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Stew Tips: Taking Care of Yourself During the Charter Season

Interior trainer Isobel Odendaal knows how difficult it is to switch off and relax on charter, but as an ex-chief stewardess she has some insider tips on how to take care of yourself and restore your energy reserves for the job.

In this second part of her advice on crew wellbeing, she urges crew to put their feet up, literally, as she shares her tried and tested advice for revitalising tired legs and feet.  

Finding time on charter for self-care

It becomes challenging to find the time or space to relax and shut down whilst on a yacht (no matter what the size) on charter. Here are some suggestions to try:

Try to find time to spend a few minutes a day completely on your own. Even if (however tired you are) it means getting up 10 minutes early to have a cup of tea on the bow or spending five minutes at the end of the night looking up at the stars - both are definitely worth it.

Look into learning some meditation skills – some steward/esses I know spend 5 – 10 minutes each day listening to meditation on their phones – look into Apps like The Mindfulness app, Headspace, Calm, buddhify, Sattva, Insight Timer, 10% Happier and Stop, Breathe & Think.

Mindfulness unsplash Lesly Juarez

Many steward/esses also swear by their eye masks and Slip silk pillowcases, as these can assist with anti-ageing (your face cream doesn’t all end up on the pillowcase while you're sleeping), anti-bed head and anti-sleep creases, whilst an eye mask can assist in deeper sleep (especially if you are taking a nap in the daytime or have aircon and lights in your cabin keeping you awake!)

Some steward/esses prefer purchasing some snail cream, face masks and hand/foot masks to wear to bed every night. Even investing in a great hand or foot cream – lather it on and wear socks to bed – your feet and hands will feel refreshed when you wake up.

Be nice to your chef so they take care of you with healthy preparations and green smoothies. Go for a run and swim every chance you get (if at all possible).

Many steward/esses struggle with a bad back and aching legs, especially after 16+ hour days. An electronic back massager might be a good investment, as well as tired leg gel or blood circulation tablets (again, speak to your health care professional first). 

Sometimes, even using a refreshing and invigorating shower gel can help you start off the day on a fresher and more energized note!

Crew play a very important role in supporting each other through a hectic charter season - being kind and considerate to each other builds love, support and compassion amongst crew and can be very nurturing when times get tough. Find ways to listen to each other, give each other hugs (if the other crew are keen for it). Take note when other crew members are feeling the strain emotionally and be open to each other’s good and bad days.

Dancing woman Unsplash Juan Camilo NaviaHow about a surprise note on the chef’s mirror one morning?:

“When was the last time you remembered how AWESOME you are? Do you know that you are UNIQUE? There is no one on this planet who has the same dreams, talents, abilities and passions that you have! So, make a decision today that you are going to live a great life, full of great service, inspiration, contribution, because what you have the world needs! And if you ever need some encouragement, I am here for you!”

No matter how tough it can be to achieve – it is important to get as much sleep as possible. Which means, no movies or binge-watching on your breaks, no long phone calls home, keep them short, no Facebook or Instagram browsing on breaks. Try going straight to your cabin on your break and reading a good book with only your bed light on until your eyes can’t read anymore... and remember to set an alarm first!

The more rested your body and mind are, the better you will deal with stressful situations and demanding crew or guests. Don’t tire yourself unnecessarily, also remember to enjoy a little fresh air whenever you can. And if you feel like a breakdown is coming - just remind yourself, the trip will be over soon! Stay strong. 

I used to work on a yacht with the most amazing chef – and we had a little ritual during a VERY tough six-month charter. Whenever things got too much to handle, we would get together in the galley and do our ‘charter boogie’ – just a crazy free-dance on whatever music was playing. We still laugh about it now, 15 years later.

Music can literally save your sanity! Anything to sing along to takes your mind off stress and difficult situations. 

Having a morning routine that you stick to will help prepare both your body and mind. For some, it might mean waking up and writing in their gratitude book or, if there's time, a brisk walk outside listening to motivational music. For others it might be meditation.

Vegetable stall Unsplash Alexandr PodvalnyAlso, eating tons of leafy greens and less sugar actually helps your energy levels. Loads of fruit and vegetables and lemon, honey and ginger tea are a healthy alternative to those five cups of coffee or seven cans of Red Bull ® some crew consume on charter each day. 

Where fresh fruit and vegetables are in short supply, as it can be in some cruising areas, it's important to supplement your intake with whole food capsules. They provide raw whole food nutrition from about 20 different vegetables, glandulars, berries, fruits, seeds and grains in a convenient tablet form. They help maintain healthy hair, nails and skin, keep your energy up and your immune system boosted. Look into tablets such as JuicePlus Premium ®.

Spending quality time with yourself can boost your confidence and positive feelings. Take in some sun to boost your Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin - which is so important for our mental and physical wellbeing. It can also help with weight loss, lowering stress and anxiety. 

After a long day on charter, try to make time to sit on the bow and look at the stars for 15 - 20 minutes listening to some soft, relaxing music. 

The popularity and benefits of yoga cannot be denied. If you possess the skills and training, finding the time to do a few minutes each day (even in your cabin if the sea allows it) can attribute to a wonderful feeling of relaxation and relieve stress when the going gets tough. Look into downloading apps such as Yoga Studio or try the free Yoga with Adriene videos on YouTube. 

