Throughout this month, we’ve interviewed a bunch of different folks about trucker mental health. We spoke with Brian Brase, an owner operator based out of Lancaster, Pa., about what he does to keep his mood positive when running LTL freight to California each week. We also had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Kirleen Neely, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in working with truckers and carriers. To make sure we had the mind/body connection covered, we interviewed Hope Zvara of Mother Trucker Yoga to find out more about how movement and mental health are tied together. Each person we spoke with had tips specifically for truckers on how to maintain good mental health when away from home and on the road.

Check out these 10 everyday mental health tips for truckers, courtesy of Brian Brase, Dr. Kirleen Neely and Hope Zvara. 

1. Stay Connected 

“Reach out to your family members,” advised Dr. Neely. “If somebody can ride with you occasionally, let that happen. Don’t underestimate that isolation. You may like it sometimes, but it weighs on you, so don’t have that all or nothing mentality and stay connected as much as you can stay connected. Isolation is directly correlated with depression. It is correlated with more anxiety and it is correlated with suicidal ideations because when you are alone you begin to validate your own thoughts.”

2. Get Moving!

“I recommend little segments and series of movements to do throughout the day,” said Hope. “When you’re done driving, you’re tired from sitting all day and so it’s easy to sit in your sleeper and not move. Truck drivers aren’t the only ones who sit way too much. If we don’t want to be in a wheelchair when we’re 80 or 90 years old, we all have to get out of the chair now. You don’t need to do a daily hour-long workout. Focus on moving more in your everyday life.”  

“I recommend little segments and series of movements to do throughout the day,” said Hope. “When you’re done driving, you’re tired from sitting all day and so it’s easy to sit in your sleeper and not move. Truck drivers aren’t the only ones who sit way too much. If we don’t want to be in a wheelchair when we’re 80 or 90 years old, we all have to get out of the chair now. You don’t need to do a daily hour-long workout. Focus on moving more in your everyday life.”  

3. Adopt a Dog

“My dog has been kind of my rock,” Brian said. “She’s been with me three years now. Her name is Holly and she’s literally with me from sunup to sundown every single day in and out of the truck. She’s just my buddy on the truck and that really helps a lot. Having her with me kind of dampens that loneliness, that feeling that sometimes you get especially when you’ve been gone for a long time and you crawl back into that bunk and you’re just like, why do I do this job? You know, why am I so alone kind of thing? Having her there makes a world of difference. Just a little lick on the face or her tail wagging keeps me going.”

4. Recognize When You’re “Burned Out”

“When you think about burnout, there’s three parts to it,” Dr. Neely said. “There’s the first part of exhaustion. That’s when you feel very tired and almost mentally foggy. The second thing that you’re looking for is cynicism. You’re negative about work, negative about the people, negative about everything — just an overarching kind of negative mentality. The last one is this idea of inefficacy, meaning that the person starts to believe that everything is pointless, nobody gives a damn and nothing matters. Those are your clues.”

5. Start Small

“It’s the small simple changes that add up to the biggest result,” Hope shared. “I meet a lot of truckers who think they can’t be healthy and can’t exercise. It’s kind of a mindset in the industry, but that doesn’t have to be your life. If you want to be able to be with family at home and enjoy that time instead of feeling exhausted, focus on quality over quantity. Whether you’re a trucker or travel a lot in a sales job, it’s about the quality of time you can spend with your loved ones – and your health dictates that time and what you do with that. Truckers shouldn’t feel like they are exception and can’t have that quality of life.”

“It’s the small simple changes that add up to the biggest result,” Hope shared. “I meet a lot of truckers who think they can’t be healthy and can’t exercise. It’s kind of a mindset in the industry, but that doesn’t have to be your life. If you want to be able to be with family at home and enjoy that time instead of feeling exhausted, focus on quality over quantity. Whether you’re a trucker or travel a lot in a sales job, it’s about the quality of time you can spend with your loved ones – and your health dictates that time and what you do with that. Truckers shouldn’t feel like they are exception and can’t have that quality of life.”

6. Create a Bucket List

Not too long ago, Brian was at a very low point and was contemplating ending his life. He told us he tricked himself into taking one day at a time by creating a bucket list of things that he wanted to do. 

“I have a never-ending bucket list,” Brian said. “It’s like I have to keep going because I haven’t done that yet and I want to do that. I just started giving myself all of these things to do, like hiking the Appalachian Trail. I was supposed to hike the AT in 2020, but I didn’t end up doing it because of COVID. It was like the trail saved my life in a way because I knew I had to hike that entire trail. Just getting myself prepared to go hike the trail got me out of that entire mindset. It woke me up.”

7. Help Someone Else

“Help someone else,” advises Dr. Neely. “Be kind. Kindness begets kindness. That always makes us feel good. We have small, little opportunities every day. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and make their day. It will boost their mood. Don’t answer calls from negative people. You have control over who you talk to. Talk to people who make you feel good.”

8. Try Yoga

“Yoga is a lifestyle, but I don’t mean yoga pants and a yoga mat,” Hope said. “Yoga teaches us what we need for our everyday life. We need to be breathing, moving and putting good things in our body. We call it yoga, but we’re trying to build a toolbox. When I start working with a trucker, I always ask them about their beliefs about yoga. Yoga should be an opportunity to provide self-care. When I first started practicing yoga, I made mistakes. I injured myself and pushed too hard. I learned poses, not people. I don’t want anyone else to get injured like I did. You don’t need to do extreme poses to get something from yoga. You can be a truck driver and be healthy. You can have both.”

9. Use Essential Oils To Boost Your Mood

“I kind of grew up in a household that used essential oils, Young Living essential oils specifically,” said Brian. “I have a Young Living blend called Stress Away, so I’ll put that on my neck a little bit. Maybe it’s just a placebo effect, but you know I think it works. It works for me. I actually have an essential oil diffuser in the truck, too, and I do think it helps.”

10. Have a Once-a-Year Mental Health Check-In 

“In my practice, we have something we call a couch time check in, which is this idea that you go check in with a therapist once a year, not because anything is wrong, but just like you do for your annual checkups,” Dr. Neely said. “You go to see your dentist every six months not because you have a cavity, but because you don’t want to get one, right? But with mental health, we wait until we have a problem. We’re really trying to re-engineer that and encourage folks to go in once a year, sit down and talk to somebody. They may catch something that you thought was a nothing burger and it’s something.”

For more tips on maintaining good mental and physical health on the road, check out 10 Ways Truckers Can Stay Healthy and Positive on the Road

If you’re in crisis, call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI or text “NAMI” to 741741.