How to Survive a Long Nursing Shift

Being a nurse isn’t something you do halfway. As the medical profession’s first line of defense, the expectations are high. The hours are long. The work is physically exhausting. The patients are demanding. The charting is never-ending. It’s always fast-paced and short-staffed. It’s a job that requires you to be on top of your game. Knowing that, you likely maintain an overall healthy lifestyle that includes eating right, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. If you’re lucky, you might even get in a few massages for good measure. While that’s all great, you also need to find ways to relax and de-stress during your long shifts. These tips can help with that.

Mind your muscles

When you’re running around trying to get everything done, your muscles tense up from the physical strain and react to your body’s stress. As you likely know, muscles have memory, meaning they will hold onto that tension until your brain tells it to let go. So, during your break time, take a few minutes to practice a relaxation technique known as progressive muscle relaxation.

Here’s how it works: Sit down. Moving from your toes to your neck, or vice versa, focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. Using a rhythm of 5 seconds tense and 30 seconds relaxed, start at your toes and move to your ankles, calves, thighs, and so on. Once you’ve released the tension and have relaxed the muscle, consciously try to relax it a little more. This exercise will help you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation, which will make you more aware of physical sensations.

Get some air

Most working environments aren’t the model for relaxation. Sterile walls, fluorescent lighting and cluttered spaces can make you feel boxed in. To combat that, try taking your break outside. Obviously this is a more attractive option in the warmer months, but don’t discount the rush you’ll get on a cold winter day.

The natural high: Studies have shown that sunlight actually makes people happier. Researchers say its best benefit is the ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply. Among its many qualities, vitamin D is a natural anti-depressant. An added bonus is being outside might remind you there’s a whole big world outside the walls of the problems you’re facing inside. A little perspective does a body good.

A change of tune

We are bombarded by sounds. Some are obvious: people talking, the intercom system blaring announcements, the hustle-bustle of coworkers. Other sounds are registered subconsciously: the hum of the lights, the ticks of machines. All have an effect on your nervous system. Introducing classical music into an environment is proven to reduce the stress levels of those in it.

If it’s not Baroque … : If you work with an iPod or have a radio playing at the nurse station, your choice of music can have a surprising effect on your stress level. Researchers have found that Baroque music’s four-four beat will cause the heart to slow down. Eventually, they found, the heart will slow to 60 beats per minute, the same as the music and the ideal on heart charts. So consider turning off the radio and turning on a classical CD at the nurse station. It might even mellow out your coworkers, which helps you even more in the end.

 A final word

Pushing through a long, stressful shift when needed is fine. But when it becomes habitual, you’re on the path to burnout – a growing problem in the nursing field. But since you’re a nurse, you likely want to see some science: The Mayo Clinic says the relaxation process decreases the effects of stress on your mind and body. It slows your heart rate and breathing rate, lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and confidence, increases blood flow to major muscles and reduces muscle tension. But maybe more importantly, if you don’t take care of yourself, who’s going to take care of them?

Thanks for reading,

Venture Medical

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