Driver Ambassador: Are You Staying Mentally Fit?
by Kellylynn McLaughlin, on Jun 15, 2021 3:49:58 PM
Take a listen to the podcast version below.
As those in the trucking industry know, the Post-Trip Inspection is a time to check and see if anything has changed with your equipment since you began your trip and if there are any items that need to be addressed before continuing on down the road. It’s a time to reflect, assess, and plan what’s next.
May was Mental Health Awareness Month. Surprisingly, May was given this designation/honor many years ago in 1949 by Mental Health America. The theme for this year’s awareness campaign was Tools 2 Thrive. I know it’s June, but I wanted to continue the discussion about this super important issue and the Tools 2 Thrive theme resonated with me. I love having the right tool.
When you hear the words mental health, what comes to mind? It is a feeling? Maybe an image of someone? It is a topic you feel comfortable talking about? Is it an illness? Is it real? A weakness maybe? What is mental health? My extended family lost a wonderful young man this May to suicide and, like a lot of families, I have several family members that struggle with depression - so their faces are currently what appear in my mind when I think about mental health.
I can tell you that I believe mental health is something we all struggle with at some point in our lives. It is nothing to be embarrassed to talk about or ignored. In fact, it is also inevitably linked to our whole healthy self - physically and mentally.
As a professional driver who works long hours performing a stressful job, maintaining a healthy body and mind is crucial. Many times I’ve talked about my approaches and the tools I use to maintain my health in various blogs and vlogs, so you know it is something that’s always on my mind.
I recently ran across a joint study published during May by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) which concluded working over 55 hours a week increases our risk of death. It definitely got my attention, peaked my interest and got me thinking about professional drivers’ work schedules and the impact on our health.
While this study looked only at incidents of heart disease and stroke, I was thinking about the impact on one’s mental health as well when working over 55 hours a week. Excessive overtime is something North American professional drivers are expected to perform as our work week is 70 hours. WHO and ILO estimate “exposure to long working hours (≥55 hours/week) is common and causes large attributable burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke. Protecting and promoting occupational and workers’ safety and health requires interventions to reduce hazardous long working hours”.
The issue of work hours and the requirement that drivers work overtime is a much bigger industry wide discussion that I won’t get into here - I just wanted to highlight the connection to long work hours and health. It’s imperative that we drivers prioritize taking care of our selves if we want to survive to old age in this challenging work environment.
Luckily, many business have been created to help drivers find their healthy selves in our demanding industry. I am a member of Fit To Pass and have found that I like and benefit from having a health coach and that I like participating in their health challenges. My mental health is closely tied to my physical health and I’m working hard to get stronger and be more fit. I know that I can better deal with the emotional curve balls life throws at me if I am feeling strong and healthy.
One of our WIT members, Tanya Jolliffe who founded LiT Wellness Solutions, shared the following with me related to mental health, “Understanding emotions and feelings are key to positive mental health. Emotions are triggered by past events that cause a host of responses and the feelings are the things that come after and what impact our thoughts and how we replay things over and over again. Negative thoughts and feelings can cause us to spiral into more and more of the same, which can leave us feeling totally defeated.” I have experienced those feelings and believe that it takes self awareness and inner strength to not let ourselves go down the swirling drain of negativity on a bad day…and we all have bad days on occasion. Tanya shared with me a link to free resources to pass on to our readers.
Strive for happiness in your life and to find ways to take care of yourself. No one and no family is immune from mental health struggles.
Here are some ideas to try that I have found helpful when striving to for mental fitness.
- Find a community and get involved whether is it a Healthy Professional Driver FaceBook group, church, friend group, your family, etc.
- Reach out to your support groups on those “rough road” days.
- Tanya mentioned that taking Vitamin D and staying hydrated assists with mental clarity. I take Vitamin D and several other vitamins daily to help stay healthy.
- Get out and go for a walk or exercise, eat good healthy groceries, find and acknowledge your happy moment of the day.
- Put some fun in your day - I practice different accents while driving down the road and have aspirations to teach myself to yodel lol!
- Know when you need to take a break from work - and take it.
- Find interesting places to take your breaks.
- Develop strong working relationships with your peers and supervisors - which is proven to be important in fostering a happy work environment.
- Keep up with your personal hygiene - sometimes fancy nails, a long warm shower, clean fresh clothes or a haircut can really flip your day around to the shiny side.
- When I am home, I really try to be “present” and engage in quality time with those I care about.
- Continuing to develop and grow your professional career can also lead you towards a path of strength.
- Remember to breathe! Breathing puts oxygen in your blood system which is carried to your brain and you can think more clearly.
- Recognize the swirling trap of negative thinking and squish it like a bug.
Lastly, do not be hesitant to take advantage of mental health resources available to you. Many people don’t reach out for help because they don’t know where to look.
- Talk to your primary care health provider.
- Ask your employer if mental health employee assistance programs are offered.
- Here is a link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- This is a link to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or you can call the Referral Helpline at 1-877-726-4727.
We have several avenues to comment and share your thoughts on this blog. We would love to hear from you.
As a member of the Women In Trucking Association, stay on top of emerging trends and business issues impacting transportation, logistics, and supply chain operations, learn the importance of gender diversity in the workplace and the need for more women drivers, and see best practices in encouraging the employment of women in the trucking industry. Learn More