What does it mean to be a successful truck driver? The quick answer is likely something along the lines of “delivering loads on-time and in-full.” That sounds about right, however that answer focuses entirely on the duties of the job and overlooks the condition of the drivers. If we consider the totality of truckers’ lives, we’re more likely to use the definition provided recently by Smart-Trucking.com: “Successful drivers are those who consistently deliver their loads safely, in a timely fashion, while maintaining a decent standard of living.”
True success isn’t just satisfying your responsibilities, but balancing those responsibilities with your own well-being. Sometimes that means pushing yourself beyond personal comfort to get the job done, and sometimes that means adjusting how you accomplish your work in order to best care for yourself. Truckers are accustomed to the former – putting in long working hours and significant time away from family to meet their deadlines – but too often are unfamiliar with the latter, instead ignoring their own mental health for the sake of the job. It’s an unfortunate reality, as truckers deserve quality mental health just as much as any other worker or employee.
Avoidance of mental health concerns is especially unfortunate when you take into account how hard life can be for drivers. The many pressures of their work include stressful traffic conditions, tight deadlines, time away from family, loneliness, lack of social contact/support, low wages, frustrating regulations, occupational uncertainty about the effects of self-driving tech and drone delivery, difficulty maintaining good physical health, and sleeping problems.
On its own, loneliness affects the emotional state of 33% of truckers, a number that would surely be even higher if people were more willing to discuss mental issues. And considering there are over 4,000 deaths and over 80,000 injuries that occur in large-truck crashes every year, it should be no surprise that many drivers also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a severe anxiety felt by those who see or experience horrific events.
So what can truckers do to take care of their mental wellbeing, despite all the stresses of the job? While there is no perfect solution, there are a number of steps which can help drivers maintain their mental health while on the road:
1. Forget the Stigma
For whatever reason, people don’t like to talk about mental health, despite it being a totally normal part of life. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental health issue in a given year, and over half of all Americans will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Your brain is the most complex organ in your body, so it makes perfect sense that it needs occasional check-ups and treatment just as much as any other body part. That reality includes truckers, which means you should ignore the stigma and be willing to honestly evaluate your mental well-being and take the steps you need to stay healthy and happy.
2. Stay Connected
Positive relationships are one of the biggest predictors of life-satisfaction and happiness, as well as physical health and total life expectancy, so staying connected to friends and family is one of the most important things you can do. Steps for maintaining relationships as a trucker can include making phone calls, using social media, and sending postcards and letters. We’ve previously written about staying connected on the road here.
3. Bring a Buddy
You don’t always have to sit alone in the cab. Some people choose to drive as a team, including married couples, parents and children, siblings, and friends. You can read our previous discussion of trucking partners here. Or, if you can’t convince a human friend to join you, consider man’s best friend. Taking your dog on the road can provide companionship, stress relief, and opportunities to exercise and meet new people. We’ve broken down everything you need to know about sharing the cab with a dog here.
4. Take Care of Your Body
The mind and body are intimately linked, each affecting the other. Lower stress improves things like blood pressure and digestion, and a healthy body contributes to a clearer mind. The keys to physical health are eating right and getting exercise, both of which can be hard on the road. But intentional efforts, like preparing healthy food, investing in a good pair of walking shoes, and staying showered and well-groomed, can make a world of difference in giving you energy and helping you feel good about yourself. You can read our all our tips for staying healthy on the road here.
5. Get Some Sleep
For peak brain and body functioning, medical experts recommend that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. To get the best sleep, avoid stimulants too close to bedtime, do some light exercise during the day, have a pre-sleep routine, and find your ideal levels of temperature and light. From time-to-time, you can also consider getting a hotel room to really relax outside of the cab. We’ve previously written about sufficient sleep for truckers here.
6. Keep Your Mind Active
Instead of getting bored or dwelling on a single thought, keep your mind alert and active by rolling down a window, singing along to your favorite song, engaging in some CB chatter, and/or planning out quality breaks. We’ve provided a full list of tips for staying bright-eyed behind the wheel here.
7. Don’t Self-Medicate
Some people think they can cure themselves of mental issues by overindulging in alcohol or drugs. While that may provide momentary relief from a mental illness, substance abuse actually makes mental health issues worse and can additionally lead to crippling dependency and addiction. Add the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the mix, and self-medicating is a choice truckers should avoid at all costs. If you have a problem with substance abuse, please seek out more information and treatment.
8. Talk to a Pro
Mental health check-ups and treatment are just as normal as going to the dentist or the doctor. If a mental health issue is interfering with your ability to live a quality life, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional. Counseling, therapy, and regulated prescriptions are all possible solutions to mental illness which you can’t get without seeking help. It can be hard to know where to begin, so start by talking with your usual primary care doctor. They will be able to assess any physical issues and help you decide what type of mental health professional you should visit.
Conclusion: Our last note is not only about you, but also about your family members, friends, coworkers, and employees: remember that mental illness can affect anyone. When speaking with others, including fellow drivers, do your part to help destigmatize mental health and treatment. It’s a normal part of life, and if we talk about it that way, people will be more willing to get the treatment they need. When you’re open and willing to encourage people to take care of themselves, you contribute to building a better industry and a healthier world.