Truck driver mental health is on the decline, and researchers estimate the number of causes around this phenomenon: isolation, long hours on the road, and unhealthy diet choices just to name a few. Researchers estimate between 18-27% of truck drivers have some sort of mental health issue, but this number is likely higher due to social stigma around mental health, especially within men, who make up the majority of the trucking industry. So what can be done? If you are a truck driver, mental health should be just as important as physical health, and there are several ways you can reprioritize taking care of your mind.
What Are Some Signs Mental Health is Declining?
It can be difficult to differentiate temporary emotions and ongoing mental health issues. While there are many types of mental illnesses, The National Alliance of Mental Illness lists some common warning signs as follows:
- Feeling excessively sad or low mood multiple days a week
- Excessive worry or fear
- Extreme mood changes
- Changes in sleep habits
- Difficulties relating to other people
A survey of truckers found that many had significant issues affecting their mental health like loneliness, anxiety, and other emotional issues. In order to maintain the health and well-being of America’s hardest workers, carriers must educate about and accommodate the mental health needs of their fleets.
How to Improve Trucker Driver Mental Health
1. Connect with Loved Ones
One of the key ways to maintain mental health is maintaining emotional connections. When you’re off the clock, spending quality time with family and friends is a great way to destress from the tough work week. When you’re out on the road, phone calls, text messages, emails, even playing an online game together can remind you that you’re not alone. Stick photos or mementos from home on the dash to add a bit of familiarity to your workspace. If you are comfortable doing so, check your carrier’s passenger policy about bringing human or animal passengers to keep you company.
2. Adopt Healthy Eating and Exercise Routines
Making healthy choices on the road is tough. Fast-food salads leave a lot to be desired, and who wants to go for a run after an hours-long drive? However, eating less processed food and getting regular exercise is a great way to keep the mind clear and sharp. The good thing is you don’t have to be perfect in order to do better with your mind and body.
You can start by picking healthier road snacks. Beef jerky is available at nearly every truck stop, and protein is good for the body. Grab a bag of peanuts or explore fresher options like fruit cups and hummus. Even small changes to your diet make a big difference.
As for exercise, start by doing light stretches while you fill-up the rig. On your days off, go for walks or go swimming with the family. There are plenty of ways to exercise that don’t feel like work, and doing activities you actually enjoy will motivate you to make them daily habits. You can also do exercises with your truck.
3. Get Quality Sleep
Work pressure can often tempt us to forgo sleep, but maintaining a restful schedule helps the brain reset after a difficult day. If you have trouble sleeping on the road, do your best to stick to a nighttime routine: Turn off the phone, shower, brush your teeth, and do anything else to prep for bed. If you can’t keep your bedtime consistent, the next best thing is to have a predictable routine to shut the brain down.
Still chasing restful sleep? Try a weighted blanket to keep you from moving around. Many people find the extra pressure comforting. Keep a sleep journal handy to record how you feel when you wake up in the morning to find any patterns that may be affecting you. If this is an ongoing problem, consider going to the doctor for a sleep study. Some conditions like sleep apnea need additional treatment in order to maintain full health.
4. Find Your De-Stress
Everyone has different ways of relaxing, so whether you want to chill after a long drive or regain your mood after an intense road encounter, find your own way to soothe your mind and body.
- Listen to an audiobook or podcast
- Sing along with your favorite album
- Call a friend to vent
- Practice meditation to push out distractions
- Incorporate deep breathing to maintain heart rate
5. Ask a Professional
Sometimes you need to accept that you don’t have all the answers. If you’ve been trying to improve your mental health with little results, make an appointment with a therapist or psychologist. Many people suffering from mental health issues can go undiagnosed for years, and it’s common for job stress to be their motivator to seek help. A professional will be able to teach coping techniques for your symptoms and/or assess if medication would help balance your mood.
The most important thing to remember is that each person has different mental health needs. Reaching out for help doesn’t imply that you are weak or a failure. It’s the understanding that you know life could be better, and you are willing to work to improve it.
TDI Says Prioritize Truck Driver Mental Health
Improving mental health can be a big challenge, but a necessary one in order to live life to the fullest. At Truck Driver Institute, we support any method that improves the mental or physical health of drivers in our industry. We provide career and financial support for our students in hopes to take a little of the stress off of changing career paths. Want to work for a carrier who prioritizes mental health? TDI has been in the business for four decades, so we know what services each company offers their employees. We’ll do our best to connect you with an employer who will support your needs, so you can get back out on the road. To learn more about TDI’s policy on truck driver mental health, contact us today.
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