As a perfectionist and someone with an all or nothing mindset, 12 hour shifts were rough on my mental health. I would get home in the evening, eat a rushed dinner, feel like I had no time to myself before rushing off to bed. This made me feel like a failure because I didn’t have time to read or workout or do all the things I wanted to finish I also didn’t have time to take care of my own mental and physical health, decompress from the day, and reset for the next one. From here, I spiraled into the anxiety hole never to return.
So I started trying to integrate new habits and routines so that I could feel good instead of tired and cycling through burnout so often. So, here are a few ideas that you can start integrating into your life now if the above scenario speaks to you.
1. Eat a healthy dinner at work
When I worked on mother/baby, we took breaks for breakfast and lunch, so I though why not dinner too? Start packing a healthy dinner in your lunch box (and maybe get a bigger one to accommodate three full meals) so that you can take a break around 5 pm, eat your dinner, and not worry about when you get home.
Now, also as a former ICU nurse, I know this may not be realistic for busier units. So, for your breakfast, start bringing healthy smoothies you can drink throughout the morning. For dinner, maybe make a healthy sandwich you can eat in the car on the way home, or have another smoothie (soup smoothie?) with you at your workstation.
At least for me, not having to worry about making and having dinner when I got home really freed up A LOT of my evening for other activities and prevented me from stopping at a fast food restaurant on my way home.
2. Develop an after work routine or ritual
For me, this was in my car ride home. I would blast my favorite songs in the car with the windows open (weather permitted) and singing it out, even dancing it out at stop lights. This is really helpful to decompress and let yourself FEEL your feelings after a long day. Sometimes you might scream, cry, or laugh and that’s okay! The job is hard, keeping those feelings bottled up is harder.
Then, when I get home, I sit in my car for a minute and do a meditation. My favorites are some end of day specific meditations that are all about ending your day and leaving it behind before going inside your home. When it’s over, I take a deep breath and make my way inside.
3. Shower when you get home
This is for all those germs, but also for a true visualization of cleansing yourself of the day, everything about the day. Play some quiet music, a shower meditation (yes that’s a thing), or just visualize your entire body being cleansed not only of germs but just the day in general as well!
4. Save your workouts for your days off
There is no need for you to workout after a 12 hour shift. So if you need someone to say it, there you go. If you want to move your body every day, do some yoga after your shower, something short and rejuvenating like yin or restorative. The better you take care of yourself on these days, the more energy you’ll have to do a good workout on your days off.
5. Do something you enjoy
This can be simple. Watch your favorite TV show, read your favorite book, do 15 minutes of a hobby you enjoy doing, whatever you want that you consider “fun.”
6. Have an evening routine
This can be simpler for your work days but do something to help you wind down whether it’s restorative yoga, or your long hot shower, journaling or meditating, just something that helps you truly relax and get ready for sleep and go to bed ON TIME!
Try these after your next shift and see if it helps you feel like you have some evening down time to refresh your mind and body.
Alison Shely is a nurse practitioner, nurse coach, and nurse content writer who specializes in articles, guest blogger, and healthcare worker wellness.
Visit her website for coaching details and other writing samples.
Sources: 50 State Boards of Nursing, University Websites, U.S. Department of Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ranking Methodology.