After spending 30+ years behind the wheel of a big rig, Nova Scotia-based professional driver turned relationship coach Dana Smith knows a thing or two about the challenges of being a trucker. Several years ago, Dana was working 100+ hours a week and under a tremendous amount of stress. He was hospitalized for severe stress, which convinced him to make a change and place higher value on his own mental health and wellness. Today through his company The Mindful Trucker, Dana and his partner Stephanie Allen offer health and wellness, safety and training services to fleets and drivers. When we spoke to Dana, he offered suggestions on how truckers can cultivate good mental health and wellness practices despite the stresses of the job, which we share below.

1. Monitor Stress Levels

“When I talk to drivers about stress and mental wellness, I use the term flow,” Dana shared. “Think of flow like a river. If you are flowing like a river in your life, there’s no stress in your life. If you’re not, you’re under stress and you’re not in flow. Flowing like a river is what you’re trying to achieve every day. Remember that your thoughts and emotions become actions. If these thoughts are being stuffed inside for whatever reason and you don’t address them, then they will force themselves out through chronic pain and disease. This is why it’s extremely important to monitor your stress levels and if there is an issue, to deal with it immediately. You will end up much happier. You’re going to be so much more productive and you’re going to have much more energy than if you’re under stress. Stress sucks the energy out of you and happiness puts it in.”

2. Look After Yourself

“I know it sounds like a very selfish thing, but you have to look after yourself,” said Dana. “If you’re struggling with anything at all, don’t stuff it inside. Go talk to someone and get it out. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of tremendous strength. There’s always somebody who will listen. If you’re a professional driver who’s struggling, you can contact us at themindfultrucker.com and we will do whatever we can to put you in touch with the right people who can help you. When people don’t get emotions out, they push it down inside and it stays there. It’s going to come out sooner or later as chronic pain or disease.”

“I know it sounds like a very selfish thing, but you have to look after yourself,” said Dana. “If you’re struggling with anything at all, don’t stuff it inside. Go talk to someone and get it out. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of tremendous strength. There’s always somebody who will listen. If you’re a professional driver who’s struggling, you can contact us at themindfultrucker.com and we will do whatever we can to put you in touch with the right people who can help you. When people don’t get emotions out, they push it down inside and it stays there. It’s going to come out sooner or later as chronic pain or disease.”

3. Take Two Minutes To Breathe

“Take two minutes out of your day and just stop what you’re doing,” Dana advised. “Just sit there, close your eyes, and take a really deep breath in and let it out really slowly. Your whole body will relax. It will make you feel better immediately. It’s not going to fix your problems, but it’s going to stop you from getting out of control. That’s one thing you can do right away. Stay connected, look after yourself and watch for the signs of stress.”

4. Set Boundaries and Learn To Say No

“For years, we’ve been conditioned to work hard to make money,” Dana said. “If you want more money, you’ve got to work more — and what does that do? It burns you out. One thing you can do for yourself is set boundaries around work. I had to learn this the hard way. I used to always say yes, but I get it now. No is a two letter word that can be hard to say for some reason. We feel guilty at times when we do. If you say no, you’re actually training the other person how to treat and respect you. You can say it in a nice way and the more you do it, the easier it gets. You’re setting boundaries. If what you’re offering isn’t good enough for the company you work for, then they will have to figure out another way because you need to look after you.”

5. Pay Attention to Self-Talk

“When we’re anxious, we have this little voice inside our head,” said Dana. “My wife calls it the ‘itty bitty sh*tty committee.’ It’s that voice in your head that tells you all the things that you are not good at and that you can’t do it. You have to tune that out and remember that you are a valuable person. That voice is saying stuff that’s just made up. It’s not true. When I’m training students and teaching them how to shift, I tell them to stop thinking and to just do it. When you think about things too much, it creates doubt and causes more anxiety.”

“Even doing one or two of these five things will help you with your stress management and hopefully lead you in a positive direction in all aspects of your life,” said Dana. “Make a commitment to yourself because you are worth it.”

Read “The Mindful Trucker’s Dana Smith on Driver Mental Health and Wellness (insert link)” for the rest of our conversation with Dana.

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.