How to Maintain Mental Health as a Truck Driver
There’s no denying that trucking is a tough job—long hours, hectic schedules, and being away from home can all add stress to truckers’ daily lives. Even more, they can all contribute to mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, chronic loneliness, and more.
Addressing the realities of mental health in the trucking industry is important, which is why we wanted to take time this Mental Health Awareness month to discuss the challenges truckers face and what truckers can do to ensure that they’re giving their mental health the attention it deserves.
Truckers and mental health
In a trucking mental health disorders survey, almost 28% of truckers surveyed reported suffering from loneliness on the road, while 27% reported depression, 21% reported chronic sleep disturbances, 14.5% reported anxiety, and 13% reported other emotional difficulties. It’s clear that this is a widespread issue that affects many drivers out on the road.
And the COVID-19 pandemic has only served to increase mental health issues for truckers due to general unrest and increased isolation during pandemic lockdowns.
Many factors contribute to the prevalence of mental health struggles for truck drivers, including:
- Lack of consistent sleep schedules
- Being away from family and friends for extended periods
- Inadequate exercise
- Unhealthy diet
- Witnessing tragic, traumatizing, or unsettling events on the road
In a society that isn’t always open about discussing mental health struggles, it’s important to fight the stigma and remember that struggling with your mental health is nothing to be ashamed of.
There’s power in being vulnerable about your struggles. Asking for help from family, friends, co-workers, or mental health professionals will only serve to make you a happier, healthier person—and a better truck driver.
How mental health struggles can affect your job
If you’re struggling with your mental health, an already taxing job like trucking just becomes more difficult. Many mental health conditions have symptoms that can affect a driver’s ability to fulfill their job functions safely and effectively. These symptoms include:
- Excessive tiredness and fatigue
- Difficulty focusing or lack of concentration
- Harmful or self-destructive behaviors
- Increased agitation
Worse still, an unwell and unfocused driver operating thousands of pounds of tractor trailer and freight poses serious safety risks to pedestrians, other drivers, and themselves.
This isn’t to say that a trucker driver struggling with their mental health will certainly get into accidents or be incapable of doing their job. But knowing the risks of overlooked or untreated mental health challenges is an essential part of understanding why it’s so important for truckers to look after their mental health and implement self-care routines that allow them to be mentally sharp.
Common mental health struggles for truckers
There are several mental health conditions that are common among trucker drivers. Having a basic understanding of what they are, how they affect truckers, and their ability to stay on the road safely, makes it easier to spot the signs and know when help is needed.
Truck drivers with depression might report feeling prolonged sadness, worthlessness, or helplessness. People experiencing depression often find themselves pulling away from the people they love or losing interest in things that usually bring them joy. And in an already isolating profession like trucking, distancing yourself from the people and activities you love can lead to further feelings of hopelessness or sadness.
The stress that comes with the life of a truck driver can often lead to feelings of dread, apprehension, or excessive worry. Concerns about what’s going on at home, the tight schedule you have to drop off your load, or unexpected road closures that delay your trip can all add to your mental load, making it even more difficult to do your job. Though veteran drivers certainly aren’t exempt from experiencing anxiety, it is especially common among newer drivers who, on top of the challenges all drivers face, are also adjusting to a new lifestyle and may be worried about managing a rig, making money, or other aspects of the job.
We’ve said it before—truck driving is an isolating profession. Drivers spend hours—or even days—alone in the cab of a truck with limited interaction with other people. This can really take a toll on your overall wellness and mental health. Long haul drivers spend large chunks of time away from their family and friends, often missing events, holidays, or other special occasions they’d like to celebrate with loved ones.
Ways you can manage your mental health
Despite how truckers struggling with their mental health might feel, there are many ways to alleviate some of the pain and distress that come along with mental health challenges. Drivers need to make self-care and looking after their mental health a priority.
Here are a few practices truckers can implement into their routines to give their mental health the attention it deserves.
When your job is sitting in a cab all day, it can be difficult to incorporate movement and exercise into your day. But even small changes, like taking a walk when you fuel up, doing a few minutes of yoga before bed, or strength training a few times a week, keep both your body and mind healthier. There are even apps designed specifically with truck drivers in mind that help you stay active. Exercise releases hormones and endorphins that help alleviate feelings of depression, so it’s a great way to naturally boost your mood and overall wellness.
Form a support network
Being on the road makes it harder to maintain connections, which is exactly why it’s so important to put in the effort to do so! Modern technology makes it easier than ever for you to keep in touch with family and friends back home. Be sure to touch base with them as often as you can (when you’re not actively driving, of course).
In addition to having meaningful conversations with your loved ones, make an effort to form connections with other drivers. Whether it’s drivers you meet out on the road or online trucker groups, having other people you can talk can help you form a community. Connecting with others who experience the difficulties of working in the transportation industry helps you find the support and understanding that can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Eat a balanced diet
Eating a balanced diet can have a positive effect on your mental health. Truck stops aren’t known for having an abundance of healthy options, but packing snacks like fruits, veggies, nuts, deli meat, and yogurt can help you get more nutrients into your diet—helping support both your brain and body. When you do stop at restaurants for a quick bite, look for nutrient-dense options that will keep you full and feeling good.
Seek professional help
There’s no shame in wanting the support of a therapist or counselor to help manage your mental health challenges. Therapy offers you a safe place to discuss your concerns and develop coping mechanisms to better manage your mental health.
Life on the road can make it tricky to go to in-person appointments, but luckily telehealth options are more available than ever before. Employers or insurance often cover telehealth appointments, so be sure to check out what your options are.
If you or somebody you know is struggling or in crisis, there is help available! Call or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org for free, confidential 24/7 support.
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