The first couple of weeks in October brought perfect driving and weather conditions to enjoy the fall colours in northern Ontario.
The show was north of Sault Ste. Marie for the first week and south of the Soo for the second. Bright red, orange, and yellow hues under brilliant blue skies. Awesome!
The vivid autumn colour was just what I needed to refocus my mind on the simple enjoyment of driving. I shut off all my various electronic gizmos and paid little attention to the goings on of the outside world for that couple of weeks, becoming little more than a tourist in a big truck.
But on reflection, I had to wonder whether I was truly enjoying the change of seasons or using it as a means of escape from the daily stress of life on the road? Was I reacting to a feeling of burnout I had been experiencing over the previous few months? Had I just gotten used to the stress and imbalance inherent in the life of a trucker, and dropping out for a couple of weeks was a pressure relief valve for the psyche?
I’ve never thought of driving as a difficult job but lately I’ve come to appreciate the psychological challenges that this lifestyle poses, especially the stresses it brings to bear on other aspects of our personal lives. Many of us within the industry maintain a macho attitude towards coping with daily stress brought on by work; ignore it and it will go away. But it doesn’t go away, does it? It just continues to build until it reaches a breaking point.
So I thought I would share some information about what burnout is and how we can cope with it. This information comes from a workshop I attended in June. The presentation was titled Stress and Work: Implications for the Canadian transportation Industry, and was presented by Vishwanath Baba, PhD.
Dr. Baba characterized burnout on the job in three distinct phases.
First you experience ’emotional exhaustion.’ You may feel drained by your work. You may feel fatigued in the morning. You may feel burnt out. You may feel listless (lack of energy). You may be easily frustrated. You feel you don’t want to work with other people.
The emotional exhaustion leads to ‘depersonalization.’ (You are nothing more than a cog in a large machine). Have you become calloused by the job? Do you feel others blame you for their problems?
Finally you end up with a feeling of ‘low personal accomplishment.’ You are not dealing with problems effectively. You are not having a positive influence on others. You don’t empathize with others. You no longer feel exhilarated by your job. You are not living up to your own expectations.
Does anything on that list sound familiar to you? It sure struck a chord with me. I don’t think there is a truck driver out there who has not had to deal with elements in any of those three areas at some point in his or her career, whether or not they want to admit it. I believe it is an ongoing daily battle for many of us.
So Dr. Baba moves on to ask the question: What will make us resilient? Or what will help us bounce back from the effects of burnout? There is physiological resiliency characterized by good cardiovascular conditioning and proper diet (exercise and eat healthy).
There is psychological resiliency characterized by a balanced lifestyle, a hardy personality, and a small wins strategy.
Finally there is a social resiliency characterized by supportive social relations, mentors, and teamwork.
What really stands out for me in this resiliency list is ‘balanced lifestyle.’
A balanced lifestyle is one that sees an equal amount of time spent in physical, spiritual, family, social, intellectual, work, and cultural activities.
All I know is that out of the 168 hours that are available to me every week, I spend between 110 and 130 hours of that time in the truck. So the question to be asked is how on earth does any driver living the trucking lifestyle maintain a balanced lifestyle?
I don’t have an answer and obviously our line of work will never allow a driver to spend an equal amount of time in the various life balance activities outlined above. I do believe the trucking industry needs to develop a more supportive approach to mentoring, teamwork, and developing social support networks for its drivers to help cope with stress and burnout.
It’s not getting any easier out here, that’s for sure. Sometimes the world around us seems to be coming apart at the seams. Dealing with it as I did at the start of October by simply turning off the world around me certainly isn’t an effective way of dealing with stress and burnout in the long-term.