Managing stress at sea with relaxation techniques

April 27, 2018
image icon for Audio relaxation exercise
Audio relaxation exercise

Calm the body and mind in times of stress with relaxation and controlled breathing.


In partnership with the Shipowners’ Club, ISWAN has produced a 13-minute audio relaxation exercise to help seafarers cope with stress at sea. The exercise – Managing stress with relaxation techniques - is accessible online and is also available for download.

The exercise is the latest addition to ISWAN's Good Mental Health Guides for Seafarers.

We talk about feeling stressed when the pressures or demands of life get on top of us. We all feel stressed at times. Stress is not only normal but essential for survival and can be beneficial to us.
Although stress has a useful function, the effects of stress can be unpleasant or uncomfortable. If the stress is prolonged or repeated, many of the changes in our body can have longer term effects on our physical health and our wellbeing. For all these reasons, it is important to recognise stress and take measures to manage it.

Relaxation and Controlled Breathing are both ways to relax your body. These work by calming your body and mind and reversing the physiological changes which happen in our bodies at times of stress.

Progressive Muscular Relaxation is the easiest method for learning how to relax your body. The idea of the exercise is to learn the difference between how your muscles feel when they are tense and how they feel when they are relaxed. It is physically impossible to be stressed and relaxed at the same time. Practising relaxation techniques helps us to build up some resilience to stress and makes it easier to use the techniques when we need them.

Controlled Breathing Technique: All the physical effects of stress begin with the breath.
If we control our breathing (that is we breathe slowly and deeply from the bottom of our lungs), the heart slows down and the body returns to its resting state. You can use controlled breathing any time you notice your breathing is a little shallow or fast or whenever you notice sensations of stress, anxiety, fear or even anger. Controlled breathing can help you take a moment out before reacting and is excellent to use quickly just before you enter into a difficult situation.

Our new audio relaxation exercise combines muscle relaxation with the controlled breathing technique. Practising them together helps your mind to associate relaxation with controlled breathing. This means that when you need to relax quickly and easily you can take a slow deep breath in, from the bottom of your lungs, remind yourself to relax and release the tension from your muscles. Like any new skill, relaxation does take time to learn.

Practise every day at least once a day for 10 days to 2 weeks to get the most from the technique.

Mindful breathing: In mindful breathing, we notice our breath without trying to change it; in the controlled breathing technique, we deliberately alter our breathing. More information about mindful breathing can be found in our guide, Steps to Positive Mental Health.

Download a one-page guide to the audio relaxation exercise here:
Stay up to date with ISWAN's monthly email newsletter

We are grateful to our main funders for their continued support: