10 Simple Steps to Make the Dreaded 12 Hour Shift More Joyful!

The words JOY written on a sign

No-body should be at work for 12 hours a day. As human beings, our concentration is actually only at its peak for a measly four hours! So, whoever invented 12-hour shifts was certainly a little nutty, to say the least. However, for so many of us, these 12-hour shifts are our reality and as much as I personally love having more days off, those long shifts are gruelling! For a lot of us, the ‘benefits’ outweigh the negatives and the majority of health care professionals will continue to work these crazy hours whether we like it not.

Up until not so long ago, I hated my 12-hour shifts. I hated being out of the house for over 14 hours a day. I hated not seeing my partner for more than an hour in an evening. I hated not being able to have a routine the list could go on and on. These are all great excuses as to why 12-hour shifts suck right? But that’s the catch here they are excuses!

The long 12-hour shifts are as joyful or miserable as we make them. When given a choice between the two I’d pick joy any day of the week, wouldn’t you?

So, over the past few months instead of hating on the long-ass shift, I’ve been trying to embrace it and squeeze as much joy into these days as possible and guess what? It’s created a huge shift in how I feel about going to work. I’m learning that joy is found in the simplest of forms and the little things in life really are the things that matter. Without these little moments of joy in my day to day, my life would be nowhere near as fulfilling as it is right now. 

Here are a few things that I’m doing to help inject more joy into my 12 hour days at work…

Start The Morning Right – With Your Favourite Drink!

As photographed beautifully above, take your favourite hot drink with you on your commute. If you’re travelling on public transport or walking having a hot drink can be a beautiful companion and really set you up for the day! If you drive then perhaps arrive at work ten minutes early and make a coffee or grab one en route! I always feel so much more balanced when I start the day this way. It focuses on the start of the day on something you find joyful opposed to the thoughts about the day ahead.

Take Yummy and Healthy Food for the Shift 

For me, food is life (wave your hands in the air if you’re with me) and I love having something delicious waiting for me on my break. I also try to make healthy food for work. Our bodies create energy depending on how we fuel them. You need to be filling your tank up with goodness to keep yourself going for 12 hours! I made the change recently to try to eat a little better on my shifts and it’s made all the difference to my mood, mindset and energy levels. 

Take An Actual Break From Work During Your Break!

How many of you reading this are guilty of sitting in the staff room on your lunch break and chatting about the day or gossiping?! This isn’t really having a break or a healthy way to distract your mind. We need to allow our minds to have time out even for just a small moment.

Take a book or listen to a podcast during your downtime. Perhaps you enjoy sudoku or colouring you can take something like that to do on your break, anything that gives you a bit of space to be mindful and focus on something other than your work. Your colleagues might want to chat/gossip which is fine but you don’t have too if you don’t want to. Remove yourself from the situation, sit at the other end of the table or simply go off the unit (more of this later on!).

I find that taking a book and just reading a chapter redirects my attention into that book and refreshes my mind. 

Speak Up!

This tip is definitely tailored towards nurses but I’m sure it could apply in other professions too. If you are struggling or aren’t happy with your patient/workload then speak up. In this profession, even though I know at times it doesn’t feel like it, you are NOT alone! If you feel out of your depth or have suddenly got incredibly busy then ask someone to help you. This attitude of ‘well we are all busy’ boils my blood. 

Yes, we are all busy but we are much more likely to come out the other side if we work together. Take nursing for example, if you’re on a ward or a unit where you and your co-workers are drowning in tasks get together and make a plan of action. Tackle the most important first and then the others later.

By WORKING TOGETHER so much more is going to get done and you’re so much more likely to be able to leave on time! But you need to speak up or your coworkers may never know – I was terrible at this when I first became a nurse because I didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t handle my workload.

Go Outside When You Can! 

Get outside and breathe some fresh air into your lungs! We all know how stuffy hospitals can be and on a lot of units, there’s hardly any natural light. I work on a busy Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and only two of our areas have natural light. Going outside for me is a must to keep onto of my mental health at work! 

