It’s an uncertain time in our country, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we try to slow the spread of coronavirus and close the doors of nonessential businesses, many people have transitioned to working from home, while others have been out of work entirely. Then there are truckers and other workers in the transportation industry who continue to do their job everyday, ensuring that hospitals receive medical supplies and grocery stores are stocked with food and other necessities.
While the rest of the nation shelters in place, transport drivers are out there working, adding additional anxiety to an already stressful job. So what can truckers do to take care of their mental wellbeing during COVID-19? While there is no perfect solution, there are a number of steps which can help drivers maintain their mental health while on the road during the ongoing pandemic:
1. Forget the Stigma: For whatever reason, people don’t like to talk about mental health, despite it being a totally normal part of life. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental health issue in a given year, and over half of all Americans will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Your brain is the most complex organ in your body, so it makes perfect sense that it needs occasional check-ups and treatment just as much as any other body part. That reality includes truckers, which means you should ignore the stigma and be willing to honestly evaluate your mental well-being and take the steps you need to stay healthy and happy.
2. Facts Over Sensationalism: In today’s fast-paced digital world, people often share information without verifying its accuracy, which can lead to confusion and anxiety. If you want to know about coronavirus, don’t look to what people may be posting on social media; instead, go straight to the CDC’s coronavirus webpage. We’ve recently outlined recommendations for fighting COVID-19 on the road, which you can read here.
3. Don’t Obsess: While it is good to be informed about coronavirus, the CDC also notes that repeatedly hearing about the pandemic can be upsetting. If you are feeling especially stressed about COVID-19, they recommend that you take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.
4. Stay Connected: Positive relationships are one of the biggest predictors of life-satisfaction and happiness, as well as physical health and total life expectancy, so staying connected to friends and family is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. Steps for maintaining relationships as a trucker can include making phone calls, using social media, and sending postcards and letters. We’ve previously written about staying connected on the road here.
5. Bring a Buddy: You don’t always have to sit alone in the cab. Some people choose to drive as a team, including married couples, parents and children, siblings, and friends. You can read our previous discussion of trucking partners here. Or, if you can’t convince a human friend to join you, consider man’s best friend. Taking your dog on the road can provide companionship, stress relief, and opportunities to exercise and meet new people. We’ve broken down everything you need to know about sharing the cab with a dog here.
6. Take Care of Your Body: The mind and body are intimately linked, each affecting the other, and a healthy body contributes to a clearer mind. Intentional efforts, like preparing healthy food, investing in a good pair of walking shoes, and staying showered and well-groomed, can make a world of difference in giving you energy and helping you feel good about yourself. Meanwhile, taking appropriate precautions against COVID-19 while on the road can help you feel at ease that your body is protected against infection, lowering your stress levels.
7. Get Some Sleep: For peak brain and body functioning (including peace of mind during the ongoing pandemic) medical experts recommend that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. To get the best sleep, avoid stimulants too close to bedtime, do some light exercise during the day, have a pre-sleep routine, and find your ideal levels of temperature and light. From time-to-time, you can also consider getting a hotel room to really relax outside of the cab. We’ve previously written about sufficient sleep for truckers here.
8. Keep Your Mind Active: Instead of getting bored or dwelling on thoughts about COVID-19, keep your mind alert and active by rolling down a window, singing along to your favorite song, engaging in some CB chatter, and/or planning out quality breaks. We’ve provided a full list of tips for staying bright-eyed behind the wheel here.
9. Don’t Self-Medicate: Some people think they can cure themselves of mental issues by overindulging in alcohol or drugs. While some believe they may provide momentary relief from a mental illness, substance abuse actually makes mental health issues worse and can additionally lead to crippling dependency and addiction. Add the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the mix, and self-medicating is a choice truckers should avoid at all costs. If you have a problem with substance abuse, please seek out more information and treatment.
10. Talk to a Pro: Mental health check-ups and treatment are just as normal as going to the dentist or the doctor. If stress or anxiety about coronavirus is interfering with your ability to live a quality life, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional. Counseling, therapy, and regulated prescriptions are all possible solutions to mental illness which you can’t get without seeking help. It can be hard to know where to begin, so start by talking with your usual primary care doctor. They will be able to assess any physical issues and help you decide what type of mental health professional you should visit.
Our last note is not only about you, but also about your family members, friends, coworkers, and employees: remember that mental illness can affect anyone. When speaking with others, including fellow drivers, do your part to help destigmatize mental health and treatment. It’s a normal part of life, and if we talk about it that way, people will be more willing to get the treatment they need. When you’re open and willing to encourage people to take care of themselves, you contribute to building a better industry and a healthier world — something we should all work towards during the COVID-19 pandemic.