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How to Stay Positive as a Truck Driver [Especially in Challenging Markets]

December 29th, 2023

Jackie Berres

Jackie Berres

Jackie is a driver manager on the specialized side and works on wind projects. She works together with customer service representatives, permit coordinators and support departments to provide the best driver experience. She loves working as a team to ensure her drivers are safe, successful and happy. Drivers aren’t a number to Jackie. They’re very important people to her and she loves getting to know them, as well as working together to work through issues and helping them maximize productivity so they can make money to go home to their families. She started with ATS in July 2018. Prior to that, she worked in sales, where she focused on building long and lasting relationships.

Let’s be honest with ourselves: The world is tough right now. We’re living through unprecedented times. It seems like everyone is fighting, the news is horrifying, natural disasters are increasing and the cost of everything is higher than it was just a year or two ago.

We’re all feeling the pressure, but the transportation industry has been hit particularly hard. Drivers have had to adapt to continue turning a profit. Truck driving is a challenging career in and of itself, but market difficulties have made it particularly tough. It can be hard to feel hopeful, much less happy and positive.

As a driver manager, I do all I can to keep my drivers moving, making money and getting home when they want to — a few of the things that make them happiest. 

I also work hard to keep things light when I can so they can be a bit distracted from the stress of things. 

Sometimes that means I’ll consult my Magic 8 Ball when I’m looking through load offers with a driver. Sometimes I’ll answer my phone in a silly accent or tell a joke. It can be hard for all of us in the trucking industry, so a little positivity goes a long way sometimes. 

I consulted a few drivers to learn about ways they stay positive on the road in light of the current market we’re in. They gave some good professional tips as well as personal ways you can maintain happiness on the road.

Understanding the Down Market

It’s important to understand why everyone is stressed about the current market — and why we’ve been so stressed for all of 2023 and a good chunk of 2022. (Hint: Most of it stems from the after-effects of the pandemic.) 

Let’s do a quick rundown of the market for the last five years or so to help you understand how we’ve gotten to this place. 

2018 freight rates were through the roof, which led to a hiring boom and a flood of drivers entering the market. Rates started to decrease as we went into 2019. Then the pandemic hit in 2020 and completely disrupted the supply chain. Both labor and parts shortages ensued, which delayed shipments entering the U.S.

Customers began to over-order products to compensate. For nearly two years, we saw record-high freight rates. The spot market boom meant drivers like you were able to work less but earn far more. 

But in 2022, rates started to drop. As the world opened up again, the shift in spending changed. Consumers missed real-life experiences: going to concerts and plays, taking vacations, going out to restaurants, etc. 

Rather than spending money on goods as they did during the pandemic, they shifted their spending to experiences (AKA, things that aren’t shipped on trucks). Now stores are overstocked and fewer goods are moving on trucks.

In the middle of that storm, the truck-driving world was still dealing with parts and labor shortages. While we’re able to get new trucks now, shops are still facing labor shortages. With fewer mechanics, it takes longer for trucks to get fixed

Not only is there less freight moving but there are also a lot more drivers in the industry. Rates are also down. That means drivers need to hustle harder than ever for less pay. It’s not an easy market by any means, especially when the cost of everything from repairs to food and fuel is on the rise.

It can be easy to feel discouraged as a truck driver, especially in the current market. It’s already a lonely career with long hours spent on the road with no one to talk to. 

These tips gathered from over-the-road (OTR) drivers help them to feel more positive on the road. Hopefully, they’ll help you too. If not happy, these tips should at the very least help you find some sense of contentment. 

A man standing between two van trailers smiling.

7 Tips to Be Happy in Trucking

Tip #1: Research the Market 

Not knowing what’s happening in the market can be frustrating; you might have no idea why you’re making less money. That makes it hard to stay positive. 

It’s easy to think your company is screwing you over, withholding pay and giving you terrible loads (in some cases — for a company in trouble, at least — that may be true). It can be easier to blame your company than the market, the true culprit.

Related: Signs of a stable trucking company 

It’s true what they say: Knowledge is power. Having a grasp on what the market is doing gives you some autonomy over your situation and can help you adapt to succeed. 

There are peaks and valleys in the trucking industry — no matter what kind of freight you move. You’ll see months where freight rates are through the roof and months where they aren’t. Knowing this can help you better prepare yourself for the worst — whether that means small paychecks or less freight. 

When you’re prepared for the ups and downs (by reducing spending, increasing your savings and getting your finances in order) it won’t be so tough to handle the lows. 

