Depression: Help yourself

| December 04, 2001

Do things for others. Owner-operator Tony Sellars fights depression by helping his father and other family members with carpentry and home improvement. Giving yourself to those in need, whether it’s doing odd jobs as Sellars does or lending an ear to someone with emotional problems, helps you forget your own struggles.

Don’t blame others. Depressed truckers are quick to find someone to blame for their lack of joy, says G. Gerald Carter, president of Alabama-based Carter & Associates, which provides personnel development services.

“There’s a very high percentage of introverted truckers who let things build up, and the frustration level becomes enormous,” Carter says. “One who can adapt to different situations in life handles it better.”

Assert control where you can. Being assertive helps a depressed person lift himself up a bit, says Patrick Doyle, executive director of the Eagan Council Clinic in Eagan, Minn. That means being firm, for example, when returning a purchase, but not becoming angry and verbally abusive. Just because you don’t have authority over your carrier’s staff doesn’t mean you can’t communicate professionally and forcefully about your schedule, settlements and other matters of importance.

Take care of your personal appearance. When you’re on the road for days, it’s easy to ignore how you look. That’s a mistake. Knowing you look good and getting the respect that a professional appearance wins from strangers will make you feel better.

“Shave,” advises Hunter. “Take care of yourself. That 10 minutes pays off.”

Avoid negative people. If the truck stop bull session turns poisonous, it’s time to ask for your check. When voices on the CB are abusive, change channels or turn it off. Chronic complainers want to bring others down to their level, not provide the upbeat outlook that a depressed person needs.

Get enough sleep. Irregular sleep and inadequate sleep – both of which plague long-haul truckers – contribute to depression. Do all you can to arrange your schedule so you can get the sleep you need. If that’s impossible, consider another carrier that’s more considerate of its owner-operators’ needs.

Don’t wait until you are excessively fatigued to nap, advises Martin Moore-Ede, head of Circadian Technologies, a consulting firm. “A 20-minute nap is very effective,” he says. “A 45-minute nap can leave you more tired.” Other ways of improving your sleep include making your sleeper as dark as possible, eating healthier, exercising and trying to eat and sleep on a regular schedule.

Stay healthy. The rate of depression in people with some chronic illnesses, especially cancer, heart disease and diabetes, is 25 to 50 percent, according to a 1996 article in American Family Physician. Because depression is a side effect of some medications, even a minor health problem can fuel depression.

Treat yourself to things you enjoy. While in the cab, listen to your favorite music or an audiobook. When time allows, get away from the truck stop to eat at a restaurant or visit a local attraction.

Former owner-operator Don Kiefer took breaks from the trucking life while on the road. “I tried to make my life as normal as possible,” he says. “I would find some place to park and go to the movies.”

Get a pet. Studies indicate that pets boost morale. Consider taking a pet on the road if your carrier allows it. Getting a dog helped trucker Marcus Gann, says his wife Michelle. “It made a world of difference,” she says. “It’s just that bond.”

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