern Africa and more recently as International Editor-in-Chief and Editor of three international periodicals. She has also worked as a chaplain in a variety of settings including as a hospital chaplain and a school chaplain.