Over-the-road driving stressors are undeniable: long hours behind the wheel, tight deadlines, being away from home, just to name a few.
Short of quitting your job, there’s really no way to remove most of these, but experts say you can reduce the amount of stress you feel. And it can have a positive effect on other areas of your health.
“Our mental, physical and emotional health … are inextricably linked,” says Margie Warrell, author of Find Your Courage and holder of a graduate degree in psychology. “You can’t have one not healthy and expect the others to be operating well. Stress is absolutely linked to our physical state of being as well.”
Dr. Stuart Reeves, director of research and development for Embria Health Services and author of The Key to a Healthy Immune System, says people often overlook the way stress affects the overall human body. “Any form of stress will adversely affect a human being’s immune system,” he says. “Obviously a trucker’s life has stress coming out the ears.”
Reeves says two major problems that can come about because of job-related stress for truckers are heart problems and joint pain, which can eventually lead to arthritis. But he says the immune system can be affected even to the point where common illnesses can get you down. “You’re much more likely to come down with things like coughs, colds, flu,” and more, he says.
Warrell says the various stressors placed on a driver create a tough cycle. “Truckers often find themselves strained,” she says, “which lowers their ability to cope with stressors.”
Both Reeves and Warrell say they see two easy ways truck drivers can help their bodies cope with the stresses of being on the road: Eat healthier and exercise.
“[Truckers] are really in a bind, because some of the classic advice for strengthening your immune system is to reduce stress, get exercise and eat properly, three things I would imagine it’s very difficult for truckers to do,” Reeves says. “I would suggest that if they can’t eat as well … and if they are aging, multivitamins are something that can do them no harm and might do them some good.
“When they are stopping, if they can get some exercise — just walking around the truckstop for 10-20 minutes can help because it does two things: It gives you exercise, and it turns the brain off. Taking vacations, whether they be two-week vacations with the family or 10-minute vacations where you’re just walking and letting your mind drift, are really good ways of helping reduce stress.”
Warrell says even five minutes of walking can help “bolster the body’s ability to cope with stressors that are an innate part of [truckers’] jobs. … That’s a really healthy thing to do for them both physically and mentally.” She says drivers don’t have to make drastic changes to their exercise or eating habits to see some relief — it can take as little effort as becoming mindful of portion sizes, eating meals at the same time each day and taking a few minutes in the parking lot to get the blood flowing. Warrell suggests stretching, pushups or squats.
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