7 ways to deal with stress while sailing

STRESS AT SEAStress is not a disease. It can’t be cured or eliminated. We all experience it, when we physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually respond to life’s tension. It keeps up our activation, attention level and the readiness of our body when crucial situations occur.

The ability to endure stressful situations and to accomplish tasks is influenced by individual traits, training and perceived self-efficacy. Sailors’ panic threshold is believed to be higher than the average person and they rather soon develop strategies to cope with potentially stressful situations, otherwise they will never go out in the ocean again.

Skippers and crew, however, are not immune to the dangerous effects of high level of stress exposure. They can control training, safety standards, the maintenance of the boat, rigging and sail trimming. They can’t control waves, wind, equipment failures, medical emergencies and many other variables that could transform a smooth and relaxing sail into a source of stress and panic.

We tend to focus on stressors like cataclysms or severe weather conditions but one of the greatest sources of stress is daily hassles that may cause tension, irritation or frustration. Here are some of the effects of excessive stress:

  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Constant worrying
  • Carelessness
  • Hiding from responsibilities



1) Training and practice decrease the likelihood of stress

Human beings feel stress when dealing with unfamiliar situations. The more unfamiliar situations we live through, the less stress we are going to feel next time. That’s why in the sailing world miles sailed are a good indicator of one’s proficiency, it’s a numbers game.

2) Keep safety systems operative and crew trained to use them

Safety it’s not achieved merely possessing a life raft, or other safety devices. It’s a matter of awareness. Practice and training in handling such devices definitely decrease uncertainty and stress during the moment of need, preventing paralysis and mistakes.

3) Have a well found boat

Keeping ahead of trouble with regular and periodical inspection of equipment helps keeping one’s peace of mind. Knowing that the boat is in good working order improves the perception of control over the events, and, in general, morale. Kept up and clean spaces enhance personal comfort, and accessibility. It’s far easier to keep up with it when conditions are benign rather than when it’s rough.

4) Prevent crowding: enough privacy when needed, enough social interaction when wanted.

Sailboats have on average a square feet per person ratio comparable if not inferior to jails. In such close quarters social interaction and group dynamics are as important as heavy weather skills in preventing stress. Like any other animal we need a minimum social distance, and it is important to be aware that stress could be generated by the lack of it. When the conditions of interaction are clearly structured and respectful, it is easier to cheer up and experience good team spirit.

5) Seek guidance: talk with somebody trustworthy

Keeping up with stress is not a merely individual task. Family, friends, crew, community, and professional counselors when necessary, contribute in creating a safety net of healthy relationships. It’s important to have somebody to think about or to call once in port to lighten up a stressful situation.

6) Adequate levels of rest, exercise and nutrition

Stress activates physiological responses, adrenaline fires up and force the organism to tap into its reserve. If we don’t have enough rest we will likely run out of energy. It is important to be conservative when things go well, to have enough to spend when it’s really necessary. Calories are also going to be required as well as strength and endurance. Working out and being in good shape boost confidence and keep fatigue away.

7) Be real: sail planning and goals should be realistic and achievable

Learning and improving require leaving one own’s comfort zone and experience unfamiliar situations. However, biting off more that you can chew can results in coping with too much, and that could bring to intolerable level of stress and hopelessness. Planning ahead and thinking about gradual steps is always more sustainable.

Keep on moving, never stop

Individuals have very different stress and panic threshold. Some may feel more natural and comfortable sailing while others live it on the worry side even if they love it. No matter where that threshold rests, preparation and perseverance can quantitatively and qualitatively improve the way to navigate stress itself .

Taken as a normal reaction to an important situation, stress can be an ally to reach our top performance or escape danger.

Do you have a tested way to relieve stress while sailing?

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