Anxiety is something that trucker drivers often face. This is especially true for drivers that are just starting out. However, many experienced drivers report having to deal with stress and panic attacks as well.
Many drivers fear that if they seek medical attention for their anxiety disorders that the medication that is prescribed will prevent them from being able to keep their CDL and continue as a driver. We will cover this topic as well as offer advice on helping to reduce the effects of your anxiety while out on the road.
Personally, I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life. I’ve tried many different things to help cure it. Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not something that can be cured. Instead, it’s something that you have to work towards managing.
Rookie Driver Anxiety
Being a rookie truck trucker can certainly be overwhelming. During your first year of driving, you will have numerous things thrown at you that you were prepared for. On top of the unknowns, and anxiety that comes with starting a new career, you are also having to deal with being away from home for long periods of times. To help prepare for this, it’s important to do as much research as possible so you can learn as much as possible as to what you may encounter during your first year. There’re numerous videos and such on YouTube from drivers who cover this topic which are very helpful.
The primary think that new drivers need to remember is that your first year will be different than every other year that you drive. You can NOT assume your trucking career will be a repeat of your first year. I highly suggest that you stick to driving for at least a year to give it a fair shot.
The first year of a job in any career is usually difficult. This is the time that you are trying to learn the ropes of everything. Trucking is going to be no different. Just remember that each month that passes, you’ll gain a bit more experience. Then those tough “learning experiences” will become fewer and farther apart.
If you would like to see an article I wrote on the 16 most common reasons truckers quit in their first two years of driving, check out my article here.
My last bit of advice to new drivers is this. Understand that being nervous is sometimes a good thing. Nervousness can ensure you maintain a level of respect for your truck and what you do. It helps you stay alert and prevents you from cutting corners. This is a good thing. I hope to never stop getting a jolt of nervousness when I sit in my chair and start the truck. The key is not letting this level of anxiety overcome you. Below I’ll touch on some methods that have helped me over the years.
General Anxiety Tips
I have suffered from anxiety for much of my life. I’ve battled everything from general daily anxiety all the way up to severe panic attacks where I questioned whether I was having a heart attack. My bouts with anxiety have gone through many ups and downs. Personally, I’ve come to the mindset that anxiety isn’t something you can really cure. It’s something you have to learn to manage. I think there’s different ways to battle it. Below are some of the ways that have helped me both in general and with very specific areas.
This is the easy answer that always gets thrown out. I use to always hate this answer because I thought doctors or “experts” were just throwing it out to sound smart. I started trying to work some exercise into my day while out on the road. Obviously, it’s not the easiest. Some days it might be consist of nothing more than parking as far as possible from the entrance to the truck stop. But at least it’s something.
I do think exercise has helped to some degree. For me, I think it helps relieve some of the built of stress and frustration that I face while on the road. I think exercise falls in the general overall reduction of anxiety relief. I’ve not seen a correlation between exercising and panic attacks.
I’ve also found that just being outside can help me when the weather is nice. Just taking a small break to sit and enjoy the weather and be out of the truck for a few minutes can go a long way.
Try some different things. Whether that’s exercise, meditation, or just being outside some. I think everyone has something they find relaxing that can help.
I think hobbies are a big help in dealing with anxiety. Especially when on the road. I don’t have much time for hobbies when I’m home. Since, most of my time is spent on the road alone, I’ve really tried to find some hobbies that entertain me that I can do while I’m out on runs.
I wrote an article on 10 ways truckers can entertain themselves that you can read here. Of that list, the ones I like the most are Geocaching and video games. I want to give wood carving a try, as I think that could be relaxing.
The great thing about hobbies are that they give you a release and break from your day. They also give you something to look forward to at the end of your day. Sure, you probably aren’t going to be able to play video games (or whatever you choose) each day, but at least the opportunity is there. I highly suggest that all drivers find something they can do on the road to give themselves a break from the day to day grind.