Take Food For Your Colleagues to Share

Who doesn’t love it when some kind soul brings in food to share? It doesn’t matter what shift it is when us nurses know there’s food being shared it brightens us all up! One of the units I worked on did this every weekend which got staff so excited to work! It’s nice to give back to one another and makes us so much more grateful for our working environment at that time. 

Prepare Dinner for When You Get Home 

Bringing joy into a busy 12-hour shift doesn’t just mean focusing on what you do at work but making the whole day feel more joyful just easier. I’ve always been very good at preparing food for work but not for my return home. I used to cook at 8 pm after a long day but after a while, I was getting fed up of being on my feet all day and then cooking. I ended up not giving my body what it needs and opting for beans on toast and takeaways more often than I should! 

Now I’ve completely changed the way I look at eating after work and I always prepare something the day before that I can heat up after my long day. You can literally cook anything and reheat it. It’s so comforting knowing you’ve got something easy and nutritious to look forward to after a shift. I don’t know about you but when I got home I’m always starving so it’s great to know I’ve got something yummy waiting for me.

Plan to Do Something Nice After Work 

Now, I can probably guess what you’re thinking as you read this one. How can you do something nice after a 12 hour day? How can you possibly fit anything else into the day at 8 pm? Well, it’s mind over matter my friends!

By doing something nice I don’t mean that you have to go out for a meal or visit friends/family. What I mean is consciously making some time for yourself after a busy day. Maybe you’ve got a film your saving for the weekend? Why not watch it after a shift? Read some of your books, enjoy a dinner with your partner or spend 15 minutes doing a hobby you enjoy – crafting? Drawing? It’s important to focus our minds elsewhere when we get home from work to help switch off our busy brains.  

For me I love getting home, taking a shower or ideally bath which there seems to be a lack of in New Zealand, eating and then spending half an hour writing or reading before really winding down for bed. 

Get Enough Sleep 

Our bodies need sleep and when we are expecting our bodies to power through a long shift they need all the rest they can get! So be mindful of what time you’re going to bed before and after long shifts. Be conscious of the plans you’re making. I know nurses who go out the night before maybe for drinks and end up getting home really late and then getting up for work the next day. These are also the nurses who wonder why they’re tired all day long. Well hello? If you only got 4 hours sleep then you’re probably going to be tired! 

I know that I’m a happier person after 7-8 hours sleep so. I always make sure I try and get this every single night but especially before a 12-hour shift! Ditch Netflix and get to bed earlier – you’ll thank yourself in the long run! 

Finally, the most important one of all, be kind!

The energy that you give off will probably be a reflection of the energy you’re going to receive. So if you have a can’t be bothered attitude then your co-workers are likely to send that attitude right back at ya! Even if you’re having a bad day, we are allowed them, try to be kind.

Even just smiling will make the day feel a whole better and the motion of . smiling has been proven to make us happier anyway! You’ll probably find that by being kind to others you’ll cheer yourself up in the process. I’m a huge advocate for treating people the way you want to be treated. If you don’t, how you expect anything more and how can you expect a positive joyful 12-hour shift is there isn’t any kindness around?

So that’s my lovely lot. A few tips to help bring a little more balance and joy to long 12-hour shifts! Remember it’s all about taking responsibility for yourself and your happiness which will help you lead a more balanced life.

Do you have any practises to help make your days at work more joyful? I’d love to hear them and if you try any of these then let me know how it goes!

Love, Alicia x

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12 hour shifts can be gruelling. The affect on both our bodies both mentally and physically is challenging. There are plenty of reasons why 12 hour shifts are bad for us but we can make them joyful too if we choose too! In this post I'm giving you some great tips on how to implement more joy into these busy long days! #nursingtips #nursingschool #12hourshifts #shiftworkingtips #shiftworker #selfcarefornurses
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Alicia is a travel obsessed Registered Nurse who is on a mission to help other unfulfilled nurses reconnect with their purpose, passion and joy for life. Alicia has suffered from countless bouts of burnout in her nursing career and now wants to help other nurses too. Alicia is a huge advocate for travel and travel makes up a huge part of her life and this blog! Join her on her adventures nursing around the world and helping others to live a happier more positive life.

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