Mental wellbeing in times of stress: The COVID-19 case

The COVID-19 pandemic has evolved into an unprecedented humanitarian challenge for shipping which has been unable to ensure implementation of basic rights for seafarers in line with MLC, a situation that triggers a deteriorating anxiety and discouragement, fear and anger.

Will I be able to leave the ship and return home for my scheduled leave?” or “Will my beloved ones stay safe and well?” are potential worries that can arise for seafarers who remain trapped on ships. And while the news of seafarers remaining prisoned onboard makes headlines in the public discussions, we should not forget that the same mental tiredness and feeling of insecurity apply for those who are unable to sign in.

So how could we combat stress to maintain a good and positive mental state? Recognizing potential symptoms is a great first step to mitigate the psychological effects experienced during lockdown:


10 common signs of anxiety and depression:


  • Fatigue and sleep issues;
  • Decreased or no appetite;
  • Headaches, neck tension, gastrointestinal problems;


  • Negative thinking;
  • Increased sadness or anger;
  • Worrying about your health and health of your loved ones;


  • Difficulty in concentrating or carrying daily tasks;
  • Irritability or crying;
  • Difficulty of making decisions; and
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs


What can I do?

As we expect external factors to be more propitious, there are some general, simple rules each of us can apply to maintain our internal balance:

  1. Stay informed but ensure reliable sources of information: To deal with any problem, you need to know as much as possible about it, but do not cross the line. Stop overloading of information that can have the opposite results and make sure you know how to identify inaccurate sources.
  2. Acknowledge the value of mindfulness: We may not choose the way we feel, but we can always choose how we react to those feelings. So, relax and control your breathing to find inner peace. Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.
  3. Remember that mental is physical: It is proven that mind wellness is significantly depended on body wellness, so get good rest, eat healthy and do not neglect exercise.
  4. Put people and things you enjoy in the schedule: Listening to your favorite music, reading a good book, watching funny movies or playing card games with good company can provide you with much more relief and energy than you think.
  5. Adopt positive affirmations: This is a practice of shifting your mindset by repeating positive statements to yourself during negative times. Choose positive affirmations that are powerful for you, and repeat them or write them down in a journal and read them aloud.


For seafarers trapped onboard

  • Do not isolate: We live in the connection era, so leverage the benefits of social media to contact your family or that friend you missed.
  • Do not keep problems to yourself: Choose a ‘touchstone friend’, a person that you trust and share your problems. If you feel lonely, reach out to others, do something together.
  • Encourage social interactions: Take initiatives for social activities onboard, don’t wait for others to think of all the good ideas!
  • Make life better for others: Research suggests that kindness improves wellbeing by evoking positive feelings and giving a sense of self-worth. Show your mates that you have each other in these times. Even the smallest act can count, whether it is a smile, a thank you or a kind word.
  • Do not hesitate to call dedicated helplines: There are several free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, where trained people can hear you and consult you.


For seafarers trapped ashore

  • Establish a daily routine: Even at home, you can set a daily physical activity and a regulated sleep schedule.
  • Focus on the bright side: In every situation, things are not only white or black. You have a valuable opportunity to spend time with your family, to see your children growing up; don’t waste these on fears and
  • Do not be a couch potato: You don’t have to watch all the seasons of that series in one day; there are hundreds of other things you can do home! Feed your creative side. Now is the time to make that complex food recipe, and learn something new you never had the time before.
  • Engage in one pleasant activity every day: Hobbies reduce boredom and relieve stress by keeping us engaged in something we enjoy. The best way to cultivate a new hobby is to try something new.
  • Set small but realistic targets each day: The sense of achievement increases the dopamine and purpose for activity increases serotonin. These two hormones are essential for maintaining a good mood.

COVID-19 forced all of us to deal with the ‘unexpected’ and the above advice is all seafarers or any of us can do for themselves. But, while mental health is gaining increasing attention in all business environments, suicide data suggests that seafarers suffer a higher level of ill mental health compared to land-based workers, a factor that the shipping industry cannot afford to overlook, especially in such critical circumstances.

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