December 05, 2022
The conversation around mental health has opened up in recent years, especially with the post-COVID concerns. The stigma is dissolving and a broader awareness around how to manage treatment in men and women, young adults and even kids has been introduced to the mainstream, but the issue is still pervasive, and the trucking industry is not immune.
In fact, truck drivers are more susceptible than most especially during the holiday season. Seasonal stressors are a challenge that truck drivers face from November through January and even into early March. We’d like to take some time to bring more awareness to the challenges our nation's drivers face and how to help.
In America, 1.5% of the population suffers from depression, especially professional truckers with 13.6% suffering from some level of depression, according to Healthy Trucking of America. And that can increase significantly during the holidays. According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. — CCJ.com
The nature of the job is fraught with challenges and many of them can lead to anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns and fatigue are some of the main factors leading to poor mental health conditions. Sitting in the cab of a truck for long periods of time gives drivers a lot of time to think. Things like financial or family issues can seem to be compounded. Social isolation can make any worry seem insurmountable. If untreated, seasonal depression can lead to bigger mental health conditions.
The good news is that these symptoms can be easily addressed and treated. Feeling depressed or anxious during the holidays should not be an occupational hazard. There are ways to combat seasonal depression and loneliness while on the road and those measures can be taken by the truckers and the companies that employ them. Helping truck drivers navigate the pressures during the holiday season is key to a healthy and successful season for everyone.
Consistent communications: establish a routine on the phone, facetime, zoom, or WhatsApp to ensure you are connecting with family, loves ones, or colleagues. Consistent connections and conversations will create a steady and comforting foundation. Additionally, have photos on hand to create a tangible connection with your loved ones while on the road.
Exercise as often as possible: Besides the benefit to your physical health, exercise increases dopamine and serotonin levels which will keep depression at bay.
Vitamin D: Whether it is the natural kind from the sun or supplements, vitamin D is especially critical for seasonal depression, and you should get as much as possible. Even light therapy can be beneficial if you are affected by a lack of light in the winter months.
Social Interactions: Connect with the local community that you are in. Stay positive, avoid negative news radio or TV and make an effort to engage with people at least once a day. Even a hello at the truck stop can help you stay connected and stave off loneliness.
Diet and Sleep: Drink lots of water and eat healthy meals when they are on the road. Try to get consistent sleep before driving. If possible, take breaks during long drives to mitigate fatigue and depression.
Keep your mind clear: Meditation can help you relax. Mindfulness meditation helps to focus on the present moment instead of negativity and worry that can spiral leading to stress and anxiety. Podcasts or audiobooks can help take attention away from worry as well.
Trucking companies can also help to keep their drivers healthy by setting consistent check-ins to make sure communication is constant. Creating a culture of connections is key and making an effort to get drivers home for the holidays can add to a positive culture. Having empathy and letting your drivers know that they are cared for and supported can be the difference during these vulnerable months.
The holidays can be filled with joy but for those who struggle with their mental health, the holidays are not necessarily the most wonderful time of the year. We can all help though. Make a concerted effort to engage in positive conversation with a truck driver. Wave as you pass them on the road and never take what they do for granted. Truck drivers are the backbone of our country, and our holiday season would be nothing without them.