Truck drivers — and long-haul drivers in particular — are subject to unique job-related stressors that can lead to burnout.
It’s normal to experience feelings of dread or anxiety from time to time as Sunday evening rolls around, marking the beginning of another work week. However, if you find that you’re unable to shake the “Monday morning blues” from one workday to the next, week after week, burnout may be to blame.
According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is a special type of work-related stress, defined as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves “a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” While “burnout” is not a medical diagnosis, some experts believe that other conditions, such as depression and chronic pain, and emotional stressors, including family, marital, or financial concerns, may contribute to burnout — suggesting that our jobs aren’t always the main cause.
However, truck drivers — and long-haul drivers in particular — are subject to unique job-related stressors that can lead to burnout. Prolonged time on the road with too few breaks, traffic headaches, poor road conditions, unhealthy dietary choices, lack of physical exercise, and pressure to keep driving to keep making money can all lead to burnout on the job.
Whatever the cause, it’s important to understand that burnout can have an adverse impact on your physical and mental health.
Avoiding burnout begins with recognizing the physical, emotional, and behavioral signs and symptoms, which may include:
- Feeling consistently fatigued and drained.
- Depression, anxiety, or unexplained feelings of dread.
- Frequent headaches, joint stiffness, or muscle pain.
- Change in appetite or sleep habits.
- Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated.
- Loss of motivation.
- Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.
- Withdrawing from responsibilities.
- Isolating yourself from others.
- Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done.
- Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope.
- Take regular breaks – Continuous driving can easily lead to burnout. Take advantage of both expected and unexpected downtime to get additional rest. Take a nap, meditate, or spend time walking or stretching. Since walking and stretching both promote circulation and blood flow, even a few minutes engaged in these activities can help you feel more physically and mentally energized.
- Stick to a schedule – Research studies point to sleep quality as an increasingly important indicator of mental and physical health. While not always possible, a predictable or routine schedule makes it easier to keep your sleep pattern in check. That can go a long way toward preventing you from falling asleep while driving.
- Don’t skip vacations – No matter what type of job or what kind of work you do, it’s important to take blocks of time off to decompress and focus on other aspects of your life that you enjoy. If traveling is not affordable —or a road trip is the last thing on your mind — spend your time at home, relaxing with family, friends, and the pastimes you enjoy.
- Embrace electronic logs – Even if you’re not a fan of electronic logs, they can be useful in helping prevent burnout and overwork. They also put drivers on a level playing field, meaning you no longer have to stress about whether someone else is making more money by putting in extra hours on the road while you’re resting.
- Refuel your body and mind – While you wouldn’t hit the highway with your fuel gauge on empty, drivers are often less focused on ensuring they are operating at optimal capacity. It begins with a healthy diet and exercise, which can be challenging for anyone who makes their living behind the wheel. Instead of trying to overhaul habits and routines all at once, focus on making small, healthier choices. Have unexpected downtime? Spend a few minutes walking and stretching. Consider replacing your diet with a few high-carb sides like fries, mashed potatoes, or mac ‘n cheese, with steamed broccoli, fresh fruit, or a salad a few times a week until it becomes a habit. Even most fast-food restaurants now offer a range of healthier menu choices. While these may be small steps, they can add up over time, helping you feel less stressed and more energized.
Life as a long-haul truck driver can be rewarding and fulfilling in many ways. However, time away from family, undependable schedules, isolation, and the pressure to keep moving can all take a toll. It’s important to regularly take time to evaluate how you’re feeling about your chosen profession, both physically and emotionally. Also, take steps to help reduce feelings of burnout when they first occur.
Similar to performing regular maintenance to keep your rig in optimal condition, it’s important to take preventative steps that will keep your mind and body humming along like the well-oiled machine it was designed to be.