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Fleets urged to tackle driver mental health ahead of busy Christmas period

wellbeing

Haulage firms are being encouraged to focus of driver wellbeing and mental health ahead of the busy Christmas period.

It  follows a recent survey by Haulage Exchange, which found that 50% of logistics companies have seen an increase in employee stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.

As a pre-Christmas surge in demand for goods comes up against Brexit red tape and a shortfall of 100,000 drivers, HGV drivers on the road are under greater pressure than ever.

Research from mental health charity Mind showed that 30% of self-reported work-related illness in the transport and logistics industry is due to stress, depression and anxiety.

Other causes of strain on drivers’ mental health include shift working patterns, social isolation and the upcoming risk of seasonal affective disorder during cold, dark mornings and evenings. For female drivers, being in a male-dominated industry can also cause problems.

It’s not always easy to identify the signs of mental health issues, but haulage companies must be mindful that people often hide these problems beneath the surface. With the right support, however, mental health issues can be managed and even prevented.

Luke Davies, head of sales at Transport Exchange Group, said: “If the right help isn’t available for drivers, some elements of the job can become stressful. So it’s vital that drivers feel like they can open up about any issues, rather than keeping things bottled up. 

“Companies can set up a confidential hotline, introduce mental health days or provide free counselling. They can also address the link between good physical health and positive mental health, by promoting exercise and healthy diets.

“With the national shortage of drivers we’ve currently got, it’s more important than ever to retain drivers. Safeguarding their mental health is one way to make them feel valued and improve their working environment.”

Claire Lyons, Qualified Mental Health Professional and Hansa Pankhania, counsellor and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. 

Top tips for maintaining positive mental health as a haulage driver:

Find ways to stay active

Making time to exercise can often be a struggle, particularly with long hours spent on the road. For haulage drivers, who spend their working hours sitting down in a small space, keeping active is absolutely vital.

Claire Lyons, qualified mental health professional, said: “Stress releases chemicals into your body, and one effective way to get rid of them is via exercise. You could try progressive muscle relaxation when in the cab, but not while driving. Or, add a physical activity (such as boxing, football or walking) to your weekly schedule.”

Hansa Pankhania, counsellor and member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, added: “Find places to park where you can go for a brisk walk or run, or engage in stretching exercises. Also, connecting with nature is invigorating and healing, so even better if you can plan your breaks in scenic places.”

Laugh

Life on the road can get a bit lonely at times, especially if drivers are spending nights away from home, so they should set time aside for whatever brightens their day up. 

Lyons said: “One brilliant stress release is to laugh. Add a few downloads of your favourite comedian, get an audiobook, meet up with that friend who always makes you laugh. Watch a comedy show, add a joke book to the cab…”

Get enough sleep

There’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep. Wake up before your body has fully recharged and minor, everyday annoyances can turn into bigger issues. Of course, driving jobs require great focus, so they are much more enjoyable – and safer – when you’re not tired.

Lyons said: “One of the quickest ways to identify stress is a change in sleep patterns. This is also likely if you are working longer hours. Getting high-quality sleep, so that you are rested and alert, is essential for you to remain safe while driving. What works for one person may not work for another, so investigate ideas or sleep aids.”

Keep your lorry space clean

Just as some office employees feel more organised and ready to work when their desks are tidy, many drivers feel better when their working space is clean and pleasant. After all, drivers spend a lot of time in their cabs, so they don’t want to be surrounded by lots of mess.

Pankhania said: “Keep your vehicle clutter-free and fresh. You can also create a calm environment by adding images that you find soothing such as trees, oceans or wildlife.”

Share your feelings

Letting things build up and get you down never helped anyone. Talking about what’s on our minds allows us to process issues and move on. With drivers spending hours alone each day, it’s especially important that they communicate and don’t let any negative thoughts fester.

Pankhania said: “Open up about any issues that are bothering you instead of struggling to make sense of these yourself. Talking is cathartic and will highlight options for moving forward with your problems.”

Lyons said: “When we share thoughts and feelings, concerns or frustrations, with others the stress goes down. Getting things off your chest, even if it doesn’t change them, will help. If you feel you need more specific or professional help, don’t be afraid to reach out.”


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