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Interaksyon.com recently reported the ordeal of OFWs battling cancer and other illnesses. Leaving loved ones behind to seek employment in other countries can be lonely. This loneliness can be aggravated and can lead to sickness when one feels emotionally isolated. How can migrant workers cope with this feeling of loneliness?
In my work with seafarers, here are some suggestions I give:
1. Recognize that you are lonely and express your feelings.
Admitting that one is lonely is healthy. One can only find creative ways of dealing and coping with his or her loneliness by recognizing and accepting this feeling of emotional isolation. Denial only leads to problems because it can lead to unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating, promiscuity, too much drinking or drugs). When possible, share these feelings with a trusted friend. Writing down one's thoughts in a securely guarded diary or journal may also help.
2. Stay connected.
Migrant workers can always get in touch with their loved ones by phone, email, social networks, video calls, and even through letters. Whenever possible, OFWs should try to connect with their loved ones at least once a week, to share, listen, and update with one another's activities and events.
3. Bring mementos of loved ones.
Migrant wokers can bring pictures, videos or other mementos that they can look at when they are lonely.
4. LOL. Laughter is the best medicine for pain and loneliness. Studies show that having a good sense of humor can assist people cope with stress. Migrant workers can find time to watch funny movies on the ship or in their foreign station, or simply have fun with colleagues. Moods and emotions shift to something positive when people laugh.
5. Be optimistic. Whenever loneliness sets in, it would be helpful for the migrant workers to remember the reason for their sacrifice - a higher income for the family, a more comfortable lifestyle, quality education for their children. Some migrant workers also say that their job also provides them with the opportunity to meet other nationalities, see different countries, and expand their knowledge about diverse cultures.
6. Get involved in various activities. To temporarily take their minds off their loneliness, migrant wokers are encouraged to stay busy - play sports games, cards, or chess, etc. These activities not only give them the opportunity to meet people of different nationalities but also enhance their social skills. They will be less lonely if they are involved in hobbies or activities such as reading books, listening to music, watching DVD movies or doing crosswords or other puzzles. It is also essential that they have proper diet, sleep and exercise.
7. Pray. Migrant workers say that their faith sustains them. They entrust their worries, fears and anxieties about their families to God. Reliance on a Higher Being does not mean passively accepting the realities of life, but rather embracing the fact that some things are just beyond their control. As one seafarer says, "Just do your best and leave the rest to God."
Beyond all these, it may help to remember that this feeling of loneliness, like any other feeling (such as joy and happiness), is temporary and does not last forever. Life, they say, is marked by opposites. There is a time to be lonely and time to be happy. There is a time for planting and the time for harvesting. There is a time to be rich and a time to be poor. There is a time to be with people and the time to be alone. There is a time to be in the air and a time to be on land or sea. All these opposites are part of an integrated whole, which we call LIFE.
Ronaldo Motilla is a certified clinical psychologist and a board member of the Psychological Association of the Philippines http://www.pap.org.ph. He teaches at Miriam College and Dela Salle University-Manila and heads the Integrated Lifestyle and Wellness (ILAW) Center of Miriam College, Quezon City. Since 2004, he has been co-facilitating team-building seminar-workshops for seafaeres with the Ringside Team for international shipping companies.