Increased supply chain pressures. Driver shortages. Record oil prices. The pandemic recovery has put truck drivers at the center of never-before-seen problems. Truck driver’s continued commitment to their vocation is fundamentally what keeps our supply chain working.
With this added pressure though, there’s an industry-wide push to focus on truck drivers’ mental health. Here are the three most important things truck drivers can do to improve their mental health and feel good while they’re on the road.
1. Get Between 7 and 9 Hours of Sleep.
It’s difficult to wind down after 10, 11 or 14 hours of driving. Even with the mandatory breaks. Sleep became a hot button issue in the 1990s after the National Traffic Safety Board announced lack of sleep fatigue or deprivation was a factor in 30 to 40 percent of trucking accidents.
In addition to this being a dangerous public and driver safety issue, Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry reports that sleep deprivation can lead to the “onset and worsening of different mental health problems.” That includes anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideations. Even healthy people who endure a night of poor sleep can experience symptoms of anxiety.
The truth is sleep schedules aren’t always realistic for truckers.
The Sleep Foundation recommends the military method for people with inconsistent schedules and difficult sleeping conditions. Start by getting into a comfortable position. Drop your shoulders and let your arms rest by your side. Take slow, deep breaths. Then, one part of your face at a time, methodically unfurrow your brow, relax your eyelids, your jaw, and your lips. Relax your chest, abdomen, hips, and each part of your legs and feet. Lastly, visualize a peaceful setting.
2. Build Community. And Have Someone You Can Confide In.
Harvard researchers studied which factors within our control could best protect us from depression. The single most important factor they identified was social connection. We’re social beings, and belonging is essential for our happiness.
Despite how critical having community is, loneliness and isolation are feelings truck drivers face every day because they spend hours alone during a shift. Long haul truckers can go from coast to coast, shift after shift, and be away from home for weeks at a time.
If you can get involved in trucking communities, like the American Trucking Association and Women in Trucking, then you’ll be tapped into networking events, conferences, and social media groups with other truckers.
Building community outside of trucking is equally important. Find people with shared interests other than driving and schedule time to get out with them, even if it’s just fishing or shooting.
Lastly, cultivate a few relationships that go beyond shared interests or work friendships, people you can talk to about what’s going on with your family, your spouse, your health, and your job. Science Journalist Lydia Denworth, who wrote a book on friendship, argues that close friends are as important to your well-being as diet and exercise.
3. Meditate Daily.
You don’t need to sit cross-legged in a lotus position and say “ommmm.” Guided meditations abound on apps, YouTube, and Spotify. Some are completely free; others are subscription-based and reasonably priced.
Meditation involves sitting, walking, and yes, even driving while being free of distraction and focusing your mind. To receive the most benefits from meditating, try to do five minutes and over time work your way up to 20 minutes. There’s no perfect position you need to be in. You don’t need to meditate for a long period of time either.
Meditation helps to build mental and emotional resilience, reduce stress and clear your mind. Your brain produces less of the stress hormone, cortisol, when you meditate regularly.
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