Every single person who works shifts knows how difficult it is to get up and go to bed at odd times of the day. Our bodies and brains aren’t designed to flip it and sleep during the day while we are awake at night time, not in this day and age. Shift work schedules can take a huge toll on your physical well-being, your emotional state and your mental health, and if you are working in healthcare you know exactly what you’re talking about. The things that you enjoy kind of get pushed to the side when you’re working on shift because you don’t have very much time to enjoy them any more. Hobbies fall by the wayside, seeing friends and family happens at a distance, and you spend most of your time wondering which way is up.
Preparing yourself for a shift doesn’t have to be too difficult, but you do need to know how to make shift work easier with the tips we have below. Shifts are easier when you are prepared and comfortable and most nurses wear dedicated scrubs and sturdy shoes for their work. While some facilities will provide scrubs, to be able to get different colors and styles it’s often more fun to get some Dickies scrubs from Uniform Advantage. Comfort is key to a night shift going well, and scrubs also prevent any fluids going onto your home clothes! Another good way to prepare is to ensure that you pack a lunch to get through your shift – nourishment is going to mean that you can make sure that shift work is less of a challenge and more achievable for you. It’s always a bit of a balancing act to work in a shift environment, so we have some tips to enhance your daily quality of life below.
- Figure out what works for you. When you are working shifts you soon learn what works better for you in terms of shift pattern. For example, you might feel more productive on an early morning shift with an early finish rather than on the night shift. If you are more of a night owl, then your productivity is going to explode on the night shift and you’ll be able to rule the hospital or the healthcare facility that you work in. If it’s not going to work for you to drink coffee all the time, then you’re going to have to figure out what drink or what food you could eat to help you to stay energized. It is all trial and error when you’re working shifts, and you have to figure out what works for you.
- Don’t neglect your mental health. Burnouts can happen especially when you are working long shifts. Look out for the signs of a burnout, including lack of motivation and health problems and take a mental health day to help you to cope. A mental health day can be something as mind numbingly boring as doing nothing but watching TV, but the point here is to make sure that you are spending time just relaxing your body and not focusing. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but it’s going to help you to get through a busy shift knowing what’s coming at the end of it.
- Get off social media. When you are working difficult shift patterns, it can be very difficult to stay away from social media. Social media can keep you connected to the outside world, but you need to keep some balance there. Too much of the blue light technology that happens in the screens of our iPads and iPhones can really be damaging to your eyes. You’re going to exhaust yourself mentally and leave yourself feeling disconnected from everybody if you spend your time staring at a screen. The Digital world will still be there when you get off shift, so make sure you make some friends with your colleagues and spend some time in the real world.
- Invest in good quality eye care. In reality, it’s not really your morning coffee that gets your day going but the sleep that you have the night before. Without the right sleep you could end up being unable to focus and be unable to get your day started. If you are struggling to sleep, eye pillows and eye masks are going to be a wonderful help. You can use these at work, too if you manage to nap between your schedule revving up and slowing down.
- Schedule something for you. Every single day, regardless of your shift pattern, make sure that you squeeze in some time for yourself. Whether it is 20 minutes or 60 minutes, spending that time just by yourself can help you to really improve your quality of life. No outside distractions, no work, no family , no friends, just you and time spent doing something that you enjoy yourself. This is really going to help you to make shift work easier, especially if you’re working a 12 hour shift.
- Have some goals in place. If you want to make approaching shift work easier than ever before, then you need to have a list of goals. This is not an exhausting to-do list, but a list of goals that you would like to achieve in between your shift. This could be 10 hours of sleep, a local event, going on a run, swimming luxury asleep in your outdoor pool, no matter what you can consider things that would make approaching your shift easier because you know you have something to look forward to afterwards.
- Pay attention to your body. If your body is telling you that it’s time to slow down then you need to listen. But pushing yourself further than you should be is going to harm you in the long run. Take some time to breathe and slow right down and speak to your management team at work if you need to cut your hours back or rearrange your shift to a more permanent schedule in the hours that suit you most. Don’t rush your meals, don’t rush your drinks, just listen to your body and slow down.
- Set some expectations. Having the right equipment available to you at work is important, whether this is medical equipment or scrubs. Speak to your management team about equipment you require to make your shift life easier. If they are unable to provide this to you, you should consider whether this is the right workspace for you. It’s about communicating with your employer and setting boundaries, so if you are struggling you need to speak up.
- Prep your meals and your clothes once a week. Meal prepping is essential for healthy eating. Shift workers are notoriously known for stocking up on junk food because it’s much easier to snack for a shift than it is to sit and eat a meal. You can still combat this by packing snacks that are healthy and nutritious rather than those that are packed with junk food and sugar. Meal prepping once a week is not an easy thing to do, but it’s an excellent way to unwind from your shift, concentrate on something else, and prepare meals that will last you all week long.
- Get outside. You need to take yourself away from the shift environment, which means leaving your health care facility and going outside into nature. If it’s a nice day, take off your shoes and put your feet into the grass or into the sand wherever you happen to be. You need to make shift work easy and sometimes that means removing yourself from your shift and going outside but you can really appreciate the world around you.
- See your therapist. Long shifts can be grueling but not just because of the hours but because of the patients, not just the situation you’re in with working on shift patterns. If you have had difficult patients that have really been quite harrowing and have affected you emotionally, then seeing a therapist is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. Knowing that you have somebody there to listen to you and to hear what you have to say about your shift and about your working pattern can be very rewarding in the end. You’ll have a way to unload all of the pain you may be feeling and this could help you to make shift work more bearable.
- Become more active. Physical activity – even walking – is going to really help you to center yourself and feel good in your body. Spending a portion of your day moving your body can really help you to get your endorphins going and release some of the tension you’ve been feeling. Exercise doesn’t have to be formal, you can simply take off your shoes and socks and go for a walk on the beach. The point is that you need to get your body moving, your blood pumping and take yourself away from your shift working situation even just for a little while.
- Make time for some quality time. Go out with your family, meet up with your friends, and remind yourself that there is a life outside of your shift. The world may feel like it’s something still while you’re on a long shift but the world really is continuing on whether you know it or not. Go and enjoy it while you can and make sure that you own all of your time that’s outside of your working pattern.