6 Tips To Help Nurses Stay Focused and Calm During Long Shifts

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Nursing has long been a career based on a labor of love. These skilled, tenacious individuals manage the bulk of patient care, regularly deal with emergency situations and distressed loved ones, all while maintaining a professional and caring composure – and that was before the pandemic. In this article, we provide tips to help nurses stay calm and focused.

Now it is more difficult than ever for anyone in this profession to get through those long, grueling shifts. If you are a nurse, these are 6 tips to help you stay centered and grounded even though your body and mind are exhausted and you still have hours to go.

Nourish Your Body

Creating a meal planning routine isn’t just about saving money and meeting your diet goals, it’s about fueling your body with the energy it needs to get through a long shift. Putting together an assortment of healthy, accessible snacks that you can eat quickly throughout your shift will help keep your energy levels up and your mind focused.

Nourishing your body also helps ensure you have the nutrients you need to stay healthy as a frontline worker. Hydration plays a pivotal role as well in overall hunger management and wellness, as dehydration often presents as fatigue, nausea, and brain fog.

Create a checklist of healthy snacks you need to get through each shift — as well as a small treat to nourish your soul and reward your hard work.

Create a Sleep Routine

Regular office hours aren’t a thing in the medical field, especially for frontline care workers. Many nurses work long, 12-hour shifts, including night shifts. Inconsistent scheduling and interrupted sleep patterns can make creating a sleep routine feel impossible.

While you may not be able to maintain the same sleep routine every night, there are some practical, healthy sleep tips you can implement to ensure your body gets the rest it needs. Try to maintain consistency in your routine as much as possible, even on your days off. Create a space that promotes quality rest by blocking light and using ambient noise to signal to your body that it’s time to rest.

Never underestimate the power of a restorative nap. A 20-minute power nap — especially during a shift — can give your body the reboot it needs to keep going.

Monitor Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a nurse’s greatest frenemy. On the one hand, it will give you a boost to get through those long shifts. On the other, it could further interrupt your sleep habits and create a vicious cycle. Increased caffeine intake can also impact your anxiety levels, which can be debilitating during an emergency situation.

If you have caffeine during a shift, start with one serving at the beginning of your shift, and restrict your intake to a few smaller servings throughout the rest of your shift. Stop consuming caffeine at least three hours before the end of your shift to let your body prepare for rest.

You might also consider switching from coffee to green tea, or iced green tea. Not only is green tea refreshing and caffeinated, it’s loaded with antioxidants that have many health benefits, including improving brain function and lowering your risk of heart disease.

Practice Breathing Techniques

When your body feels threatened, your adrenaline kicks in. This creates a panic response that overrides your senses and makes it difficult to focus and stay calm. Taking deep, restorative breaths slows the body down and interrupts the panic response, so you can get grounded and centered.

When you feel a sense of panic, stop and take a deep breath. Let your breath out slowly, and repeat this sequence a few times, as needed. Then, return to the task at hand. It’s also worth exploring additional techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), to help reduce anxiety after a stressful event.

Model Behaviors for Others

Mental Health Tips: How To Stay Focused And Calm

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Nurses are professionals at the “fake it until you make it” approach to staying calm. When you start to feel panicked, show the behavior you want to exude to others around you. Focus on becoming the voice of reason and model of calm to help the patients, family members and peers around you.  

This strategy is surprisingly effective during tense, emotion-driven situations and can help diffuse feelings of anxiety and stress for others. You might even remind yourself to calm down in the process as well.

Use Self-Care and Emotional Processing

Finally, make time outside of work to practice self-care and stress management. Get out in nature, connect with friends and family, and practice the hobbies and sports that bring you joy. As a nurse, you’ll often experience people at the worst times in their lives, and those experiences will stay with you. Don’t bottle them up – find a healthy outlet so you can let go and keep moving forward.

With these practical tips, you can stay calm and focused during long shifts, and you can look forward to recharging your battery during your down time.

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Mental Health for Nurses

Being a nurse can be hard on your mental health. Burnout, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, and even secondary trauma are becoming more and more common among all healthcare workers. With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health for healthcare workers has only worsened as they grow angry, exhausted, and burnt out.

According to research, reported cases of anxiety and depression in healthcare workers was as high as 35%, but those who exhibited symptoms of both were as high as 80%! With the stigma that still follows mental health struggles, the number of healthcare providers struggling with them is likely much closer to that 80% statistic.

With these high levels of mental health disorders in healthcare workers and no end in sight of this pandemic any time soon, what can we do about it to protect ourselves and our colleagues? In this section you’ll find blogs full of tips and ways to improve and maintain your mental health so that you can love your job as a nurse again.

Mental Health for Nurses

Jan 24, 2022
Being a nurse can be hard on your mental health. Burnout, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, and even secondary trauma are becoming more and more common among all healthcare workers. With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health for healthcare workers has only

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Self Care For Nurses

Oct 26, 2021
“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear”                                 – Florence Nightingale  What is Self Care for Nurses Self care is a phrase we hear fairly frequently in our society today and especially

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A Hospital to Home Ritual For Nurses

After working a long, 12 hour shift, it’s hard to leave that behind you when you walk through your front door. It’s hard but so important so that you can protect your mental health and spend time with your loved ones. If you spend a lot of time at home worrying about work or your patients, that stress comes home with you. This keeps your mind in the fight or flight mindset. Over a long period of time, this can do true damage to your nervous system, essentially trapping you in a perpetual state of stress. 

So what can we do to try and leave work at work more often? A coming home ritual is a perfect way to help you move from your work to your home without the stress that work inherently brings you. This ritual should promote the rest or digest mindset instead so that you can wind down, enjoy your evening, and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. 

