By Cara Reed
Special to Land Line
Question 1: When Elvis Presley sang “Blue Christmas,” was he thinking of a long-haul driver?
Question 2: Can winter, with its darker and colder days, affect your body and mind?
Question 3: Can holiday stress follow you on the highways and byways?
Answers: While the motivation behind the emotion in Elvis’ rendition of the hit song may not have been related to his time behind the wheel of a truck, the answer to Questions 2 and 3 is a resounding yes.
A combination of factors put long-haul truckers at risk for blue days and bummer nights.
There is no better time of year than now to talk about how to tell the differences among holiday blues, seasonal depression and clinical depression. Understanding the differences, knowing when to seek help, and coping on the road are important for your mental health and physical safety – not only during the holidays, but also year-round.
Truck drivers are at a high risk for depression, partly because they often travel alone and are away from family and friends for extended periods. And this year’s economic climate may be the icing on the fruitcake for owner-operators.
Most people have felt sad or depressed at times. Feeling depressed is a normal reaction to life’s struggles, loneliness, stress, isolation and other occurrences. It is not unusual to have a bad day or two, or get down in the dumps. But when feelings of immense sadness and of being helpless, hopeless or worthless last for weeks or keep you from functioning normally, you need to seek medical help. You may have more than just a case of the blues.
Such feelings may be indicative of clinical depression – a treatable medical condition sometimes caused by chemical imbalances. Depression may be an everyday battle for some. For others, it may come and go at certain times of the year.
Not all people with depression experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual. People with clinical depression usually experience five or more of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer:
- Constant sadness;
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness;
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities (including sex);
- Difficulty concentrating, poor memory;
- Worsening of other diseases, such as arthritis, diabetes, etc.;
- Insomnia or sleeping too much;
- Weight loss or gain;
- Fatigue, lack of energy;
- Anxiety, agitation, irritability;
- Slow speech, slow movements;
- Headache, stomachache, digestive problems; and
- Thoughts of suicide or death.
Please don’t diagnose yourself. If you’re not sure whether you’ve crossed the line from feeling blue into clinical depression, don’t hesitate to ask a doctor. Seek immediate help by calling 9-1-1 if you or someone else has thoughts of suicide. Anyone expressing suicidal thoughts should be taken very seriously.
Once a physician diagnoses depression, treatment options may include medications, lifestyle modification and/or counseling – all three of which can be difficult for a long-haul driver.
Should you see a prescription pad, remind your doctor of the federal regulations you work within so appropriate treatment can be prescribed.
Starting drug therapy is probably best done during a long weekend or a block of days off, because of possible side effects. Some medications for depression have few side effects, are non-sedating, and will not impair concentration.
There are no instant solutions. Antidepressants can take up to a month or longer to show results. Many antidepressants are available in generic form and are inexpensive. A number of them are included in the $4 prescriptions that several of the large pharmacy chains are now offering.
If medications and counseling are not possible, try some of these lifestyle modifications:
- Eat well: Don’t overeat, and choose low-salt, low-carbohydrate foods. Consider vitamin supplements, but ask your doctor first.
- Exercise: It’s not necessary to pump iron or jog, but parking farther away from your destination or taking stairs instead of an elevator will help. Take regular walks around truck stop parking lots instead of sitting and drinking another cup of coffee.
- Get enough sleep: Darken your sleeping area during daylight hours to help your body know it’s time to rest.
- Keep in touch with family and friends:
- Consider a hobby or activity that you can do while on layovers.
- Turn to your faith.
- Keep pictures of loved ones, pets, your home, or whatever makes you happy within view.
- Herbal remedies for depression are available, but may interact with other prescription drugs. Check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking one.
You’re not mad, but you may have SAD
When depression occurs during a certain time of year, it is known as seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, sometimes referred to as SAD.
This form of depression is predominantly connected to the winter months, and is related to decreased sunlight and hormonal changes. SAD is characterized by feelings of depression, fatigue, carbohydrate and junk food cravings, and weight gain.
SAD may be treated similarly to depression – at your doctor’s discretion – and treatment may be temporary. SAD usually begins around November and typically ends in the spring.
The holiday blues
For some, the holiday season is anything but jolly. Not everyone gets to attend parties and spend time with family and friends, especially when you’re on the road. Tidings of comfort and joy can quickly turn to sadness and loneliness.
Typical sources of the holiday blues are stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, overcommercialization, financial strains, junk food in the form of holiday goodies, and the inability to be with friends or family.
Also, nostalgia during the holidays can prompt excessive thoughts of lost loved ones.
The good news is that holiday blues are usually temporary and shouldn’t last as long as holiday fruitcake. Some tips to cope include:
- Enjoy the present day. Don’t set yourself up for sadness by comparing today with “the good old days.”
- Enjoy the holiday lights during your travels. Set up a small tree or small decoration in your cab.
- Indulge in a holiday dinner with all the trimmings if you’re on the road; most truck stops host them.
- Don’t overspend your budget on gifts.
- Miss old traditions? Start your own new ones.
- Keep in touch with family and friends.
- Eat well and get enough rest.
- Strike up a conversation with a stranger, even if it’s just a few words of kindness and support to a fellow driver at a rest stop.
- Limit the holiday treats such as candy, cookies, fudge, pies, etc.
- Reflect on the positive things in your life. LL
Cara Reed, M.S.N., lives in Old Forge, PA, and is a registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist in adult/geriatric health. She currently practices as a case manager in community health and adult preventive health. Cara is the wife, daughter and sister of truckers and has always been interested in the trucking industry and, in particular, truckers’ health habits.