A different (and practical) approach to mental health, for those ‘behind the wheel’

Events like R U OK Day have made us more open to discussing mental health and more aware of how we can help make our own and other’s mental health stronger. But sometimes it’s difficult to put practical measures into practice because we have so many competing priorities. 

Case in point: Long distance truck drivers and others who drive frequently or for long periods for work, who have deadlines to keep and schedules to meet.

This drives the slightly different approach taken by mental health educator David Westgate, who is presenting NRSPP’s September webinar – ‘Job at Hand: Practical Ways to Stay Focused (and Safe) Behind the Wheel’.

David will examine common mental health challenges for those of us ‘behind the wheel’ – including isolation, ruminating on negatives, vehicle as workplace, and being a first responder –  and outline achievable measures for individuals and organisations to improve mental health and driving focus at the same time. He also expands on those issues in this NRSPP Thought Leadership article.

While reinforcing well-established links between sleep and health and between physical and mental health, David’s focus is on practical tips that can easily be incorporated into existing tasks to benefit drivers’ mental health while, at the same time, making them smoother and safer drivers. His first tip: “focus on driving as well as you possibly can.”

“This is saying ‘I’m going to spend the next 10 minutes driving as well as I can absolutely drive. I’m going to make sure the next gear shift is perfect, that I take the next corner brilliantly. I’m going to make sure I’m not slamming on the brakes and I’m going to drive to maximise fuel efficiency. 

“The benefit is that it’s clearing your mind while keeping your mind on the job. You’re really focussed and it’s beneficial to you, both to your health and what you’re actually doing – driving.”

The other benefit of this approach, as David explains, is it also helps to address another key mental health challenge of driving for long periods: ruminating on negative aspects of our lives.

“Being isolated in your vehicle gives you all that time to think about the potential negative things in your life – ‘I’m not home a lot’ or ‘what did the boss think of that?’ It’s very easy to allow ourselves to run away with those thoughts and be focussed on those things and not the job at hand. 

“If you’re doing that, if you’re in a poor frame of mind or your upset or angry about something, then that directly affects your driving; you’re not going to be as focused, you may be more aggressive.

“There will always be times when we will hop into a car or a truck and drive poorly because we’re just not concentrating, our mind is focused somewhere else. The more you can really concentrate on your driving and think ‘I’m doing this well, I’m enjoying it’ the more habit forming it becomes.”

Click here to register for the ‘Job at Hand: Practical Ways to Stay Focused (and Safe) Behind the Wheel’ NRSPP webinar on 14 September 2022, or read the Thought Leadership piece to learn more.