• How do we find the right “balance”?
  • How do we get ourselves into the performance zone where anxiety is beneficial?
  • How does a seafarer prepare himself to stay relaxed, motivated and focused?

Without anxiety, little would be accomplished

-David Barlow, founder of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University,

What is anxiety?

An emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior; a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. This is anxiety, and there are several types of it:

  • Separation Anxiety Disorder
  • Specific Phobia
  • Selective Mutism
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Agoraphobia

Similar with fear, and although a normal feeling and experience, anxiety can influence our life to the extent that it can interfere with daily activities like work and/or relationships.

How much anxiety is too much?

Of course, anxiety may be - at some level -normal and even adaptive considering social and economic pressures. According to an influential study conducted a hundred years ago by two Harvard psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson, demonstrated that moderate levels of anxiety improve performance in humans and animals. Entitled, the Yerkes–Dodson law, it is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance. The study indicated that performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only to some extent. Οf course, when levels of arousal (stress) become high, performance decreases. The process is often illustrated graphically as in the graphic below; a curve increases and then decreases with higher levels of arousal.

The Yerkes–Dodson Law can be decomposed into two distinct factors; the upward part could be the energizing effect of arousal. The downward part is caused by negative effects of arousal (or stress) on cognitive processes like attention, memory, and problem-solving.

On the other hand, those who are clinically anxious, are too distracted from the task by a relentless self-doubting. Research suggests that our stress response system is strengthened through practice; just like exercising a muscle, we need to get the balance right to prevent fatigue or injury.

8 Ways to find the right balance with your anxiety 

  1. Unlearn: Like any habit, anxiety is possible to unlearn and learn a new way of responding.
  2. Believe you can change: According to Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, there are two mindset categories; the growth mindset and the fixed mindset that group people based on their behavior and particularly their reaction to failure.
  • Those with a "fixed mindset": believe that abilities are mostly innate and interpret failure as the lack of necessary basic abilities.
  • Those with a "growth mindset": believe that they can acquire any given ability provided they invest effort or study

The two mindsets by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University | Image credit SAFETY4SEA

Growth mindset will allow a person to live a less stressful and more successful life.

– Carol Dweck

  1. Focus on the positives: Working at sea may be challenging enough, however rather than getting stressed, take control over your emotions. Ask yourself: “What can I learn from this experience?” By developing positive thinking, you can adopt a positive attitude toward yourself and your co-workers.

Change your thoughts and you change your world.

- Norman Vincent Peale

  1. Breathe: Did you know that about 60% of panic attacks are accompanied by over-breathing and many people sufferi from anxiety over-breathe even when they think they are relaxed? Bad breathing restricts blood flow to the brain. Right breathing exercises are of utmost importance when it comes to anxiety though; it is the key to relaxation.
  2. Relax: All the traditional relaxation methods such as meditation, place a central emphasis on breathing, assisting in eliminating the production of stress hormones in the body.
  3. Eat and sleep well: Last year, the findings of a key industry report by 'Project MARTHA' were presented, identifying growing levels of fatigue, particularly among Masters and Watch Keepers Except of posing a risk to ship and crew safety, high levels of fatigue usually rise the anxiety level.
  4. Reduce your caffeine intake: Indeed, research suggests that caffeine, can make stress worse; switch to de-caffeine coffee or soft drinks. Additionally, it gives you poor quality of sleep; meaning less spare capacity to face and fight your stress.
  5. Re-evaluate your priorities: Try to set yourself achievable goals onboard and this will give you the confidence and motivation to carry through your daily routines. Always remember that It is not too difficult saying, “No” – of course when it’s appropriate to do so.

About Apostolos Belokas

Apostolos is a Maritime Safety, Quality & Environmental Expert, Consultant, Trainer and Project Manager with more than a 20-year background in shipping as Technical, Marine, Safety & Training Superintendent and Consultant. He entered the industry back in early 90’s as Engineering Superintendent with a leading ship manager operating a mixed fleet of bulk and oil/chemical tankers. He then shifted to regulatory compliance and QHSE as superintendent and later as a Consultant and Trainer. Apostolos has successfully completed a wide range of QHSE projects including 250+ management system projects (ISM/ISO 9001-14001-18001/TMSA/MLC), 500 vessel and office audits to various standards and he has trained more than 8,000 people in a wide variety of QHSE subjects. He has also presented and chaired to more than 40 conferences. He holds Mechanical Engineering Bachelor and Master’s specialising in Energy & Environment and Master’s Degree in Maritime Business and Business Administration (MBA), all of them awarded with distinction. Apostolos is the Managing Director of SQE MARINE, SQE ACADEMY and Managing Editor of SAFETY4SEA. 

Tell us what you think!

How much anxiety is too much for you?