Crew Health Advice: Dealing with stress onboard

We all encounter stressful events in our personal, professional or social life. It is important to remember that not all stress is negative, some stress is positive, motivating us to maximise 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” (Selye, 1976).  

Stress is defined as “a negative emotional experience accompanied by physiological, cognitive and behavioural changes and responses aimed to reduce or change the stressful event or effects of it” (Baum, 1990).  

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, 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” (Carotenuto, et al, 2012). Most seafarers can suffer from moderate to high stress that can lead to a vicious cycle of unhealthy behaviours 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, changes 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, recognise and develop your creative resources: talents, traits, skills or competencies. What are your resources? Optimism, humour or flexibility?

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

  4. Use cognitive reappraisal when evaluating a negative event. Notice the negative thinking causing you emotional tension. It is mostly how we interpret events that evokes negative emotions.

  5. Engage and interact with other people onboard. Do not isolate yourself – become interested in learning and engaging with your team mates.

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

  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.


Research shows that practicing mindful meditation on a daily basis reduces stress and stress-related symptoms. 

Adverse experiences can interfere with our ability to remain ‘present’, so we may find ourselves focusing on negative events, painful memories or worrying about the future. When we find ourselves dwelling on the past or painful memories, we are depriving ourselves of the necessary resources to deal with the present. Mindfulness can help us discover the resources we need to cope with stressful events in the present. Building on positive experiences can alleviate or ease the burden of stressful and difficult moments.
Physiological Needs Safety Needs Belongingness and Love Needs
Those basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid, such as food, water, sleep, clothes, shelter, air,  health  and shelter, must be met first.   Once basic physiological needs are met, other needs arise such as the need for safety and security which are related to economic, social and psychological security.  After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, a third level of needs arises and it involves the need for love and belongingness include family, friendship and intimacy needs.
Esteem Needs Self Actualisation Needs
This refers to needs for status, recognition, attention, fame and includes needs for respect, self confidence, autonomy.  This level of need refers to the realization of one’s potential.  

How to Fulfil the 5 Basic Needs for Seafarers

  1. Physiological Needs
  • Adequate Living Conditions: Ensure comfortable, clean, and safe living quarters that provide privacy and rest. 
  • Quality Food and Water: Provide a variety of nutritious meals and access to fresh water. Consider offering cooking facilities for those who prefer to prepare their own meals. 
  • Healthcare and Fitness: Equip ships with medical supplies and offer access to medical care, including mental health support. Incorporate fitness areas or equipment to promote physical well-being. Provide access to 24/7 Telemedicine and a Mental Health Support Line. 
  1. Safety Needs
  • Safety Training and Equipment: Conduct regular safety drills and provide up-to-date safety equipment. Ensure all crew members are trained in emergency response procedures. 
  • Job Security: Offer stable employment contracts and clear paths for career advancement. Transparent communication about company policies and job expectations can also enhance the sense of security. 
  • Physical Safety: Implement strict protocols to protect seafarers from physical harm, including piracy and accidents. This includes secure communication systems and access to emergency services. 
  1. Love and Belonging Needs
  • Social Spaces: Designate areas where crew members can socialize and relax together to foster a sense of community. 
  • Communication Facilities: Provide access to the internet, email, and phone services to help seafarers stay connected with their families and friends. 
  • Team Building and Recreational Activities: Organize social events, cultural celebrations, and recreational activities that encourage bonding and reduce feelings of isolation. 
  1. Esteem Needs
  • Recognition and Rewards: Recognize and reward hard work and achievements through awards, promotions, and public acknowledgments. 
  • Professional Development: Offer training and education programs to help seafarers acquire new skills and advance in their careers. Providing feedback and opportunities for self-improvement can also boost their self-esteem. 
  • Autonomy and Responsibility: Empower seafarers by giving them responsibilities and the autonomy to make decisions within their areas of expertise. This recognition of their capabilities contributes to their self-respect and the respect of others. 
  1. Self-Actualization Needs
  • Career Advancement Opportunities: Create clear pathways for career progression, allowing seafarers to reach their full professional potential. 
  • Creative and Personal Growth Activities: Encourage participation in onboard and online courses that cater to personal interests and professional skills. This could include leadership training, language courses, or hobby-related activities. 
  • Feedback and Self-Reflection: Facilitate regular feedback sessions and provide resources for self-reflection and goal setting, enabling seafarers to evaluate their personal and professional growth. 

Sophia Grant

Crew Health Programme Director