No matter what Punxsutawney Phil said, winter is almost over

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Updated Feb 26, 2022

Some time ago I was asked to write about SAD and how truckers can address it. That’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that usually begins in the fall and continues through the winter months. Being someone who has fought depression in the past, I thought I might address it for those who also fight the good fight.

While symptoms of SAD often work themselves out come spring or summer, many of us battle depression throughout the year. Yes, you do not have to be suffering from SAD to be depressed. Depression will sap your energy, make you moody, increase your anxiety, and make the job of driving truck harder while increasing the likelihood of burnout.

[Related: Burnout: How to recognize it’s stoking and steer yourself toward greener pastures]

These symptoms could be in your head, and by that I don’t mean in your imagination. They might be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Yet they could just as likely be a result of the season, lack of exercise or what you eat. As I’ve written before, your gut health can and does affect how you think, and how efficient your brain functions. That is to say, the enteric nervous system (i.e., your gut) is directly connected to your brain by the millions of neurons that comprise it. Your gastrointestinal tract includes a number of neurons similar to that in the spinal cord. Many believe the gut-brain connection can mean psychological and emotional issues can be facilitated through gastrointestinal distress.

Why you get that queasy feeling when you have to give someone bad news or make a decision on big purchases. Why your hands sweat on a first date, the butterflies in the stomach before the big game. Even loose stools when you are stressed.

Importance of the gut extends beyond just neurons relaying messages – consider the untold number of microorganisms working on your behalf. While some of these stimulate physical and mental health, others might drive disorders and disease. It becomes vitally important to eat healthy and consider a quality probiotic (meant to improve health of beneficial microorganisms).

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Out on the road, fast food offers convenience at low cost, and often tastes very good, yet many researchers have established link between such foods’ ingredients and higher levels of inflammation in the body -- and increased levels of depression.

[Related: My way of eating for better long-term physical/mental health]

Furthermore, in one large study, researchers found that people having a consistent diet of fast food were 40% more likely to develop depression or were more vulnerable to depressive symptoms.   

Even though most truckers I know make it a point to save this next indulgence for when they are at home, alcohol is another culprit increasing symptoms of depression. Yet it is available in plenty truck stops, so my suggestion is that if you are having symptoms of depression, leave alcohol alone at least until you get your head and gut on track.

Also: Personally, and as I’ve written about before, as someone with chronic PTSD (and depression being one symptom of that disease), I have eliminated refined grains and most processed sugars and artificial sweeteners (all linked by some researchers to greater depression incidence) entirely from my diet. I’ve seen a significant improvement from doing so. In fact, having been grain-free now for more than two years I have never felt healthier or happier. As I wrote about two years ago following a discussion of Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Grain Brain” book:

Here’s what I’ve been doing: Whatever the diet, every time you put something in your mouth, ask yourself the following question. 'Is this meat, egg, vegetable, fish, or nuts and seeds?' If not, I don’t eat it. I have been eating this way for a year now, and my food expenditure on the road has gone from $250 a week to about $75 a week, so it can be done on the road.

Again personally, having almost completely eliminated sugar and soda from my diet, I have experience less stress, more energy and lost weight (more than 100 pounds). I feel much healthier and happier.

While the on-highway lifestyle may contribute to depression with lack of sleep, isolation or increased stress levels from dealing with traffic, weather, breakdowns, bosses, family issues, and money …. we don’t have to increase the risk or amplify the symptoms by how we eat.

What you put in your gut matters, both now and in the long term. Simply making healthier choices like eating more leafy greens, berries, seafood, and a good quality olive oil can contribute to a healthier gut, decreasing levels of inflammation and helping you feel better physically – better mental health follows.

And you don’t have to wait until spring to get started.