Lonely Road: Managing Mental Health as a Long-Distance Driver

15 Oct 2021

Our recent Wellbeing Behind The Wheel post investigated the initiatives fleet businesses could take to improve their driver’s physical and mental health. But what can you do to help yourself if you’re a fleet driver?

Here, we’ll explore the things HGV drivers can do to manage their mental health.

How does driving affect your mental health?

There is an interplay between long-distance driving and mental health that works both ways. As a job, driving requires continuous concentration for hours at a time, often spent sat alone in the cab of a car, van or truck. It’s intensive, occasionally lonely and can be mentally taxing knowing that one lapse in alertness could cause a serious accident.

All of that can be taxing at the best of times. For those dealing with low mood, anxiety, depression, or even just a difficult day in their personal life, the demands of a long-distance driving job can be an added weight that makes those conditions worse.

In light of the recent pandemic and stresses around Brexit, it’s probably no wonder that 50% of haulage companies  are currently reporting wider instances of stress and other mental health issues. Likewise, mental health charity Mind has reported that up to 30% of work-related illnesses in the transport sector  are due to issues around mental health.

Speedometer with an arrow in human silhouette

On the brighter side

It’s certainly not all bad, though. Driving can be empowering and enjoyable, and the time spent alone, away from life’s troubles with only the radio for company, could even be considered peaceful.

It’s also not the kind of job you typically take home with you. When you’re a trucker, burning the midnight oil to prepare last-minute presentations to win investors or keep the business afloat isn’t the kind of pressure you’re going to be under.

Instead, getting your cargo from A to B in a safe, compliant and timely manner, is your raison d’être. The more experience you have doing that, the easier you’re likely to find it.

How long-distance drivers can manage mental health

With all of that said, these are the things truckers can do to manage their mental health when things do get tricky.

Sleep and eat well

The first of our self-care tips for HGV drivers is to treat your body like you would your vehicle. After all, you wouldn’t put the wrong fuel into your lorry or keep the engine running endlessly when it isn’t needed, would you? Getting a good seven to eight hours sleep every night and filling up on food that’s full of vitamins and minerals – rather than hard-to-digest fatty fast foods – will leave you feeling fresher and more alert for when you get behind the wheel.

Stay active

Speaking of being fresher and more alert – exercising regularly is also going to contribute to that feeling of wellness. It doesn’t have to be joining a gym (though many people enjoy that). It could be something as simple as going for daily walks in a local park, or taking up a new hobby that gets you out of the house. You could:

  • Play a sport like football, rugby or tennis
  • Take up a new activity like dancing, kayaking, yoga or bouldering
  • Or join a new social group (Meetup.com is especially good for this if you’re lost on where to begin).

Whatever you choose, keeping your body moving and connecting to other people once in a while will boost both your endorphins and your spirit.

Keep your cab tidy

Ever heard the phrase ‘tidy home, tidy mind?’ Well, your lorry or van’s cab is your home from home on your long journeys, so the same logic applies.

Chaotic environments are often the result of overly active minds full of stress and worry. By taking control of something as simple as tidying your immediate environment, you can also begin to take ownership of your thoughts. Decluttering your driving space can be the first step towards cleansing your mind and making your job enjoyable. From there, you might even want to place personal objects around the cab to really make it feel like yours.

Talk to someone

Man speaking to a therapist while she is listening to him attentively

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, the trucking industry’s macho image often doesn’t do its workers any favours when it comes to the mental health of its people. Holding in your frustrations because you’re worried how you’ll be perceived, whether it could affect your job security, or if your superiors will be able to support you, can create a vicious circle of negative thoughts and feelings. If your workplace has a built-in benefits package that offers access to free counselling services or similar, don’t be afraid to use it. If not, weigh up whether you can confide in your manager, and also consider seeking outside help from a counsellor or psychotherapist.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy can help you find someone local who can help you process your thoughts and feelings. Remember, seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness. If things are really on top of you, it can actually be the strongest thing you could possibly do.

Set personal goals and work towards them

If expressing your thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem the right path – or if you’ve done so and you’re looking to move forwards – then going after some personal goals can be both energising and confidence-building.

We’re not referring to job goals here, but to ones affecting your private life in any way that matters to you. It could be that you’ve lost touch with friends or loved ones and want to put that right. You might have a hobby you haven’t given any time to in months or years. Or this could be the time to get your life in order and learn a new skill, make a move to a new home, or even put heartbreak behind you and seek to meet someone new.

This might be a blog about helping you manage as a long-distance driver, but your job doesn’t define who you are when you aren’t behind the wheel – and working on your happiness away from work will help you in your professional life too.

How you want to do that is up to you, but to really take the initiative, you could consider working with a coach who can help you get clear on your goals and how to move forwards with them. If that appeals, the Life Coach Directory can help you find the right one for you.

Helping with every aspect of fleet management

So that’s our blog on managing mental health as a long-distance driver, and the five things truckers can do to manage their mental health. Which of our suggestions will you be doing first?

At SG Fleet, we have a wealth of experience helping fleet businesses manage every aspect of their operations – including their driver’s safety, training, and even their mental health.

If your workplace needs a wellbeing strategy that can support your drivers now and in the future, we’ll be happy to advise. Give us a call on 0844 854 5100 or email CSalmon@sgfleet.com.