As a trucker, it can feel like you’re living your whole life behind the wheel, mostly alone except for rest stops and destinations.
Social isolation is just one piece of the mental health puzzle. And not just for truck drivers, but for everyone. The same things that impact your mental health as a truck driver affect people in many other careers.
From lack of physical movement, loneliness, and stress, to name a few, it’s okay not to feel okay. While these feelings are normal, experiencing all of them at once can be overwhelming.
Sometimes, these feelings can turn into anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that can easily go unnoticed — especially if you are the only one looking out for you.
How to Manage Your Stress
For truckers, especially long haul drivers, the long days and nights can become stressful as you try to stay awake while driving or meet a tight delivery deadline. When stress happens, you may immediately feel the impact on your mind and body.
One form of workplace stress is known as job strain. It is characterized by a low salary (at least relative to the demands of the work) and the inability to control factors like scheduled raises and time off. This highly common type of stress is particularly common for truck drivers.
Spending many nights away from your home and your loved ones can significantly increase the effects of job strain. And staying safe on the road is a common stress-inducing factor, as are tight deadlines and road congestion.
However, this stress can be hard to recognize. Thoughts are often pushed to the back of our minds – “I’m too busy to worry about myself right now. I’ve got a job to do / bills to pay / a family to feed…”. And with the demanding career of a truck driver, it is all too easy to ignore the warning signs of stress and burnout.
Yet, worrying about yourself is precisely what you should be doing. So how do you manage your mental health as a truck driver? Here are some practical solutions to take care of yourself while on the road.
Stretch and Exercise
As a truck driver, you can’t exactly get up and move around whenever you feel like it, but it is essential to move around even a little bit every chance you get. Not only does lack of physical movement contribute to tight muscles that can lead to bigger aches and pains down the road (literally), but exercise is one of the most useful tools for a healthy mind, too.
Exercise reduces the stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is often referred to as nature’s built-in alarm system. When you are stressed or worried, alarm bells go off in your head, and your cortisol levels spike.
Some cortisol is good, but significantly elevated cortisol levels or cortisol levels raised for extended periods can negatively affect your sleep, mood, blood sugar, and even your libido and how your body processes food.
For truck drivers, things will never go 100 percent as planned. Stress can arise from the need to problem-solve or correct the mistakes of others. It can also come from the many uncontrollable and unpredictable variables of being on the road, such as traffic, weather, and other drivers.
You might think that you should be equipped to deal with this because you knew going in that it was the nature of your job, but that’s simply not the case. Being hard on yourself does not make stress any easier to deal with. But what does, is finding moments throughout the day or night to move your body and let out any aggression, stress, anxiety, or tension.
Whether you are in a rest stop, parking lot, or waiting to pick up a load, you can do anything from jumping jacks to pushups. You can walk or jog a few loops around the parking lot or throw in some lunges or a good back stretch.
If it is a more appropriate setting for stretching, use your truck as a prop to keep your balance as you pull one foot behind you at a time for a quad stretch. Healthy hamstrings are critical, too, so find a step or bench to rest one foot at least one foot off of the ground and lean forward, resting your hands on the thigh of the outstretched leg.
Being more flexible in your body will allow you to be more flexible in your job. Making the most of these minutes to get in control of your health and take a few deep breaths will help clear your mind and prepare you to get through the unexpected.
Stay In Touch With Loved Ones
When you are away for so long, it can be easy to forget just how much family and friends boost your spirits regularly.
Making time for a quick phone or video call when you are not distracted will remind you that your job is not the only thing that matters, and your truck is not the only place you belong. Reach out to the ones who lift your spirits and make you laugh. Laughter puts things into perspective, and those who laugh are less likely to experience stress than those with a permanent scowl.
Even if you can’t be with friends and family in a physical sense as much as you would like, a phone call can sometimes be just as fulfilling. Keep those you are closest to saved to a group in your phone so you can not only access them easier but remember who your network is.
Your network is your support group, and it will make them feel good to hear from you, too.
What you eat impacts the way you feel.
It can be challenging to avoid unhealthy truck stop food all of the time, but it is possible to eat well on the road, especially if you pack your own snacks and drinks.
Always eat breakfast because it will give your blood sugar the healthy spike it needs at the start of the day for energy and focus. Even a granola bar and a piece of fruit are enough to get your day off to a good start. Try to limit your coffee intake because caffeine is intended to make you feel alert, but too much of it will spike anxiety levels and negatively impact sleep.
Staying hydrated and drinking well is just as important as eating well. Aim to keep a 32-ounce water jug in your truck, and drink it twice a day to stay alert. Stick to plain water if you can, as fruit juices and sports drinks are often loaded with sugar.
Sleep impacts everything, from your cognitive function and reaction time to your mood. A lack of sleep is not only dangerous for your general safety, but it can lead to risky behaviors, bad decision-making, and poor problem-solving.
Sleep deprivation negatively impacts concentration and can even lead to microsleep, which is a brief, uncontrollable moment of sleep during regular waking hours. Drowsy drivers can become impaired to the point that is comparable to being drunk.
Despite unpredictable changes, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, which will program your body and mind to know when to rest. Utilize curtains, an eye mask, earplugs, and a sound machine to block out distracting noises and light. Portable white noisemakers are easy to travel with and can be charged via USB, and the American Sleep Association even has several apps it recommends to help with sleep.
Above all things, sleep will help you control and incorporate all these other healthy behaviors. Without proper rest, you will feel less motivated to stretch, exercise, reach out to others, or eat well. Lack of sleep alone can negatively impact one’s mental health to the point where all emotions and behaviors can feel almost impossible to control.
Taking Care of Yourself and Your Truck
Logistics professionals are an essential part of our economy and society. While you’re an important part of keeping shelves stocked and packages delivered, your health and wellbeing are important, too. Mental health affects everyone, and those who work tirelessly to keep our country functioning deserve to live happily and in good mental health.
Incorporating these habits into your day will significantly impact your mental and occupational wellbeing. No matter how important a load you are hauling, your health should always come first.
What comes next? Keeping your rig in good shape, too! At Kelly’s, our extensive team of trained technicians, 18 bay service facility, extensive parts library, and in-house fabrication shop make maintenance and repair are a stress-free experience.
Contact us to make an appointment today!