Decompressing After a Ridiculously Long Shift
It happens to all of us: While you’re wrapping up your shift by charting those few notes left uncharted, emptying Foley bags that are threatening to burst, and dreaming of your bed after what was a productive but harried shift, your supervisor approaches from the wings.
“We need you to stay over.” No matter their tone, the plan is already in place. It’s your turn to stay a few extra hours after your scheduled shift. And because it comes with the job, you do it.
Nurses work long hours to ensure that our team is ready for whatever challenge comes our way. We work longer so that our patients are safe, advocated for, and have the best care possible. But, in all this hustle and bustle, it’s easy to forget that these long shifts put extra strain on our minds and bodies, making decompressing from them all the more important.
As a health care professional, you likely already know that stress comes with complications: health problems, decreased sleep, and muscle aches. Basically, a whole lot of nonsense nurses just don’t need. I don’t have time for getting sick or experiencing sleep problems, so when I’ve worked a ridiculously long shift, I focus on pampering myself and resting to recover.
Don’t Rush to Bed
Without relaxing first, rushing home to sleep may not be the best option. As someone who struggles with insomnia, I know this first hand. While I may be exhausted, if I attempt to hit the hay the moment I arrive home, I’ll often find myself lying awake for an hour or two.
Instead, try a few of the tricks below:
· Take a hot bath or shower. Put a few drops of a relaxing lavender oil in the tub or burn a lightly scented candle.
· Have a small snack packed with protein and carbohydrates to help your brain recover. Granola and yogurt or crackers and cheese are perfect for this. Be mindful and don’t overeat; a meal too large may make it harder to relax or fall asleep later.
· Go for a walk. Getting outside and taking a slow walk in nature or around your neighborhood is a great way to center yourself. Walking slows down your thoughts and gives you an opportunity to instead think about the world around you.
· Call a friend. This one is my favorite way to decompress! I’ve got a list of great friends who are always available to help me unwind after a long shift. I find other nurses are great for this because I don’t have to explain the technical aspects of the job that naturally get tangled up in the stories of my day. Instead, chatting with other nurses allows me to focus on how I’m feeling about what I just experienced.
There’s no one way to properly dispose of stress. While I might find walks and baths relaxing, you may find that they just aren’t enough! I know friends who use the energy or adrenaline accumulated at work to weight train or run a few miles every day. You may also find that the best option for decompressing is really just getting plenty of rest. If you’re one of the lucky few able to fall asleep no matter where you are or what you’ve been up to, then go for it! The important thing is that we, as nurses, take care of ourselves. If we fail to decompress after our shifts, we fail to recover for our patients. The best caretakers take care of themselves first.