Panic Attack Prevention
Panic attacks. They are brutal. It’s frustrating because people that haven’t had one can’t relate. They have no idea what you are going thru and often think you are just overeating. I HATE to hear people say “just stop thinking about it” or “just stop worrying.” Panic attacks (from my experience) usually defy all logic, and I’m a logical person to a fault almost.
This is the one option that has always gotten me an eye roll. However, this is one that I’ve had the BEST experience with. When I was younger, I had an extreme fear of flying. I was on a 2 hour flight once and had a massive panic attack. I had flown 3-4 times before this particular flight. I had never loved the idea of flying and always had trouble sleeping in the days leading up to any flight that I took.
This particular flight was smooth. There were zero issues. My wife was sitting next to me trying to calm me down. Everything she said made logical sense, however, at that moment, in my mind – the plane was not safe. After we landed, I knew my thoughts and feelings during the flight made no sense. However, I made the decision right then, that I would never fly again.
Fast forward a month, and I had to fly cross country to California. I had no other options available to get there due to the timing. A friend suggested a hypnotist. I was extremely skeptical, but at the time, I was desperate to try anything.
When I researched a hypnotist that was near me, I received a ton of different answers from people wanting to help. Some claimed they would need to see me 5-6 times to help and it would cost anywhere from $100-200 per session. I declined.
I also read that I could listen to hypnotists online and it would work, but I didn’t trust those either. Instead, I found a local lady that was willing to do it for $100. She felt one session would be enough.
I arrived at her house. I sat in a chair and she started the session. I told her beforehand that I didn’t believe in what she was doing, but I was desperate.
The session started with her counting backwards from 10 just like you see in the movies. The odd thing was, I felt different. It was like I was on the verge of sleep and consciousness at the same time. The session lasted about 30 minutes. She talked the entire time. At any point I could have sat up and ended it and walked out. However, those 30 minutes seemed like 5 minutes. When she finally woke me, I was completely relaxed. To this day, I still don’t understand how I walked away feeling so different and relaxed.
The hypnotist gave me a video recording to listen to at night of our session leading up to my flight. Two weeks pass and my flight arrives. I flew 4 hours with ZERO PROBLEMS. I’ve flown several times since this session about 15 years ago. I’ve never had a panic attack since. I still don’t enjoy flying, but I can do it. I still get a bit nervous, but I can totally manage it now.
I feel that if hypnosis can help me get over my extreme fear of flying, it can totally help you get over the anxiety you feel in your truck while out on the road. It’s at least something you should look into. If you do decide to try it, make sure you find a good hypnotist. There are plenty of people trying to scam you for money.
A time came for me when I realized that I could not control or manage my anxiety and I ended up having to break down and go see a doctor. This was a hard decision for me. I don’t like to take medications unless I have to. I especially wasn’t happy about possibly having to take anxiety/depression medications. One of those reason was that I feared I would not be able to keep/get a job in the trucking industry.
What I found out though surprised me. It’s perfectly fine if I take prescribed medications for this issue. My doctor told me – when people have high blood pressure, I prescribe them medicine to help control it. It’s not different than what I’m doing with you. You have trouble with anxiety in stead of blood pressure. I’m prescribing medicines that will help you control it.
I was also surprised to learn that 1 in 6 Americans take some form of medication for anxiety related issues.
Getting put on medication did NOT impact my CDL at all. I’ve taken plenty of drug tests. I’ve never had an issue. From what I’ve read, there are instances where the lab doing the drug tests will come back and ask for a copy of the prescription you have. Assuming you are legally taking the medication and it’s prescribed by a doctor, you should have no issues.
I also learned that the DOT drug tests checks for the use of 5 drugs in your system. Those drugs are:
- Opiates (heroin)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
If you have concerns about the medication you are being prescribed and whether it may show up on a drug test; be sure to ask your doctor.
As you can see there are many options available to help manage your anxiety. Hopefully some of the options listed above will help. Ultimately, as hard as it is at the time, it’s important to remember the stress or anxiety you are feeling is only short term. It will pass. The key is to find what helps you get through those moments. Unfortunately, that is different from one person to another.