Tip #2: Stay Updated on Current Events

Things that are happening across the pond have an impact on our economy (and therefore the market). Pay attention not just to local news, but global news as well.

Staying updated on current events can give you some perspective. Other countries are going through far worse situations, like famine and war. Job cuts are happening everywhere, too. In today’s world, having a job is something to be very grateful for. 

Tip #3: Appreciate the Small Things 

There’s a time and a place to be productive and serious in the trucking industry, but there’s also a time and place to keep it light and appreciate the small things. 

Adopting a positive attitude and being a little silly in conversations with my drivers makes a big impact. It’s not easy being a driver manager either, especially when I see drivers in my fleet struggling. I want to see you succeed, so seeing you struggle makes me struggle too. 

And appreciating the little things out on the road can go a long way. Maybe that means enjoying your favorite meal, watching your favorite show when you’re done driving or taking the time to slowly drink a cup of coffee before you start driving for the day. 

It’s the little things that matter but we tend to forget that. 

Tip #4: Bring Someone on the Road with You

Driving gets lonely, especially if you’re an OTR driver. You may not talk to anyone during the day other than your driver manager or a cashier at a truck stop. While many drivers prefer the isolation — and that’s what attracted them to the lifestyle to begin with — it can become overwhelming at times.

Bringing a family member or friend on the road with you is a great way to curb that loneliness. You still have a job to do, sure, but it can feel like a fun adventure when you have your spouse or child along for the ride with you. Having someone on the road with you periodically also gives you something to look forward to — a great way to stay hopeful and positive.

Tip #5: Talk to Someone

If you can’t bring someone on the road with you, it’s important you still maintain relationships with people and keep the conversation flowing. Whether it’s drivers on the road, a regular phone call with someone at home or a therapist, talk to someone. 

Talking is a great way to relieve stress, distract yourself from frustrations and stay connected to what’s going on at home. If you’re missing your family a lot, schedule nightly video chats to stay in touch. 

Fellow drivers you meet at truck stops can offer up great conversation, too. They know exactly what you’re going through.

One of the first signs of depression is isolation and social withdrawal. Staying mentally healthy on the road is crucial. 

Tip #6: Find a Hobby 

Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean your hobby can’t come with you. Take your hobby on the road — whatever that may be. Maybe you like gaming, maybe you like reading. Bring your gaming console with you, download a few audiobooks and podcasts or bring a new book with you in the truck after every trip home.  

If you like to explore and travel, be a tourist in whatever city you’re parked in for the night. As a truck driver, you have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of this beautiful country we live in. Take yourself on a date to a new restaurant once you’re off the clock. Go to a movie or visit a museum. Take your workout to a new gym. 

It’s important to get out of the office (your truck) as much as you can to de-stress and forget about work for a bit. Adopting a hobby is a great way to do that. 

Check out these tips for enjoying your hobbies on the road.

Tip #7: Exercise and Eat Well

In addition to promoting a healthy lifestyle and extending your life, exercise releases happy chemicals in the brain. If you’re feeling down in the dumps, a good sweat session is a surefire way to flood your body with endorphins and help you feel less anxious or stressed. It can also help improve your concentration and confidence over time. 

And we know how important it is for truck drivers to get daily exercise in. Working out is a great release but it may not be for everyone. Keep trying out different exercises to find what works for you. A walk around the truck stop is enough to feel the benefits. 

Healthy eating goes hand in hand with exercising. Eating bad food isn’t going to make you feel good in the long run. Stick to nutrient-dense food for most of your meals and you’ll reap the rewards of better concentration, improved mental health and alertness. 

It’ll also help you sleep better, which is a crucial aspect of happiness. 

A man and wife team hug each other and smile while standing in front of several parked trucks.

Take Care of Yourself on the Road

Staying positive as a truck driver, especially in these challenging times, requires resilience and a proactive approach to maintaining mental well-being. While the market downturn presents significant challenges, there are practical strategies to navigate this landscape and find contentment on the road.

Understanding the market's fluctuations and staying informed about current events grants drivers autonomy over their situation. Being prepared for industry ups and downs, both financially and emotionally, alleviates the stress of uncertain paychecks and reduced freight.

Ultimately, in a demanding industry like trucking, proactively nurturing positivity through knowledge, connections and self-care becomes instrumental in navigating the current market challenges and finding contentment on the road.

As always, if you’re struggling, talk to your driver manager for advice. They’re there to support you. 

Taking care of yourself — mentally, physically and emotionally — on the road is a key aspect of maintaining your sanity, positivity and job skills. Check out these tips from a doctor about improving your overall health