6 ways to maintain mental health on the road

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Driving a truck can be a lonely job. It’s all too easy for mental health challenges to creep up on a trucker as the miles roll by.

Mieka Forte, a clinical director and registered psychotherapist with the Therapy Collective, says there are several steps truck drivers can take to maintain mental health on the job.

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Mieka Forte, clinical director and registered psychotherapist, The Therapy Collective, in Milton, Ont. (Photo: Leo Barros)

1. Watch for the warning signs

Sometimes depression is associated with sadness, but this is not always the case. Red flags can also include things like a lack of interest in getting together with family or friends, Forte says. Drivers who have faced traumatic experiences such as crashes might experience flashbacks and constantly expect the worst, always scanning to see where potential danger lies.

The issues become problematic when drivers always wake up distressed, feel overwhelmed, experience heart palpitations, or live with a constant sense of stress and tension.

2. Tackle the isolation

Some people are happy with small social circles, while others will prefer more connections. But those who are isolated from these connections can experience symptoms of depression or anxiety.

There might be several underlying reasons. Some drivers, for example, face these symptoms because of biological or even genetic factors, Forte says.

One way to alleviate the isolation is to reduce the number of days on the road. Setting aside specific time to call family, friends, and colleagues while away from home can help, too.

3. Ground yourself in the five senses

If drivers find themselves overthinking things, Forte says they can use all five senses to ground themselves. It involves asking: What are five things you see, four things you hear, three things you smell, two things you taste, and one thing you feel.

The process helps bring the truck driver back into the present. That’s important because the underlying stresses may be linked to the future or the past.

4. Care for the body and mind

Biological, psychological and social factors all have a role to play in mental health.

Biological factors, for example, include sleep, movement, and exercise. It’s why carving out an hour to go to the gym or walking for 20 minutes a day can help, Forte says. Eating at regular intervals makes its own difference because skipping meals can put the brain into a distress mode, she adds. Staying hydrated is also important, and water will be a better alternative than pop or juice.

As for maximizing sleep, Forte recommends turning off the phone an hour before going to sleep, to avoid visual stimulation. Something that generates white noise can improve the quality of sleep in a noisy truck stop or rest area, too.

Breathing and grounding exercises will also help to manage stress, as can other mindfulness practices that help re-establish a sense of calm, she adds.

Another thing to consider is to carry things in the truck that offer reminders of home, Forte says. Food choices can connect drivers to the people they love as well.

5. Move past the macho mentality

Most truck drivers are men, and sometimes there is a stigma around reaching for help and talking about feelings. Men need to recognize it’s OK to have those feelings, Forte says. It takes courage to reach out for help – and there are clinical practices that specialize in mental health for men, so they feel safer.

6. Recognize help is a call or click away

Mental health resources are available through government departments and non-profit agencies as well as family doctors. Some clinical practices even offer sliding scales of fees or bursaries, covering session costs. And drivers can find clinical practices that recognize cultural sensitivities and hotlines that are specific to their issues, Forte says.

Further information is available from the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

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Leo Barros is the associate editor of Today’s Trucking. He has been a journalist for more than two decades, holds a CDL and has worked as a longhaul truck driver. Reach him at leo@newcom.ca

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