May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, created to bring attention to mental health conditions like substance abuse and addiction, postpartum and other forms of depression, bipolar disorder, self-harm, suicide, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and anxiety.
But mental health conditions aren’t always limited to mental symptoms. Poor mental health can affect us in physical ways, such as insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, skin conditions like hives, lack of energy, and aches and pains. Many of us might not recognize physical symptoms as mental health concerns. Yet according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five U.S. adults suffers from mental illness each year.
Mental Health Equals Safety
Mental health is important for everyone of all races and genders, in all careers and all walks of life. But for some occupations, like professional tank truck drivers, good mental health is essential for maintaining an alert mind for safety.
Naturally, anyone who spends a lot of time on the road needs to maintain good mental health while operating a vehicle. But when that vehicle is a 79,000-pound bulk liquid tanker full of chemicals? Good mental health and stability is absolutely crucial for the driver’s safety as well as the safety of the environment and everyone else on the road.
Exhaustion and lack of sleep are common concerns among professional truck drivers, but they’re not the only ones. Being distracted by emotional concerns or stressed about life situations can affect a truck driver’s mind. Here are seven mental health tips for truck drivers.
7 Mental Health Tips for Truck Drivers on the GoGet enough sleep, in quantity and quality.
Getting enough rest doesn’t just mean eight hours a night. Eight hours of restless sleep doesn’t qualify as a good night’s rest—and you might be one of those people who only need six hours to be rested and refreshed. Know what works for you and strive to maintain it every day. And never underestimate the rejuvenating factors of a power nap! Most importantly, if you’re drowsy, pull over. Your safety is a priority.
Among the ways that releasing endorphins can improve our moods as well as our health, laughing with friends is surely the most fun. Take a moment to share a quick joke with a friend, watch a funny video online, or even laugh at yourself. There are a lot of ways to see joy and humor in life if you look for them.
Maintain active community ties.
Being a professional truck driver usually requires a lot of hours on the road, alone. Having and staying in contact with your community of friends and family helps maintain a good mental outlook and avoid loneliness. If you stop at certain businesses and truck stops regularly, take note of the names of people who work there and make a connection each time you stop. Show interest in their day—or tell them a joke!
When you revisit those people you see regularly, ask how they’re doing. Helping others maintain good mental health can boost your own at the same time. If you meet a young new truck driver, lend an ear or offer advice in a friendly way. This helps remind you of your strengths while building a connection and helping others. Solving problems—yours or someone else’s—is similar to checking tasks off a list. It provides a boost of natural, healthy dopamine in your brain. That begins a positive cycle, as dopamine (much like endorphins) can improve sleep, alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, decrease appetite to maintain a healthy weight, and improve your self image. According to WebMD, dopamine “helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting.”
Problems at work that go unresolved can affect your mental health and create frustration, anger, and other distress. Use Highway Transport’s C.A.R.E. program to share concerns or issues in the workplace and reach out to Human Resources for help. Outside of work, try to keep lines of communication open. If you are having trouble in a relationship, be heard there, too. Try to communicate to resolve issues. If it goes beyond what you can handle yourself, reach out to Highway’s employee assistance program (EAP) for free professional help.
It’s satisfying to check things off a to-do list, isn’t it? (See number 4, above.) Setting and achieving goals—even small ones—is a great way to give yourself a little mental boost anytime. Maybe you want to cut out unhealthy snacks on the road, walk 30 minutes each day, pack healthier lunches, or take a daily multivitamin. Regularly achieving small tasks like these boosts your brain with endorphins, which improve mental health. Achieving goals also helps you remain positive, which is another tip for good mental health.
Keep rolling strong.
Highway Transport provides drivers and all employees with a subscription to Rolling Strong, a program that helps truck drivers improve overall health, pass their DOT exams, and more. Rolling Strong provides drivers with guidance about meals, exercise, and sleep, and includes direct access to Rolling Strong health coaches. Watch Rolling Strong Coach Tanya guide you through some basic steps to improve mental health and wellness.
The Number One Tip for Mental Health: Ask for Help
All of these tips are essential, but the most important step toward good mental health for truck drivers (and anyone, really) is to be willing to ask for help. There are many resources available (see a few, below), but also consider asking a friend, coworker, religious leader, or medical professional for help. Even something as simple as saying you need help and having a conversation about it can go a long way to improving your mental health.
Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) are special clinics that provide mental health and substance abuse services to everyone, regardless of their insurance status. There are more than 500 CCBHCs in 46 states, Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., and Guam. Find a CCBHC near you.
Complete an online screening from Mental Health Alliance (MHA) to see if you’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.
Contact the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine Monday through Friday, 10am to 10pm ET. You can call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text "HelpLine" to 62640, or email [email protected].
Header image courtesy of SAMHSA.