Stress Awareness Month: All About Stress and How to Cope with It
It’s no secret that truck driving is a stressful career. Google “truck driver stress” and you’ll find no shortage of resources discussing the various stressful aspects of truck driving: deadlines, weather, distracted drivers, managing a healthy lifestyle, and more. With April being Stress Awareness Month, we wanted to talk a bit about the nature of stress and how to address it, both on the road and in general.
What is stress?
According to the American Institute of Stress, everyone experiences stress differently, so there’s no single definition of it; however, it’s most commonly described as “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension,” and below are some ways that it may manifest individually:
• Disbelief, shock, and numbness
• Feeling sad, frustrated, and helpless
• Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
• Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
Smoking or the use of alcohol or drugs
Source: American Institute of Stress
As you can imagine based on that list, longterm stress can have detrimental health effects if left unchecked.
What is the stress cycle?
Stress is the body’s natural response to anything that the brain perceives as a threat (read: deadlines, weather, distracted drivers, etc.), and like so many bodily processes, stress occurs in a cycle with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. This is important to know because the problem with stress isn’t the beginning (i.e. cause)of the the stress; rather, the problem occurs when the body doesn’t complete the stress cycle (i.e. arrive at the end). Completing the stress cycle physically releases the stress, which is what makes relief possible.
Traffic is actually a perfect example of how we might be removed from a stressful situation without completing the stress cycle. In stressful traffic (another example is being chased by a wild animal), the body prepares to defend itself, which means to fight through the situation or to escape it. At the end of a stressful day on the road, you likely still feel frustrated, tense, distracted, or even physically ill. The traffic is no longer an immediate threat, but that’s just because the day is over, NOT because the traffic was conquered (unless you did some high-speed, wild driving with a side of road rage and actually did escape). The body is still mid-stress cycle and needs to get to the end. In the example of being chased by a wild animal, the stress cycle would be completed once the animal is conquered or outrun. In our modern lives, though, it’s rare that we physically conquer or escape our stress.
How do I complete the stress cycle?
The good news is that there are multiple easily accessible and evidence-based ways to complete the stress cycle, the goal, of course, for the body to return to a more balanced state so that it’s ready to face the next obstacle with a strong body and a clear mind.
Per the University of Kentucky, here are some ways to complete the body’s stress cycle:
Physical activity. Anything counts: running, dancing, jumping jacks, punching your pillow.
Creativity. Make something with your hands: draw, paint, write, play with Play-Doh.
Laughing. Especially helpful if done with good company.
Crying. It’s one of the body’s most effective ways of releasing stress. Don’t be afraid of tears!
Physical affection. A hug works! Hold it for about 20 seconds. Hugging a pet counts, too!
Deep breathing. Another of the body’s most effective ways of releasing stress. See our post on Yoga for Truck Drivers for more information, or do a web search for “deep breathing exercises”.
Where can I learn more?
Now that you know the basics of the stress cycle, you might be interested in diving deeper into understanding and combatting stress. Below are a few helpful resources to get you started.
And please let us know what you think! Did you learn something from this? Comment below!
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – a book, but information also available via YouTube
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – also a book, but YouTube video with the authors linked here
On Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle – a podcast with Brené Brown and above mentioned authors