Stress. It seems to be ever-present in our daily lives, both at work and at home. It feels like there is always something to be stressed out over, whether it’s a large assignment, concern over the oil industry’s prospects, the health of a parent, or a child who is struggling in school…the list is endless.

Doctors will tell you that you need to find ways to reduce stress in your life, because it causes blood pressure to increase. There’s a reason many headaches are diagnosed as stress headaches, I suffer from them myself.  

Stress can pile up…

In a high pressure industry like the offshore oilfield or maritime industry, stress runs high. Schedules are paramount, budget is crucial, performance is essential.  Put all those responsibilities directly on the shoulders of your employees, and the stress piles up.  

Cut the number of people to save money, have your watch officers working extra hours to keep up with cargo and pilotage, and the stress piles up.

Have two hundred people on a drillship that’s over a hundred miles offshore, away from their families for weeks at a time with less than stellar communications, and the stress piles up.

So…what do we do?  From a health and wellness viewpoint, it’s a terrible situation.  We never get quite enough sleep to carry us through our watch, relying instead on coffee and stimulants to keep us going.  The food leaves a lot to be desired in the health department, often doused in oil and butter. Responsibilities are ever increasing, leaving us feeling scattered, behind, and STRESSED.  

Let’s reduce stress…

The good thing is, there are ways to combat stress and even to use stress.  Personally, my favorite ways to combat stress (and its associated headaches) are exercise, simple and enjoyable pastimes, and focusing on my own mental health.  These coincide neatly with what healthcare professionals recommend for stress reduction: exercise, sleep, and relaxation techniques.

I call exercise my “barbell therapy”, and find that using that hour of time reaps rewards in both my fitness level and in how well I sleep the next day.  

My personal relaxation techniques include some time with my favorite TV show and working on one of my “old soul” hobbies: sewing!  I’ve also recently began journaling, just a line a night, but that’s my way of closing out the day and ushering in sleep.  Breathing and meditation can be hugely helpful to some, reading a few pages in a favorite novel or magazine could be the ticket for others.  Find a way to help your mind relax, and watch as your stress levels come down.  What’s your favorite relaxation technique when you are at sea?

And reuse stress for our benefit…

I made a quick mention of how you can use stress rather than combat it. In her Ted Talk, in Glasgow, psychologist Kelly McGonigal discussed the importance of how you choose to view stress. Based on her studies, stress is harmful to your health if you believe that it is. Ergo, if you choose to view your body’s reaction to stress (elevated heart rate and blood pressure) as your body rising to the challenge of whatever is causing you stress, you can actually change that reaction. The other way to use stress is to recognize the benefits of the stress hormone oxytocin, which is released when you’re feeling stressed…oxytocin drives a need to seek support, to reach for human contact.  So if you stop and think about it for a moment, oxytocin makes you social, makes you seek a human connection, which improves your resilience to stress.

Check out all of Kelly’s discussion on making stress your friend in her TED Talk below:

Do you have methods you employ to reduce stress in your life? Have you tried Kelly’s method to utilize stress? Share them in the comment section, and let’s help women in the offshore and maritime industries worldwide conquer the stress in their lives.