Even as some cities and countries ease their lockdowns and restrictions, the worry and uncertainty of COVID-19 remains. In these times, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues can affect everyone as we may no longer be able to do our usual routines or activities that normally help. While social distancing and self-isolating to maintain your physical health and the health of those around you, it’s important to pay attention to your mental health as well.
Experts have shared their advice on maintaining your mental health during these times. Hopefully, they can assist in alleviating some stress, and while it is normal to feel anxious or experience periods of sadness and loneliness, especially if you’re socially distancing, if these feelings persist, seek professional support.
In a webinar with MedAire, Workplace Options international psychologist Dr. Kennette Thigpen explains that fears of being on standby, about the industry, and anything related to that are real and normal to an extent.
“When there’s fear or anxiety, that drives us to take action usually,” Thigpen says. “So, we’re taking action in regards to social distancing, washing hands more, [and] putting masks on. It’s when we become paralyzed by it or overcompensate for it, that’s when it becomes a little problematic.”
It’s important to be aware of these fears, acknowledge them, and take action. However, we still need to be present in the moment and ground ourselves. She suggests being present in the moment once a day and to celebrate small successes and wins.
Although we want to be aware and informed on the news, it can add to our anxiety and fears, so Thigpen recommends limiting our time looking at it and giving ourselves the time, grace, and permission to not talk about the virus. Consider establishing a time limit to discuss it and then not mention it for the rest of the conversation, she says.
“What I have noticed has worked particularly well with my counselling clients in helping them to manage stress, along with other difficult emotions, is having a healthy routine,” Karine Rayson of The Crew Coach says. “More so during these unprecedented times, our routines have been significantly disrupted, which can create an increase in stress and feelings of anxiety.”
When developing your routine, be sure to have a balance of work and personal tasks. Your personal tasks should include things that will nurture you and make you feel good. Rather than waking up and reaching for your phone, she suggests setting an intention for your day, so you can become more aware of your thought and behavioral patterns.
“If you are finding that you are in a negative headspace at the moment, I highly recommend learning more about cognitive behavioral therapy. It is a therapeutic modality that is evidence-based and has proven to be very powerful when working with my clients who have limiting beliefs or negative self-talk,” she says. “If you have lost your job, I would try and be productive as possible by keeping tabs on the latest industry developments, upskilling in areas that will enhance your current skillset, and even look at updating your CV if required.”
Rayson states that having a sense of purpose is key in maintaining mental health and it’s important heads of department recognize this. One of her clients described the culture on board as positive, but since the pandemic, crew morale had noticeably declined. Rayson inquired about team building activities they were doing to boost morale, and while the captain was supportive of team activities, they had to be developed and arranged to be done after work hours. Initially, the crew were enthusiastic about the activities but it soon waned, and they became reluctant to participate during their personal time.
“This is very telling to me that captains/HODs are unaware or don’t recognize the importance of investing time in maintaining ‘emotional/psychological’ wellbeing on board. The crew are the backbone of a yacht, and just as you have to service and maintain the upkeep of a yacht, you also have to keep the wellbeing of your team in check,” she says. “Team building is not about going out for a boozy lunch; it involves hard work, not only from those who are developing and orchestrating the activities, but also the participants who are willing to put their ego aside and work with any underlying interpersonal dynamics as [they] learn and grow together as a team.”
The Crew Coach has a downloadable mental health guide with the signs and symptoms of some common mental health issues: here.
The uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 have many wondering whether they’ll still have a job, be able to see their family soon, or be exposed to the virus if they do the shopping for the crew, and while there are no simple answers, Liz Baugh from Red Square Medical recommends developing some coping mechanisms for when we start to feel stressed about those things that aren’t in our control.
From her experience in the military and serving on board warships as a medic, Baugh noticed more people reporting sick during times of uncertainty and often the first signs are physical. “It is normally because they aren’t sleeping well because of the worry. Sleep is critical to good health, both physical and mental,” she says. “In my experience, a good routine before sleep can help improve the quality of sleep.”
A healthy diet is also a must, and she notices that when people are tired, they tend to favor high-energy options that typically contain caffeine and sugars. It’s worth looking at your food choices and see if they’re affecting your sleep habits, she says.
“A great way to give your mental and physical health a hefty boost is to exercise,” Baugh says. “It can focus the mind, relieve the stress of work, and produce the feel-good hormones that make life seem better. Whatever your exercise of choice is, try and do something every day.”
Social engagement is another largely important part of good mental health — talk to one another, do fun activities together, etc. “Shared adversity is a great way to promote crew morale and what better way than finding new ways to have a laugh with your crewmates,” Baugh says. “Learning new skills is another great tool in the toolkit of stress management.”
To monitor your own stress levels, she recommends keeping a stress diary to track your sleep, moods, and reactions to see what triggers you. Knowing that will help you identify what you can do to avoid those triggers.
To help support crew and the seafaring community, Marlins, a V.Group Crew Services company that provides onboard and e-learning training for the maritime industry and sister company of Global Marine Travel, is offering free access to five titles in its Resilience Program. The courses are designed to help enhance personal resilience by introducing self-help techniques, and to learn more and access them, visit: https://marlins.co.uk/marlins-download-resilience-free/