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Fishermen Wellness: Take care of you.

Hannah Longley, LCSW


2020 continues to be a wild stormy ride. The fishing community in Harpswell most recently saw the first-ever shark attack resulting in a death in the State of Maine. I know many fishermen over the years have seen sharks as they work the waters off the coast, so their presence was not alarming, however, the death was unexpected.


Challenging times and unexpected events such as this shark attack, often trigger selflessness and altruism in a tight community like the fishing community. Although many perceive acts of bravery and giving to the community as just something people do, it has been linked by neuroscientists to the size and development of the part of the brain known as the amygdala.


The amygdala is also linked to charged and emotional responses people have during traumatic or highly reactive events. The actions and behavior are immediate as the events unfold and then there are after-effects that may linger, just like the aftershocks people feel for days following an earthquake. The same component of the brain that results in people going out into the water to help someone in need, despite putting themselves at risk, will be the same part of your brain that will also want to process the feelings associated with the reactions.

The complexities of the responses can feel contradictory at times as the brain wants one thing, while socialization pushes in a different direction. Common reactions that may occur following a critical event can range from disbelief, denial, blame, anger, fear, anxiety, to a numbing emotion. Although it is not always easy to express these in straightforward ways, the brain may lead the behaviors into demonstrating them. This can include increased irritability, lack of motivation, lack of energy, feeling on edge, or feeling like you must keep moving and stay busy. It can alter the ways in which you interact with your family, the way you complete your work, and the way you take care of yourself. Pay attention to how you and your family members react to really stressful events.


Steps that can help include simply talking about things. It doesn’t have to be a full emotional conversation but at least acknowledging the impact of the event in ways you are comfortable. This can be as simple as, “I can’t believe that happened, it is so messed up,” and validating each other. As you discuss the impacts of the events and your thoughts, it is important to practice some acceptance. Acceptance that although this was a rare occurrence or extreme occurrence, accepting it occurred, it altered reality and the feelings that occurred in you and those around you is critical.


Taking care of your body is also critical during this time. Between the heat and the stress chemicals that can be released, hydration is your best friend (I am referring to water and not adult beverages…). Making sure that you are eating a balanced diet and sleeping will also help to improve your mood. Lastly, talk to each other, listen to each other, and just nod your head at what has happened.


As you rally to meet the needs of your community, it is important you take care of yourself.


If you feel that things have piled up and you would like to talk to someone outside your family or circle of friends, please reach out to NAMI Maine for support. We would be happy to assist you in any way that we can. The NAMI Maine Helpline can be reached at 622-5767 x 1.


A note from MCFA staff: Fishermen Wellness is an on-going series by NAMI Clinical Staff. Each week a new topic will be featured pertaining to mental health and wellness for fishermen. We hope that this information is helpful to fishermen during COVID-19 and also under regular circumstances. Thank you to the clinical staff at NAMI for their support and insight during this time. Together, we persevere.

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An industry-based nonprofit that identifies and fosters ways to restore the fisheries of the Gulf of Maine and sustain Maine's fishing communities for future generations. 

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