Sound mind in sound body: Physical and mental health wellness at sea come together

31 October 2022

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The famous quotation by ‘the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales ‘A sound mind in a sound body’ reflects that there is a connection between brain and body. Especially during these challenging times, many negative emotions may prevail. The pandemic crisis has shed the lights on mental health, but let’s not forget that the physical wellbeing is equally important, experts of ‘the Physical Wellbeing Panel’ during the 2021 Crew Welfare Week, in late June, stressed.

The panel, moderated by Dimitrios Lyrakos, CEO, Filistos ASCOT SA, Elisabeth Calbari, Founder, Self Balance; Christian Ioannou, Managing Director, MCTC Marine Ltd; Capt. Konstantinos G. Karavasilis, Senior Loss Prevention Executive, UK P&I Club and; Capt. Yves Vandenborn, Director Loss Prevention, Standard Club, shared perspectives on how to ensure people onboard are provided with services that support their physical wellness and a healthy lifestyle.

It is true that during the pandemic challenging circumstances exist onboard; many experience lack of self control and lack of self mentality, lack of the ability to find the balance between mind, body and emotions. ‘’Being physically healthy also means being able to control your emotions like fear and anxiety that prevail during the pandemic, and the ability to adapt to any new condition. In this pandemic, the challenge was to be able to adapt, control and balance our emotional muscle of our body.’’ explained Mrs. Elisabeth Calbari, Self Balance.

Citing his own experience, Capt Kostas Karavasilis, UK Club, noted that in general, seafarers neglect their physical wellness for various reasons; for example there are no facilities or because they now need to follow protocols and get isolated in their cabins and keep social distancing, it is difficult to think about their physical wellness. However, it is equally important and they need to understand this, as well as to receive proper training on the issue.

‘’Not only the mental wellness has come in the spotlight but also the physical wellness, even before COVID-19, as part of wellness at sea issues.’’ he said.

In this turn, Mr. Christian Ioannou, MCTC Marine, highlighted that three pillars need to be equally addressed for a healthy lifestyle: mental health, physical health and nutrition. To get motivated, endorphins need to be released. Endorphins are released in response to pain or stress, but they’re also released during other activities, like eating and exercise.

‘’The biggest challenge in such difficult times like COVID-19 is to find the motive to get up from bed, be active and focus on good nutrition.’’ he said, suggesting to ship operators to think innovative practices in order to help seafarers balance their lifestyle.

‘’I think that mental, physical and social wellbeing have always been a problem for seafarers onboard; this is not something new.’’ noted Capt Yves Vandenborn, Standard Club.

Although the pandemic has shed our attention to these issues, in the post pandemic era, we will still talk about wellbeing, he said. In addition, a big challenge is the huge implication of the pandemic on the social aspect onboard. Because of the fear of the virus, seafarers don’t interact with others, they prefer to stay in their cabins so as not to be contaminated. As a consequence, it is being noticed lack of social interaction which results to less happiness onboard and lack of taking care of one’s body and nutrition.

Key considerations and the way forward

‘’Today, the living conditions onboard are different; hopefully, vessels are better now ‘’ noticed Capt. Karavasilis and added that not only ship managers need to do something but also ship operators onboard have to train all crew members on how to get motivated.

‘’Ship operators need to be convinced that there are important elements to make people onboard healthier and happier’’ explained Mr. Ioannou who also suggested that we need to keep in mind that now the majority of the workforce consists of millennials which carry different mindset and habits; therefore ship operators have not other choice than to adapt to new reality.

‘’For example, millennials, before joining a vessel, will need healthy and good food onboard as well as very good internet connection for their communication with shore. Also, millennials have adopted new lifestyles; for example, many are vegetarians; these are key things for consideration.’’ he said.

Furthermore, Mrs Calabri said that we need to increase seafarers’ resilience, adaptability and leadership skills and their ability to be aware of their status, of their own health and ask for support when necessary. Human error can happen because of tired brain and body; finding the balance with good exercise, nutrition and emotional awareness will change the situation onboard. ‘’There are many chemicals in our body that help us control emotions; so keeping those in balance is the key; these can been triggered only with exercise onboard.’’ she commented.

Continuing the discussion, Capt.Vandenborn highlighted the importance of training seafarers on the benefits of healthy nutrition; to understand what it involves, why it worths and how to make healthy habits a routine. Commenting on ways to make seafarers feel happier onboard, he also suggested taking small actions to improve the interior design of the vessel, considering that the space we live and work needs to inspire us and feel intimacy. ‘’Many seafarers have the lack of their home feeling; they don’t feel their cabins and ships like home and this may affect them’’ added Capt. Karavassilis.

‘’I have the feeling that newbuidlings tend to get smaller and smaller for seafarers’ accommodation, having not enough space for the crew to socialize with each other, to relax, to have exercise.’’ Capt. Vandenborn noted, explaining that this brings side effects to social wellbeing onboard.

Proper hygiene onboard was also discussed as many seafarers seem not to care too much about the appearance onboard, loosing their motivation.

‘’I thin k we need to look at the reasons why they are not taking care of themselves . Facilities onboard play a key role for seafarers’ hygiene. For example, if the shower does not work properly or the washing machine is out of order these can hold back anybody from properly taking care of their physical condition.’’ said Capt. Karavasilis.

Experts agreed that above all, leadership is vital to give the right guidance of proper hygiene onboard and to train seafarers on the actual conditions of life onboard a ship which affect their behaviors while on duty.

‘’Nowadays, unfortunately, we are faced with shortage of seafarers worldwide; people do not prefer to go onboard because they don’t know what they will find. We don’t need to tell them that everything is perfect onboard but we should convince them that things are better than what they had in mind.’’ highlighted Capt. Karavasilis.