Career advice

How to leave work at the end of your shift

The unique pressures of nursing can make it difficult to switch off. Life coach Mandy Day Calder offers some tips on how to relax and unwind at the end of the day. 

The unique pressures of nursing can make it difficult to switch off. Life coach Mandy Day-Calder offers some tips on how to relax and unwind at the end of the day

When to leave work at the office
Picture: Digital Vision

Nursing is a high pressured job, and working in emotionally laden settings can take its toll. Issues with staffing or other resources can also mean that sometimes your best is never quite enough. 

How you cope with pressure at work may be different from your colleagues so you need to know what works for you. Importantly, you also need to remember that work is only part of your identity. If you are not careful, work-related stress can infiltrate your home and social life. 

Here we look at strategies to help you switch off and leave work behind at the end of your shift.

End-of-work routine

Routines help provide a sense of order in demanding environments, and most wards thrive on them. To bridge the gap between work and your personal life it can help if you establish – and follow – an ‘end-of-work’ routine. Think about:

  • Handing over: even if you use an electronic or recorded method, you will still verbally handover some issues to your colleagues. Perhaps your team get into the habit of including a short debrief in the handover process? This does not need to take long, but it can help you to mentally ‘let go’ until your next shift. 
    If you want to be creative you could use traffic light cards. For example, you could each say three challenges from the shift (hold a red card); identify any ongoing issues (amber card) and finish positively with three things you did well (green card).
  • Preparing to leave: try taking a brief pause when you remove your uniform and use this as a way of symbolically separating yourself from work. Spend a couple of minutes mentally cleansing yourself of the day.
  • Travelling home: if you often leave work worrying about your shift, use your journey home to return to the present moment. This may take practice, but mindfulness or visualisation apps can help, and some exercises can even be done when driving. Cognitive ‘brain games’ such as Sudoku can help to distract you and reduce anxiety. Adding some exercise and fresh air into your journey can also help clear your mind, release endorphins and stop ruminating thoughts. Try getting off the bus or train a couple of stops early and walking the rest of the way where possible. 

Be careful of habits that may seem helpful but actually keep your mind focused on work. If you tend to unwind with colleagues by going for a coffee or a drink after your shift, for example, do not spend the whole evening talking about work. Instead, agree a reasonable amount of time to let off steam then move on to other areas of your lives. 

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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