6 ways to keep your sanity on the road

Driving a truck can be a lonely job. When spending several days on the road, truckers easily face mental health issues as the miles tick by.

Mieka Forte, a licensed psychotherapist and director of clinical services at the collaborative practice Therapy Collective, says truckers can take several steps to maintain their mental health on the job.

1. Watch for warning signs

Depression is sometimes associated with sadness, but this is not always the case. Red flags can also include things like a lack of interest in gatherings with family or friends, Forte says. Drivers who have been through traumatic experiences such as accidents may have flashbacks and constantly expecting the worst, always looking for potential dangers.

The situation becomes problematic when drivers always wake up anxious, feel overwhelmed, have heart palpitations or live with a constant feeling of stress and tension.

2. Fight isolation

Some people are content with small social circles, while others prefer to have more contacts. But those who are isolated from loved ones may show symptoms of depression or anxiety.

There may be several underlying reasons. Some drivers, for example, experience these symptoms due to biological or even genetic factors, Forte says.

One way to alleviate isolation is to reduce the number of days spent on the road. It can also be useful to set aside time to call family, friends and colleagues when away from home.

(photo : iStock)

3. Ground yourself in reality through the five senses

If drivers tend to overthink things, Ms. Forte advises them to use their five senses to ground themselves in reality. To help you do this, identify: five things you see, four things you hear, three things you smell, two things you taste and one thing you feel.

This process brings the trucker back to the present. This is important because the underlying concerns may relate to the future or to the past.

5. Take care of 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. That’s why, according to Ms. Forte, it can be useful to set aside an hour to go to the gym or to walk 20 minutes a day. Eating at regular intervals can help because skipping meals can put the brain into distress mode, she adds. It is also important to stay hydrated, and water will be a better alternative than soft drinks or juice.

To optimize sleep, Ms. Forte recommends turning off the phone an hour before falling asleep, to avoid visual stimulation. A device that generates white noise can also improve sleep quality in a noisy rest area or truck stop.

Breathing and grounding exercises also help manage stress, as do other mindfulness practices that help restore a sense of calm, she adds.

Another thing to consider would be bringing items in the truck that are reminiscent of home, Ms. Forte continues. Food choices can also bring drivers closer to the people they love.

5. Ditch the macho mentality

Most truckers 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.

Most truck drivers are men, and there is sometimes a stigma associated with seeking help and talking about your feelings. Men need to recognize that it’s okay to have these feelings, says Ms. Forte. It takes courage to ask for help – and there are clinics that specialize in men’s mental health, to make them feel safer.

6. Know that help is at hand

Mental health resources are available from government departments and not-for-profit organizations, including family physicians. Some clinical practices offer decreasing rates or scholarships covering the cost of the sessions. Drivers can also find firms that recognize cultural sensitivities and helplines that are specific to their issues, Forte said.

Further information is available from the Canadian Mental Health Association (www.cmha.ca), and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (www.camh.ca).

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