Staying “healthy” at sea is hugely important. It is the key to a happy, successful, fun-filled contract!
Whilst to many it appears we are all on one massive long vacation, soaking up the sun, laying out by the sea with loads of time off, you are very mistaken!
The days are long.
The lifestyle full on.
There's not always time to grab a good meal or sleep soundly before jumping up to start your duty, so how do you stay on top form whilst working on a cruise ship?
It's slightly ironic that I'm writing this whilst nursing a sore throat and a little drowsy from the sleeping pills I've been taking to get off to sleep after night shifts and full of three cheese pizza.
During my first contract I learnt the hard way how to stay healthy on board. Often picking up illnesses, having my duty medical off, even isolated in my cabin with the flu for three days which felt like 3 years!
When I speak about “health” I am less concerned with the amount of salad on your plate
I’m chatting about the things you can do keep your body and mind filled with energy.
How you remain rested whilst enduring the long hours for months on end,
How you build routine into a job where routine does not exist long periods of time,
How you cope with being away from home, respect your mental health, make wise choices and de-stress. and ultimately gain maximum fun from your time on board.
This post is split into two, my top health hacks and mental health on board. Both equally as important for surviving the fun-filled lengthy contracts on board your ship!
1) Create a Routine That Works For YOU
Every cruise is different.
New work schedules.
Team members leaving & new ones sign on.
It’s not easy to build routine, to eat healthily, use the gym and get enough rest. It’s often a battle to decide whether to explore beautiful ports or catch an extra 3 hours sleep.
Only you know your own body and what enables you to have lasting energy for your shifts.
Whenever I get my schedule I highlight my shifts for each day of the cruise and fill in the “time off” I have each day prirotising the activities I want to do: Gym, Shows, Staff Parties, Excursions, Skyping home, Writing blogs….
I factor in how much time I have to sleep each day knowing that I do not have the God given gift of spontaneous napping… probably due to the amount of coffee I drink,
By scheduling it in you can see visually how your days look and make sure you have a balance between work, rest and play.
Also you are more likely to stick to your plans if you’ve got them written in your diary!
Remember, your down is rare, it’s precious, so choose wisely with the things YOU want to do. Trust me, others will get over the fact you missed a party, or chose to read instead of go to a show.
Remember you have 6+ months to do everything so don’t beat yourself up for having some cruises where you’re super extraverted and others where you priorities “you time”.
I always make time to use the gym.
During my first contract I actually found this helped me develop a really healthy relationship with working out and eating. Exercise became a way to let loose, grab "me time" and de-stress from work, rather than an obligatory activity that I'd feel "bad" for missing.
I am lucky enough to have "guest privileges" with my role and can use the guest gym which has spectacular views overlooking the ocean and ports at the front of the ship.
The equipment is basic, and more cardio focused, but we do have weights and machines so I usually focus my workouts on maintaining strength and muscle mass doing sets of 4x6-10 reps, usually going 3-4 times per cruise (my cruises are 5-8 days) with 2 full body workouts (one more chest/shoulder focused and one back/bi focused), 1 lower body focused and maybe a short HIIT (high intensity interval training) session when I’ve overdone the 24/7 pizza and dessert table.
We do have PTs on board who can advise on workouts but I enjoy the challenge of coming up with new workouts.
Pronounced "Vit-a-mins" not "Vite-a-mins" for my American co-workers ;)
Load up on these!
The food can sometimes be a bit hit-and-miss for staff/crew on board, and you're not always getting as much sun and sea as the guests are! So I load up on the Vitamin C & take a multivitamin and Iron supplement. I also have Form Nutrition's "Super-blend Plant-Based Protein" which is full of super greens & fibre.
I usually shake up with ice cold water (& sometimes a shot of espresso) after a workout & before a long shift.
4) Live for Naps!
Something i find SO difficult to do as my body just doesn’t ike to switch off unless it knows it’s actually getting a full 8 hours sleep, but you need to prioritise your rest.
The good thing is being in a cabin with no port holes means when the lights go out it's completely dark so sleeping gets that little bit easier, but not great for waking up!
But that's why coffee was invented ey!
5) Food Glorious Food!
My job is active, I am on my feet long hours, often walking up and down stairs and chasing after kids & playing games so everything has it’s place in my diet and I do not restrict my food in take at all.
I have never tracked food and in general my life has no "do's and don'ts" when it comes to diet mainly due to my background with anorexia.
I know my job is active and with my gymming as well I make sure I eat what my body wants as well as needs.
In staff cafeteria there is a buffet options which varies from what is on offer in guest areas. But either way I aim to fill my plate 1/2 with a variety of colourful veggies/salad bits to get in as much fibre and nutrients as I can. Then I really eat what I fancy but try not to eat too much fried food which is readily on offer, but to be honest with you I just grab what I can when I can so diet usually is higher in fats on board just due to how things are cooked and stored.
One thing I do miss on board is being able to cook for myself and control my food, but that’s life, and I do the best with what I got!
MENTAL HEALTH AT SEA
Recently Mental health at sea has become more widely covered in the media with devastating cases of loss being shared.
It is important to acknowledge that on board we do have medical staff and departmental managers who are on call for their crew and staff 24/7. As well as being surrounded by friendly team members who are literally all in the same boat!
With my past experiences suffering from poor mental health I come into new situations clued up.
I know what to look for, the signs, symptoms, triggers, to avoid relapse.
I know it’s not a weakness to ask for help.
Whilst I stay proactive and confident in my abilities to keep well many others may not.
Maybe you are on your first contract,?
Miles from home?
English may not be your first language and communicating new feelings, thoughts and symptoms may be too hard to put into words.
Worry about others perceptions and unsure whether what you experience is normal can lead to not wanting to say anything.
You get stuck in tunnelled vision; your thoughts get deeper, darker and before you know it what could’ve been dealt with earlier has built up to the point of no return.
It is important to remember we are all human and no one is 100% resilient to experiencing poor mental health, below are my top 3 tips for staying mentally healthy:
1) Always report how you’re feeling; it’s hard but get over how other people will perceive you because your health is most important than others perceptions.
2) Make time for speaking to friends & family back home and remain open and honest about how you’re finding things.
3) Take time to sleep, get fresh air on your breaks, or keep a journal of each cruise focusing on three “highlights” (I write 3 blessings) for each cruise.
4) Stay social: even when you want to curl up and hide make time for seeing at least a couple of close friends on board. Social support is the no.1 most important factor in improving mental health.
I hope you’ve found this post useful!
Don’t forget to check out the others in this series as well as the other blog posts on the site.
Stay in touch on my social media: @She_Sails_The_Seas