Something I've started using regularly is Chia seeds soaked in coconut milk – I take about a ¾ cup of Chia seeds and soak them overnight in a can of coconut milk light (which can be kept in a plastic container in the fridge for days), A ¼ cup of this mixture daily will increase your energy levels.

Yoga sea Unsplash Max RovenskyFor face care while on charter, have a look at Neom ® Organic Facial Oils and Origins ® Ginseng Eye Cream, Arbonne ® Day Cream and Rodan & Fields ® facial products.

At the end of the workday, try using De-Stress Mind Bath and Shower Oil by Aromatherapy Associates ® - put a few drops in your hands and then inhale deeply three times – it really helps to wind down before you get into the shower after a long day. Get into a hot shower and use the De-Stress Oil instead of soap - in the end you smell delicious and it helps calm the mind before getting into bed.

The same company also makes a great De-stress Muscle rub - rub it into your calves and then sleep with your feet elevated on a pillow after a long day. Raising the legs helps with tired feet and keeps varicose veins away.

I used to work with a massage therapist who, on very stressful days, would run around and let all the steward/esses breathe in essential oil of lavender – strangely enough, it did help to calm us down, even if it was just the ritual and the humour of the situation. We loved it when Elizabeth would shove the cotton wool under our noses and tell us to ‘breathe in, breathe out’.

Foot care while on charter 

You have just spent the last 16+ hours on your feet – for the past 2-3 months… Your feet are killing you and to top things off, it's starting to affect your mental state and your mood! Let’s look at some foot care suggestions for steward/esses, who are known for spending very long hours standing, walking and running up and down stairs. Painful feet can be one of the biggest problems on charter.

foot beach Unsplash Juja HanTry learning some yoga techniques to relieve pain in your back and hips and try to stick to a daily routine in your cabin. For me, nothing helped more than to sleep with my feet propped up under a cushion – every night and during every break time nap. You can also raise your legs and rest them against the wall by lying on the floor with your bottom an inch or two away from the wall. 

Some steward/esses believe in putting their feet in buckets of ice and water after a long day or strapping ice packs to their feet in bed. I would not suggest keeping your feet in the ice for too long! You can also take a frozen water bottle, put on some socks and roll them under your feet for a few minutes before getting into bed.

Look into purchasing some arnica cream or Bedwell ® Peppermint foot cream – it often helps with sore feet and achy leg and feet muscles. Another handy tool might be to purchase some YogaToes ® and wear them 15 minutes a day. They help you recover from foot strain, stress, and pain and increases your foot flexibility and strength whilst reducing the pain and discomfort of achy feet, bunions, plantar fasciitis and hammertoes.

Should the yacht’s budget allow, install anti-fatigue mats (like GelPro ® mats) in the galley, laundry room and steward/ess pantries – they really help to support your feet on those long days that seem to carry on forever.

I still believe one of the best solutions would be wearing good quality, supportive shoes. As a chief stew/purser, it's important to do your homework and buy quality as opposed to fashion. The latest fashion ballet pump will not provide the same support as a shoe designed for support. Look into Sketchers ® GoWalk for day and Aerosoles ® black flats. Some yachts even purchase sneakers like white Nike Air ® and wear them with secret socks to avoid them smelling. I find that supportive gel insoles can also go a long way to support your feet on long days.

I have also discovered a tablet called Antistax®. They are recommended to help relieve symptoms related to chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), such as swollen legs, varicose veins, a feeling of heaviness, pain, tiredness, itching and tension. Another alternative would be cayenne pepper capsules – they aid in good circulation. Also cut down caffeine intake, as the coffee acids might cause your tired feet and muscles to worsen and increase swelling. It is always best to first discuss any medical treatments with a medical professional prior to taking them.

While on charter, try to get into a daily habit of drinking one teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed with honey in half a glass of water. Not only will this help with achy muscles, but it also balances the acidity in your body, reduces the risk of arthritis, indigestion, heartburn and infections.

Lavender Unsplash Vero PhotoartCalf raising exercises when you are standing in one spot (maybe while washing dishes or ironing) will improve your circulation. If your feet are starting to hurt, massage them by rolling a tennis ball underneath your soles. Try to shift your weight from one foot to another frequently, as this will greatly reduce sore feet on a long day.

Something that I always did on charter was to rub Voltaren ® or Ibuprofen gel on my calves and feet just before I got into bed. (Do not do this if you have taken any pain medication orally.) I find this really relieved the pains and aches after a long day. Whenever possible, sit down and rub/massage your feet.

A big winner would also be to wear compression socks – they increase the blood flow into your legs and feet – but this could be problematic to wear when on charter with shorts or a skort – they're not very attractive! They also have to be measured for your legs and feet specifically, as they come in various sizes.

Of course nothing beats sneaking off the yacht (if possible) after a 20-hour day and twisting your feet into the sand. Cold, damp sand in the middle of the night or early morning, while looking at the stars, can be a soothing and relaxing solution! If this isn’t possible, a foot bath with some essential oils and Epsom salts will be a great alternative.

Best of luck to all of you! When we work in service, it is easy to focus on everyone around us, but don't forget your own emotional and physical wellbeing!

*Photo credit: All from Unsplash, free to use. 

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