So how do you create this coming home ritual? It’s different for everyone but should contain a few main components:

1. Create a clear end to the work day

This is more difficult now following COVID and more and more people working from home. However, when you do work at the hospital, creating a clear end to the day is important. I do this by taking a few deep breaths or doing a short meditation once I get to my car. Doing this at the end of every work day will train your brain to know that this signifies no more work.

2. Unplug

This is a way to prevent your mind from going straight back to work before you get home. For me, this is playing music loud on my drive home and singing along. It could also be podcasts or listening to an audiobook. Just do something that keeps your mind engaged but not stressed.

3. Reflect

I do a quick check in journaling on my phone. I have an app with a journal function but you could use your notes app just as easily. I answer the prompt: Right now I’m feeling ________. Type a few sentences out and see what comes up for you. I usually do this after my meditation session before I drive home but you can do it once you get home as well. This could also include a brain dump on those especially hard days where you have a lot on your mind and need to get it out.

4. Relax

This is the final stage of your routine. I take a few minutes when I get home to wash my face and put on comfy clothes and sometimes sit down for a few minutes with my husband to catch up. I usually workout after work too so this includes my yoga practice too, but it can be anything that works for you and gets you ready for a relaxing evening. 

Play with your activities and see what works best for you so you can shift into the rest or digest mindset and enjoy your evening off.

A Short and Simple Morning Routine for Nurses

Getting up for 7 am shifts has always been very difficult for me. I would always wake up late, roll out bed, throw on my scrubs, put my hair up into a messy bun, and run out the door. No breakfast, no time to myself or anything.

Then I discovered morning routines and started to implement them slowly into my life. Soon, it became another stressor with so much to do in the morning and never having time for it without waking up at 4 am. So once again, I had to take a step back and reevaluate my routine so that it could work every day, including my work days. 

Below, I laid out an example of a routine you can do and fit in before your shift (note this assumes that you live within a half hour of your workplace, and you may need to adjust accordingly based on your drive time!) 

5:30 am: wakeup, turn on my first timer (set this in advance and start with your morning routine written out somewhere you’ll see it with the times next to it like this is laid out) 

5:30- 5:40 am: Slow stretches while listening to something you enjoy! For me, I love listening to affirmations, either recorded by myself or others, and motivational morning podcasts. But others may like some relaxing music, the news on TV, or just silence! Find what works for you and do whatever stretching your body needs first thing in the morning 

5:40- 5:45 am: Make breakfast. Do as much prep for this as possible the night before so it’s easy to set up! 

5:45- 6:00 am: Eat, drink coffee, and enjoy while writing in your journal. I think a journaling practice is one of the most helpful ways to help you with things like burnout and stress but also help you start your day with motivation! (See my post about morning and evening journaling practices!) 

6:00- 6:10 am: Meditate. You can use an app or find meditations on youtube or even sit in complete silence! But use this time to watch your mind and notice what thoughts and feelings come up. 

6:10- 6:30 am: Get ready for work. This could involve taking a shower or not depending on what you prefer. Keep listening to music or podcasts while you do this! 

6:30 am: Leave for work feeling energized and refreshed! 

How to Take Care of Your Body on Night Shift for Nurses

Working the night shift full time is hard, physically and mentally. Most nurses these days are alternating between days and nights every so often as well due to staffing issues or starting as a new grad in a position called a “rotator,” so you work on both continuously for at least a year. 

Our bodies were not meant to be awake all night. Since the dawn of time, humans have slept and woke with the rise and fall of the sun, so when you try to reverse hundreds of thousands, even millions, of years ago. 

While it’s “unnatural” for your body, it’s necessary for some nurses to work the night shift. Whether it’s for professional or personal reasons like childcare. There are some ways you can help make this as seamless as possible and as easy on your physical and mental health as you can! 

1. Get as much sleep as you can

Resolve to yourself that you may not get much done on these days like house chores or errands. Sleep as much as you can before and after a night shift! The more sleep you have, the less likely you’ll feel the effects of sleep deprivation later

2. Try to cluster your night shifts together

Do two or three in a row if it’s possible. Trying to have a day or two off in between often messes with your circadian rhythm and prevents you from being able to sleep much before your next shift.

3. Stick to a routine

How you prepare for your night shifts every week matters! Most studies show that this differs for almost everyone. Some people stay up late and sleep in very late the night before their first night shift while others get up very early the morning of their first night shift and go back to sleep around noon for an extended nap. Find what works for you and stick to it!

4. Treat your mornings like they are nights

This means no screen time before bed, keeping your room as cool and dark as you can and having a wind down routine! Doing this EVERY time before you go to sleep, whether it’s morning or night time, so that your body and brain associate it with sleeping.

5. Eat healthy foods and drink lots of water

As tempting as that coffee at 3 am is, try to avoid it! Pack lots of healthy snacks for when you get hungry to avoid those fatty and fried foods that will leave you feeling bad later!

Adding these five things into your night shift routine can really help you feel your best and not like a zombie shuffling through your life!

Positive Workday Affirmations for Nurses

It’s normal to feel anxious before going to work, especially in such a stress-inducing environment. Affirmations have been shown to improve mood and reduce overall anxiety, so they can be powerful tools for that pre-shift anxiety. Say these aloud to yourself, or better yet, record yourself saying them and listen to them as part of your morning routine before work. 

I am a great nurse 

I am so grateful to be alive 

I will care for my patients to the best of my ability 

I make a difference every day 

My patients and colleagues respect me 

I respect myself 

I let go of things I cannot control 

Even when times are hard, I see the good in myself and in others 

I choose hope over fear 

Nursing is who I am 

My happiness is always my choice 

I am enough

Everything I need is within me 

I can, and I will 

Everything will be okay 

I can handle anything that happens 

I am a great nurse 

When you’re done, take a deep breath in, and bask in the glow of the positive energy you have created.