Healthcare workers are notorious for giving absolutely everything of themselves to care for others, and completely neglecting to care for themselves. Think back to a time where you felt overwhelmed, stressed, tired and generally out of control… (possibly after your last shift?) What helps you to ‘change your state’ when you feel this way? It might be a bubble bath, it might be some meditation, it might be reading a book, it might be writing all about how you feel, it might be getting your nails done, it might be a boxing class or a long run…this is what self care is all about. It’s about looking after yourself, ensuring that you are well rested, calm, de-stressed and functioning to the best of your ability.
As shift workers we are often at the mercy of our rosters, and working a run of shifts with minimal days off can often lead to stress, anxiety, exhaustion, poor eating and disrupted sleep. It is so important to take care of yourself, because as it turns out – no one else is going to do it for you. Practising self care is all about doing the things that make you feel good, taking time out for yourself and, most importantly, making you your number one priority.
There are few analogies floating around that relate to self care. The first is about filling your own cup first. By nourishing yourself first and foremost, your cup will be ‘full’, allowing it to spill over to others. The second is ‘in the event of an emergency, please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others’, meaning that by prioritising yourself, you will then be able to more effectively and safely assist others…instead of attempting to help everyone around you, all the while struggling for air!
Self care looks different for every person, and it’s all about finding what works for you. Many people think that they are being selfish by taking time out to take care of themselves. I believe the opposite…by taking time out to ensure that you are functioning to the best of your ability, you are ensuring that you offer the best version of yourself to the world. Sure, you could say yes to everything and run yourself ragged trying to please all the people in your life, or you could prioritise yourself, take five minutes and do something that makes you feel good from the inside out, leaving you ready to take on the challenges of the day as they come. Which one sounds more appealing?
Here are my tips to developing a shift work friendly self care routine that works for you
Plan self care – like almost everything in a shift worker’s life, it is important to schedule time for self care around work hours. Personally, I like to meditate and go for a walk in my local park in the mornings and I put this on my weekly planner. I make time every few weeks to get a pedicure, and I always spend at least part of my days off relaxing and recharging by doing the things I love to do, like reading a book or going to a yin yoga class. Some people may say this is selfish, but I know that it makes me an overall nicer human and equips me to deal with the mental and physical challenges life throws at me.
Even five minutes can make a difference – often the idea of blocking out a few hours to do something nice for ourselves can feel indulgent. If this resonates with you, maybe you can start small. Taking five minutes to close your eyes and do a guided meditation or to sit out on your balcony with your morning coffee or tea can make a world of difference. Remember, anything is better than nothing!
Find what works for you – like I always say there is absolutely no point in forcing yourself to do something if you absolutely hate it! Yes, yoga is amazing for the body and mind, but if you spend every second of the session wishing you weren’t there, maybe it’s better for you to go for a walk, take a nap or go and get a massage. Develop a list of self care activities you can do and enjoy, and implement them regularly in your life.
Make sure it’s achievable – You need to ensure that your personal self care routine is realistic. There’s no point in expecting to do a gym session, a walk, a yoga class, meditation, read a book and lie on the beach all in the space of the two hours you happen to have free that day. Pick one or two, and just lose yourself in them.
Get out into nature – One of the best things that you can do when you feel overwhelmed is get out into nature. Even at work, on my lunch break I like to just get out of the sterile ward environment and spend 30 minutes sitting outside and breathing fresh air into my lungs. Going for a walk along the beach or through your local park can make a world of difference. In his recent book, ‘Wellth’ Jason Wachob (the CEO of mindbodygreen) writes about how scientific studies are now finding that a connection with nature can provide so many mental and physical benefits to humans, including increasing your sense of vitality, improving your focus and even, as the results of a five-year study that looked at senior citizens in Japan found, possibly increasing your life span. I find that taking a walk along the beach or through a park helps to reset my mind, calm my thoughts and generally feel more ready to take on the day. Additionally, as pointed out by one of my good friends who is also a paediatric mental health nurse, mindfulness can sometimes be easier and more natural in nature as it appeals to our senses…feeling the breeze, seeing the leaves, hearing the ocean…
Look out for number one – finally, prioritising yourself is so important, as like I said previously, no one else is going to do it for you. Respect yourself enough to take time out, in order to make sure that you are showing up in the world as the best possible version of yourself!
Let me know if this was helpful for you, or share your own self care routine! Next week I will write about staying organised and how to have a life while doing shift work!
Image credit: Unsplash