Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
Stress. Chefs feel it with the ticking of the clock, when the timing of food prep is not precise, or an ingredient is not available for the owner’s meal. Stews encounter it when things don’t go perfectly smooth with service, and engineers most certainly feel it when there is a problem with the engine. Captains probably have the most stressful job of all in yachting. In fact, just about all crew will at some time or another deal with some form of stress – or extreme stress – on board.
When one crew member becomes sick, the rest must pick up that person’s job, adding even more stress. And what if you work with people who you don’t get along with? Now we’re talking extreme stress.
For a chef, the day in, day out job of providing perfect food precisely cooked for complete strangers, as well as being constantly on-game to the best of your ability without a day off, is extremely stressful. Top that with an irate boss or captain or fellow crew who you don’t see eye to eye with, and it can be unbearable. That’s the reason there is so much turnover in yachting.
There are several kinds of stress, and if left unchecked, all can have detrimental effects on the body. For this column, I have decided to focus on emotional stress and stress in general.
Emotional stress happens more often than we care to admit, and it can stem from a variety of scenarios, such as breaking up with a partner on board, being told by the chief stew that you don’t measure up, or a worrisome family issue at home. Anger, irritability, lack of motivation, depression, trouble sleeping, trouble eating, withdrawal and lack of interest can all be signs of emotional stress.
How does it affect the body? The hypothalamus reacts to stress by telling the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which in chronic conditions can result in an inability to become pregnant, excess weight, hair loss, heart palpitations and a stress rash.
Stress manifests in several ways and affects everyone differently. Some physical signs of stress are the inability to sleep or sleep pattern interruption; either lack of appetite or overeating, such as binge eating; and abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Here are some ways to combat stress on board:
If you find that you are about to blow up at fellow crew member, please do everyone a favor and walk away. If you still feel the same way the next day or a few days later, then say something – but only if it will help the situation, not as an explosive, self-destructive pattern. If you are on a self-destructive path, please seek help with a trained professional to help you figure out what can be done to alleviate your stress.
It’s not easy, I can tell you, as someone who has been in yachting for more than 26 years. But learning how to manage stress so that it doesn’t affect you physically and mentally – or your job – is the best coping mechanism.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.