Depression: Help yourself

| December 04, 2001

Much of the counsel for overcoming depression involves practices and attitudes that are common to basic mental and physical health. Here are recommendations by the National Institutes of Mental Health and other experts:

Find someone to talk to. Long-haul truckers in particular need a friendly ear, says Rodney Lowman, a workplace psychology expert and professor at the California School of Professional Psychology. “As a male you are expected to keep your feelings to yourself,” Lowman says. “You feel like you are inadequate if you have those feelings.”

If you can’t take someone with you on the road, try to be sociable when you are around others, whether at truck stops, your carrier’s headquarters or the docks.

When you’re home, increase the quality of contact with people you care about. Don’t plead tiredness all the time; participate in activities with your family and friends. Find trustworthy people to confide in.

Exercise regularly. Even a mild workout – a long walk or a short run around the truck stop or calisthenics you can do in your cab – if done three or four times a week, does wonders. Not only does it improve your overall health, which itself counters depression, but exercise temporarily releases seratonin into your system, which boosts good feelings.

When you’re home, get the rest you need, but don’t overlook exercise. If hard-core workouts such as running or weight lifting turn you off, find something recreational that you enjoy, such as swimming, golfing or biking.

Watch what you eat. “It’s amazing how much proper diet helps, especially when fighting depression,” says Harold “Bud” Clapp, executive director of College Heights Christian Counseling in Joplin, Mo.

Eating better improves your self-esteem, says the Rev. Joseph Hunter, founder and president of Truckstop Ministries. “Truckers often eat a large meal, then feel heavy and bad about themselves,” Hunter says.

Avoid the all-you-can-eat truck stop buffet, which encourages you to overeat. Generally, stick to a diet of fruits, vegetables, fish and white meat. Avoid anything fried, meats with fatty sauces and salty snack food.

Herbal or dietary supplements can help, but check with your physician first.

Quit obsessing. Jerry Downs, Transport for Christ chaplain at Sapp Bros. Truck Stop in Denver, says long-haul truckers are in a perfect position to magnify their misery: “If you have a problem and you sit and think about it for 10 to 12 hours straight, the problem gets bigger and bigger.”

Ralph Desmarais, a lumber truck driver turned author, agrees. “This takes the familiar form of merciless self-criticism, sometimes with accompanying obsessive thoughts that can torment a driver endlessly,” Desmarais says.

The purpose of therapy is to get you out of such ruts, to solve problems rather than endlessly churn them, says Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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