Stress Reduction Techniques for Lasting Lifestyle Change

Professional CDL drivers spend countless hours each week behind the wheel driving. Drivers are often stressed due to long days and weeks away from home, being stuck in traffic, as well as pick-up/drop-off delays, to name a few. As many of you surely know, getting a good night’s sleep prior to heading to work, eating healthy meals high in protein, and incorporating thirty minutes of vigorous exercise into your daily routine will certainly support you in reducing your stress while on the road. But did you know that applying gratitude and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques and practices into your daily routine can significantly reduce driver stress too? These two evidence-based practices can be life changing. Stress can be a major cause of the onset of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Many professional CDL drivers are also at serious risk of such diseases due to the sedentary lifestyle of driving for long periods of time.

Stress Reduction Techniques

Individuals who practice gratitude on a daily basis are more likely to eat healthier, exercise, and get the proper amount of rest each night.  Studies suggest that applying gratitude to your daily routine allows for time to reflect on what is important to you. It is said that when drivers take time to reflect on what they have and what is going according to plan in their lives, they are less frustrated when those stressful events appear and things are not going quite as planned. Taking time to write down what you are appreciative of often puts things into perspective and decreases your stress level. Here is a quick and easy way to incorporate a gratitude journal into you daily routine:

Gratitude Journal: Just after completing the pre-trip inspection of your vehicle, take two minutes to jot down the reason why you are doing the job you are doing. Take this time to reflect on your family and all the important things in your life. This practice can support you in the start and end of your day. Your journal is your private space of reflection. Allow it to be your support when you are placed in frustrating and uncomfortable situations. Think of it as taking a dose of medication. If your doctor told you to take a pill to reduce your stress and improve your health, you would more than likely follow the doctor’s orders. Treat your gratitude journal as if it were your daily dose of medication to reduce stress. This kind of medication is completely free and its only side effect is the contagious feelings of total bliss!

The second dose of non-medicated treatment for drivers experiencing stress is called mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation (or simply MBSR). This practice was developed by the University of Massachusetts Medical School Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn.  The practice of MBSR is one that develops and matures over time, hence the word “practice”.  This practice can be done daily for as little as 3-5 minutes a day or for as long as 40-60 minutes a day; this is completely up to the practitioner.  There are several different meditation exercises Dr. Zinn offers to his practitioners. The one exercise I consistently recommend to CDL drivers is the “20 breaths meditation exercise.”

Meditation Practice: A good time to do this exercise might be while waiting at a rest stop or while waiting for pick-up or drop-off. This exercise is one that does not take much time. However, it has long lasting effects. The 20 breaths exercise is done seated in a chair with your feet planted flat on the floor, placing your hands cupped in your lap. The meditation begins by simply closing your eyes and focusing on your natural breaths. The practitioner then begins counting from one to ten, at the end of each breath count continuously until you have counted to the number ten. Once you have reached ten begin to count down back to the number one. If time allows, you might want to continue this exercise for one to two minutes. Setting a timer is a great way to monitor the duration of your meditation practice.

I have coached several professional CDL drivers over the past few months who were feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the day to day hustle of being on the road. Many drivers decided to implement gratitude and the MBSR practice into their busy schedules. After a few weeks of applying the stress reduction techniques instead of medicated prescriptions drivers reported that they noticed a difference since they began using a gratitude journal and the MBSR daily. A decrease in their overall stress level was noted, in addition to improvement in their quality of sleep during off duty times, an increase in energy, and a feeling of being much more focused and motivated both on and off duty.

Leonora Ellis MA, WLM

Rolling Strong Wellness Coach