Mental wellbeing means feeling good, both about ourselves and about the world around us. It means being able to get on with life in the way we want. Although we often think of the mind and body as being entirely separate, what we do with our body can have a powerful effect on our mental wellbeing. Taking good care of our physical health enables us to better cope with emotional problems.

Don't rely on alcohol, smoking and caffeine as your way of coping. In the long term these won't solve your problems, they will just create new ones.

Diet

It’s important you pay attention to your diet, both on board and back at home. Making healthy choices can make you feel emotionally stronger because you're doing something positive for yourself which will lift your self-esteem. A good diet helps your brain and body work efficiently too. Aim to have a balanced diet that includes all the main food groups.

  • Eat plenty of fruit (3 servings per day) and vegetables (approx. 300g per day)
  • Favour lean meats, fish, lentils and beans over red meat
  • Reduce fats, sugar and salt
  • Drink plenty of safe drinking water

Exercise

Scientific studies show that physical activity helps maintain and improve wellbeing in a number of ways:

  • Physical activity can help people with mild depression and evidence shows it can also help protect people against anxiety.
  • Physical activity is thought to cause chemical changes in the brain which can help to positively change our mood.
  • Physical activity can improve wellbeing because it brings about a sense of greater self-esteem, self-control, and the ability to rise to a challenge.

Exercise won’t make stress disappear but it can reduce some of the emotional intensity and allows us to deal with problem more calmly. Being active doesn't have to mean spending hours in the gym, even moderate exercise releases chemicals in the brain that can lift our mood as well as helping us sleep better - aim for 150 minutes of exercise a week.

Rest

Good quality sleep is very important as fatigue can lead to stress. Fatigue can be defined as severe tiredness caused by prolonged physical or mental exertion or lack of sleep over a prolonged period. Whatever your role on board it’s most likely you are exposed to shift work and there may be times when hours are long and rest periods need to change unexpectedly.

Managing fatigue on board relies on factors which may be largely outside many seafarers’ control such as effective rota management and crewing numbers, but there are ways that everyone can consider reducing their own risk of fatigue. Prioritise your sleep health and take steps to get the sleep that you need to keep rested and to function well. Recognise the signs of fatigue in yourself and colleagues such as slowed reaction time, impaired memory, struggling to stay awake, increased clumsiness and irritability.

  • Avoid large meals and spicy foods in the few hours before going to bed. A light snack is okay, but a heavy meal can cause indigestion which interferes with sleep.
  • Have your last tea, coffee or energy drink several hours before you want to sleep. These drinks contain the stimulant caffeine, the effects of which can take as long as eight hours to wear off.
  • Exercise is excellent for a good night’s rest. Try to exercise at least thirty minutes on most days but not later than two to three hours before your bedtime.
  • If you do not work shifts, avoid taking naps during the daytime. Naps can help make up for lost sleep, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • Take time to relax and wind down from the activities of the day. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.
  • Set an alarm at a regular time each day (if your shifts do not vary).
  • Get up when your alarm goes off, regardless of the amount of sleep you have had during the night. This will help teach your body to develop a consistent rhythm.
  • Have a dark, cool, gadget free cabin

Get rid of anything in your bedroom that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or warm temperatures. A TV, cell phone, or computer in the bedroom can be a distraction and deprive you of needed sleep. Insomniacs often watch the clock so turn its face out of view so you don’t worry about the time whilst trying to fall asleep.

For shift workers:

  • If you have a fixed night shift, treat the shift as your normal working day and adjust your meals and sleep accordingly.
  • A nap of 2 hours can help prepare for a night shift.
  • If you are able to take brief naps during breaks this may help you feel more alert or rested. Limit them to 30 minutes or less, anything longer can have the opposite effect.

For more information on and guidance, please read the following articles and briefings:

North P&I Club: Crew Health & Welfare
ISWAN: Good Mental Health Guide for Seafarers
ISWAN: Healthy Food
ISWAN: Fit on Board