Wellness at Sea

INSIGHTS - 02/08/2020

Covid-19 has heightened concerns about the impacts that living and working at sea for months at a time has on mental health. As countries lock down their borders and ground airlines in reaction to the pandemic, thousands of crew have found themselves indefinitely stranded onboard unable to return home. We asked Wallem seafarers on the frontline about their coping strategies.

 

Krutika Manjrekar, second mate

How do you maintain good mental health at sea?

The most important thing is to communicate with those you feel connected with, whether onboard or at home. Sometimes I pen down my thoughts or feelings in a poem. Above all, take a nap or get some sleep whenever you have a break. It cheers up the mood.

Is there anything you’re careful to avoid when feeling down?

Try to block the negative thoughts as much as possible. Call your loved ones or best friend – basically someone who listens. Recognise when you feel down or aggressive and quietly count down from 100 to 0 as this will help you stay calm. I was taught this at school, but I find it still helps. Pray silently. And if you’re feeling really low, don’t be afraid to cry to let it out. Eventually the pain goes away.

When do you feel brightest and why? 

I feel brightest when I get my work accomplished and when I know ice cream is going to be served at dinner. Sometimes it’s the small things that make a big difference.

 

KC ABIGAIL L. CHIN, third officer

How do you maintain good mental health while at sea?

Maintaining good mental health takes a lot of discipline – especially as a seafarer. I keep in touch with my loved ones at home as much as I can. It helps me stay grounded and remember what I’m here for and why I work so hard. Watching the sunrise and sunsets helps me meditate too. I consider myself very fortunate that my watch is from 4 to 8am so I get to experience this every day.

Moreover, I am a firm believer of the Law of Attraction, so I try to attract positive energy by feeding my soul and thinking positive thoughts. I counteract negative thoughts by reminding myself of the things that make me happy. I also try to avoid things or even from people that I know have a negative impact on my mental health.

Staying physically fit is important too. Getting a good amount of sleep helps me to stay focused during the day. I keep track of my diet and eating nutritious foods and lots of fruits and vegetables to boost my immune system. I am not a gym freak but when onboard I exercise whenever I can just to stay fit.

 

Is there anything you’re careful to avoid when feeling down?

Life is not perfect and there are times when we tend to overthink or get upset over small things.  Whenever I notice these negative thoughts creeping in, I tell myself to look for the brighter side and find happier thoughts that can lift my mood. The idea is to convert negativity into a positivity.

Also, I avoid locking and isolating myself in my cabin. I talk to the people I get on with well and who can give me a peace of mind. I believe there’s not enough room in this world for negativity and we should make space for happiness.

 

What do you do when you notice a colleague seems unhappy?

I may not be the best person for others to find comfort in, but if I notice a colleague is unhappy, I try to lift their mood by cracking silly jokes and making fun of whatever I see to make them laugh or, at least, smile.

However, it’s important to understand different people have different personalities. Some crewmates are sensitive about sharing their problems. Others find it hard to express themselves. In these cases, I try to approach them diplomatically and build a healthy conversation, which hopefully provides an outlet for them to express their emotions or vent their problems.

 

How do you keep up morale on the vessel?

First things first, maintain a clear distinction between a personal and a professional relationship onboard. This will help you know which rope to hold on to keep on thriving.

Building trust between your colleagues strengthens the foundation of the relationships you create in the workplace. I do this by performing my job well without compromising my crewmates. I also try to value and appreciate the contributions made by different people in the team as this too helps keep morale high. I support them way in the same way senior management onboard support me.

 

When do you feel brightest?

As a third officer, I do my best to put my heart into whatever task I’m asked to do and receiving positive feedback from my colleagues and senior management definitely gives me a sense of satisfaction.

Of course, there are jobs that you cannot do alone and require strong team work to carry out. Every job that is safely and successfully carried out makes me feel proud because I know I’m part of a team on a top performing vessel who strives hard to meet the standards of the fleet and the maritime industry. Recognition for these efforts gives me fulfilment.

 

What’s been your experience during coronavirus outbreak?
What has helped you to cope with the situation?

The worldwide impact of COVID-19 is undeniably terrifying. It has shaken people everywhere. The fear of losing your sanity while sailing the high seas because you don’t know until when you will be stuck onboard is taunting. The uncertainty of not knowing when this pandemic will end creates a lot of anxiety.

On the other hand, it is a chance to discover more fully who we are as a person. It has made me more self-aware and let me see things from a different perspective. It has made me reflect on how my decisions will affect my action. I chose to make peace with the fact that I have to stay onboard for 10 months (and counting) and I have to live with that choice. And the only real way I’m coping with it is through prayers.

With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, people in my home country are dealing with shortages in food, medicines and other resources. It is traumatic for them as they were unable to prepare for this sudden crisis. Back at home, I have extended something to help the volunteers in my community and it makes my heart full knowing I can help them in this trying time. Indeed, I am still one of the lucky ones, because despite the fact I am miles away from my loved-ones, I can still provide for them and others in need during this unprecedented time.

I hope that people will never cease to remember the front-liners who continue to work in midst of this pandemic era and for the betterment of the world that we live in.

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