August 25, 2015

Seasickness and psychology

THE FEAR OF SEASICKNESS is enough to make us seasick. That’s the opinion of Dr. Michael Stadler, professor of experimental psychology at Bremen University in Germany.
In his book, Psychology of Sailing, Dr. Stadler says:

“How often have we heard friends who occasionally sail with us exclaim in protest when told of the weekend plan to put into Heligoland, that they are always sick when they go there?

“Assurances from the skipper that the forecast is for light winds, and that some swell is to be expected no matter where one is on the North Sea, do not seem to help. There are people who, knowing they are going to Heligoland, become pallid and get a dry mouth as soon as they step on board. Indeed, many even begin to feel seasick while still ashore, at the mere sight of the boat.”

Dr. Stadler goes on the explain that this is a kind of anticipatory fear of seasickness, a fear that is learned by “one or more negative experiences in the past.” In other words, if you got seasick once before, you simply expect you’re going to be seasick again, even if sea conditions are much calmer this time.

If you are the kind of person who is susceptible to a conditioned reaction like this, once the boat puts to sea and the swell becomes noticeable, “seasickness proper, with its nausea and sickness, will set in much more quickly,” says Dr. Stadler. “Anxious people, moreover, tend to sit quietly on boat and submit passively to their fate. Motion sickness actually strikes people more quickly when they are sitting than when they are lying or standing.”

Apparently the most suitable employment for a crew member who is prone to sickness is helming. “We know from our experience of motoring that passengers (on winding mountain roads, for instance) are frequently motion sick, but never the driver himself.”

Lying down is the next best thing to steering, and after that the most favorable position is standing upright, legs slightly apart, without holding on to anything. When you’re doing this (and not falling overboard in the process) “continuous reflexive compensatory movements are activated throughout the muscular system by the sense of balance and the sense of position.” And this, says Dr. Stadler, “prevents a passive surrender” to seasickness.

Today’s Thought
One of the best temporary cures for pride and affectation is seasickness — a man who wants to vomit never puts on airs.
— John Billings, American humorist

Mary had a little lamb
That leaped around in hops
It hopped into the road one day
And ended up as chops.


Melissa A said...

Not *entirely* true about the drivers -- just most of the time. I get sick on anything that moves -- planes, trains, automobiles, ships, elevators, and ski lifts. I have lived on a mountain ridge for 11 years, and I *still* occasionally get carsick driving to and from my own house.

John Vigor said...

Poor Melissa. I feel for you. I used to be prone to bad seasickness until I discovered the Scopolamine patch, the one you put behind your ear. It's not entirely successful, but it helps a lot. And it has some interesting side effects (for me) such as dry mouth, drowsiness, and blurred vision. Still preferable to the horror of seasickness, though.

John V.

57 Degrees North said...

try cutting the patch in half and see if that doesn't do away with some of the more pronounced side effects.

I never expect to get seasick, but it happens occasionally anyway. Often suddenly and violently. If I can get some sleep for a few hours I won't get sick again until I change boats... That was a PIA on so may levels when I was a youngster working on commercial fishing boats.