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Opening up about mental wellbeing in the transport sector

Updated: Jul 14

Sir John Kirwan shares his Triple-A Battery tips for keeping drivers on top

Breathing, walking slowly and savouring your morning coffee may not sound like a revolutionary medical treatment, but if you’re a truck driver struggling with your mental health, it may just be the lifeline you need.

In an AutoSense podcast hosted by Greg Murphy, former All-Black and mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan (JK) says transforming ordinary tasks like these into daily rituals can help safeguard mental well-being—and in an industry rife with anxiety and depression, that’s got to be good news.

“My biggest thing is preventative mental health,” he says. “I’ve been at the bottom of the cliff, and it’s way harder to come back once you are down there. Putting some simple pillars into your day is scientifically proven to be preventative mental health - don’t let yourself get unwell before you learn this.”

Truck drivers are at heightened risk of anxiety and depression. Faced with isolation, long hours, stress to make deliveries on time and, in many cases, average physical health. Kirwan says tapping into his six pillars of mental well-being – chill, do, connect, move, celebrate, enjoy - could be game-changing.

“The norm is that your brain is always rushing – you don’t have breaks, you’re looking at your phone, dispatch is telling you there are more deliveries. Breathe, take microbreaks and walk slowly. Leave your phone in the cab when you stop for a coffee because your brain needs a break; eat your sandwich slowly, and drink your coffee in a real cup if possible, not a takeaway cup. Time is money, but it’s just three or four minutes. When you’re in a bad place, you think about the future and the past. Instead, smell the roses; stop and enjoy the moment you are in.

“It’s doing all these little things that will give you 10% more energy.”

The first step to addressing mental wellbeing is working out when you are feeling good. Kirwan describes this as being in your ‘Groov’, referencing his digital workplace wellbeing platform.

“Next time you stop your truck, write down when you’re in your Groov. That’s really important because you need to know when you are not in your Groov. I call it my triple-A battery: first, you have to be aware if you’re not in your Groov, then you have to acknowledge it, and then you have to act.  If you’re feeling anxious about something, use that triple-A battery and build things into your day that will reset you. Breathing is a good one – you can breathe as your drive your truck or pull over and breathe.”

Kirwan admits that Kiwi truck drivers are hard to crack, given their demographic. The average age for our drivers is 45 – 59, and 20% are over 60.

“I’m in that age bracket myself, and we’ve been brought up to have three emotions: happy, sad, and don’t cry. We’ve been taught to harden up and not talk about our feelings, but we need to change that because that’s hurting us.

“Being vulnerable is the biggest strength you will have as a male. That doesn’t mean going around hugging trees – you’ll still have to work hard, provide for your family, and be tough and resilient in times of turmoil. But that doesn’t mean you can’t show emotion, be vulnerable and say, ‘I’m struggling today’.”

Leaders and managers play a critical role when helping drivers to open up. Kirwan, who dubs this practice ‘performance care,’ says that if a manager is worried about the mental state of someone on their team, they need to keep stepping in.

“It takes a long time for us to trust people with what’s going on in our lives, so don’t just ask once. Keep stepping in and building that psychological safety bridge, which is just trust, and don’t be an expert. The best thing you can do is listen, don’t comment, and walk next to them when they need help. Ask, ‘What do you need? Do you want to go and see someone? Do you want me to come with you?’. Communication is really important, so make sure that you listen and they feel like they’ve been heard. Sometimes sharing will be enough for people, but others may need more help.”

To read about JK’s six pillars and to watch or listen to the full-length podcast discussion between Greg Murphy and Sir John Kirwan about mental wellbeing in the transport sector, click here: 

Listen to Spotify

And to find out more about Groov and how it can help your business visit,

JK's top tips for mental health and wellbeing
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