Dealing with the physical effects of daily stress doesn’t have to be ‘bucking a stacked deck’

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Updated Feb 20, 2020

January is in the books. It’s probably safe to return to the gym — it’s likely not over-run, given New Year’s resolutions for so many have typically gone by the wayside or run their course by now. In your case, though, I hope you’ve had success in your own personal vow to eat healthier, get more exercise, take a little time to enjoy life, whatever the case may be.

For too many of us in trucking, work can become the singular way of life. When I climbed into a truck in ’93, I never dreamed I would lose the next twelve years of my life to the job — it just came and went, so fast. It was like I laid down and closed my eyes one night and, when I woke up, I was 12 years older and about 100 pounds heavier — and a whole lot more personally poor.

Like the years, relationships seemed to fall by the roadside, too.

As for me, I gave up making New Year’s resolutions because I found Christ. I try to spend every day attempting to make my own life better. Where I can, I try to extend that assistance to others, too. So when I see my fellow trucker trying to make his or her family’s life better but failing to take care of No. 1, I want to help. Wherever it’s coming from (and there are many places), the stress drivers experience is real, and I’ve written about common stressors before. For so many, figuring out where to start or deciding whether to bother with it at all can seem as if it’s like bucking a stacked deck.

I recently came across Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and her “TED Talk,” delivered some years ago, on what she had termed ACEs. The ACE acronym stands for “adverse childhood events,” and Harris has for several years been trying to get the word out about how ACEs affect our physical health. She noticed that kids coming into her clinic were exhibiting ADHD, asthma, diabetes, obesity and other metabolic symptoms. When she began to link these to stressors in the children’s lives, she started putting two and two together and searching for answers.

She thought she had finally found a breakthrough in 1998 when she came across a study that told her she was on the right path: of 17,000 participants in this particular long-range research effort, researchers discovered that 67% suffered from at least one ACE and 12% four or more. Researchers determined that “a person with four or more ACEs was twice as likely to develop heart disease and cancer and three and a half times as likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a person with zero ACEs,” as Harris wrote in her 2018 book, “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity.”

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What does all this have to do with truckers? The key factor is stress, and how it affects our mental and physical health. I have written about the high probability for mental health issues among our cohort, given the many stressors and the reality that around 18 percent of all Americans experience some sort of issue. Discovering Harris’s work and research on ACEs, it seems clear how chronic or toxic stress can affect physical health, too. Take a look around: It’s not much of a leap to conclude many drivers are bucking a stacked deck when it comes to stress and health. Understanding how to combat stress and address its biological effects is the only way we can help ourselves live longer, healthier lives.

There’s a lot that can be done on that score. My best advice might be to read Harris’s book. There, she does a very good job explaining how stress hormones affect the body, and how different traumas can create toxic stress issues that will affect your health. Find her TED Talk, given to a room full of doctors and which I believe ultimately fell upon deaf ears, below:

Why is this important? Today, not everyone knows enough about ACEs to recommend screening for them, and until it becomes the norm, we will continue to see higher health care costs and shorter lives as a result. Second, having listened to Kevin Rutherford for the last four years and hearing so much about the health issues he attempts to help drivers overcome in his “Destination Health” segment on his radio show, Facebook group, and now the Healthy Tribe app, it is clear that stress is a major issue many drivers face.

Finally, I hope knowledge of the effects of ACEs and chronic stress can help prevent passing such a legacy on. If not addressed, such a legacy might end up part and parcel of those lives that follow our own into adulthood, at no fault of their own. This is what we in the Christian faith may call breaking the chains of generational curses.

We do not have to buck a stacked deck. With knowledge we can change the game. Battling stress begins with good nutrition, breathing and relaxation techniques, meditation, and wisdom. There is no reason to age faster simply because of the job and added stressors experienced daily. The life you may extend could be your own, and your child’s.

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