Most nurses don’t live in the 9-to-5 world and are well aware of how weird shifts can wreak havoc on one’s personal life. How do you maintain relationships with friends and family who are working when you’re not? How do you tweak your schedule when you need time in the “real” world? What about worship when you work on Sundays? Coming right up from the Spring 2010 issue of Scrubs, 15 ways to make the most of your downright wacky downtime.
Learn to love off shifts.
“I work three days a week, 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and it can be hard,” says Kara Zogby Comp, BSN, RN, a traveling nurse currently on assignment in Panama City, Fla. “But once I got over the fact that I was working nights and weekends, I started to realize the benefits, like I get four days off when most people have only two.” Chicago-based Michele Martello, RN, has worked the night shift for 22 years—and wouldn’t have it any other way. Her favorite part? “I could take my son to school in the morning, sleep while he was there, help him with homework when he came home, then have dinner with him before going off to work.”
Get a good day’s sleep.
“I love sleeping in when everyone else is waking up and rushing off to work,” says Michelle Whitaker, RN, of Cambridge, Mass. To ensure you get the rest you need, make your bedroom a sanctuary. Keep the temperature on the cool side—60 to 65 degrees F, which is ideal for slumber, according to the Better Sleep Council. Dim the lights—completely. Consider a sleep mask, heavy drapes or window covers such as those made by Blackout EZ Window Cover (blackoutez.com). Adopt a pre-bedtime ritual that your body will come to associate with sleep, whether it’s ambient music, chamomile tea, relaxing aromatherapy or a soothing warm bath or shower. Don’t forget to turn off the ringer on the phone, set your cell to vibrate and make sure the answering machine is on low. And see to it that family members (pets, too) have what they need from you so your dreams won’t be interrupted.
Alert thy neighbors.
Let the folks next door, down the hall and upstairs know “your 3 p.m. is my 3 a.m.” Hopefully they’ll be respectful and keep noise to a minimum, and you’ll get the peace and quiet you deserve.
Don’t hit that mattress…yet.
Sometimes you want to be on a “normal” schedule—maybe to take on a volunteer stint that falls in the middle of your sleeping hours, or you just crave a typical dinner-and-a-movie date with your partner. Next time that urge strikes when you’re coming up on a few days off, don’t head for the bed as soon as you get home from work, advises New Jersey–based Kathy Madden, RN, FNP-BC, AOCNP. She worked off shift for 10 years, but says, “I’d flip back to an ‘everyone else’ schedule for my days off.” How did she do it? By staying up till dark—she’d do only light chores or catch up on reading. After a full night’s sleep, she’d be sufficiently rested to live like a “regular person” the next day.
Say goodbye to lines.
Ah, the beauty of the supermarket, post office, health club, bank or mall…at 10 a.m. on a weekday! “It’s really nice not to be forced to shop on the weekends when the crowds are heavy,” says Emily Smith, RN, of Austin, Tex. “I can browse to my heart’s content without being jostled or hurried.” Another perk? If you wash clothes at a laundromat or in your apartment building, you needn’t compete with the rest of the world’s dirties. Use 10 machines at a time to do three weeks’ worth of laundry in a couple of hours if you please.
Revel in your reverse commute.
When driving home from your night shift, it’s okay to smirk a little at the traffic-snarled commuters crawling in the opposite direction. “It takes me half the time it would if I drove to work during ‘regular’ hours,” says Philadelphia night-shifter and self-professed night owl Laura Hannu-Eckrote, RN. Plus, there’s a cash incentive: “Parking is often free at night. I would have to pay to park or to take the train if I worked during the day.”
Enjoy last-minute indulgences.
Reservations at the hottest place in town may be hard to come by on a typical weekend, but when your Friday is Tuesday, you’ll not only find a great table, but you’ll have an eager-to-please, un-frazzled staff at your disposal. The same holds true for other service-oriented businesses. Whereas you’d need to book a Saturday haircut weeks in advance, you’re likely to score midweek appointments at the drop of a hat.
Keep up with 9 to 5-ers.
“I meet my office-job friends on their lunch breaks since I can’t spend time with them on weekends,” says Whitaker, who then proceeds to make the most of those afternoons. “They’re jealous that when they have to go back to work, I’m heading out to shop or just to enjoy the sunshine.” You could also take in a matinee (some movie theaters still offer daytime discounts) or stroll through a museum as though it’s your own private gallery (some offer free admission on select afternoons and evenings).
Reach out and (virtually) touch someone.
Today’s technology allows you to easily email, text and follow friends and family members when it’s convenient for you. It takes only a few minutes to sign up for Twitter and Facebook, and you can check in whenever your schedule allows. “Phone dates are popular with my best friend and me,” says Madden. You too? Take them to a new and improved level with virtually free video-calling via your computer. Blow kisses and everything! (For more information, check out skype.com/allfeatures/videocall.) Don’t despair if you’re technically challenged—it may be worth taking a quick course (often available at your public library).
Stop and smell the flowers.
Communing with nature is pure bliss when the crowds are thin—and exactly what you might need after an intense 12-hour shift. “I enjoy going to the lake when I get off in the morning to unwind and enjoy the tranquility while everyone else is at work or school,” says Martello. Take in your favorite park, beach or hillside, and bike, swim or hike to your heart’s content. You may even rediscover the natural beauty of your own neighborhood, like Patty Roisum, RN, from LaCrosse, Wis., did. “When I work weekend nights, I love walking home on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The streets are empty, so it’s always peaceful. I listen to the birds chirp and watch the sun come up.” Recent research shows that appreciating the outdoors can lower levels of anxiety, depression and other stress-related woes, which means you’ll head back to work with a calmer state of mind.
Worship, your way.
Being on the floor while everyone else is at prayer—and you wish you were, too—may feel terrible. “I’m Catholic, and working every other Sunday is the pits,” admits Montana-based Sharon L. Morris, RN, BSN, CNOR, who has become resourceful about her spiritual life. “I’ve received communion at work. Two ladies from my church come to offer communion to patients, so I can ‘get it on the run.’” For Zogby Comp, Thursday is her regular day of worship: “God and I have an agreement that I can make up for Sunday mass during the week.” Keep your hospital chapel in mind, too—you can pop in on a break. Florida Hospital in Orlando, for example, operates a Devotionals Program, which offers employees special prayer groups and service.
Be smart about rescheduling.
It’s bound to happen: a must-attend bridal shower or family function falls on a Saturday when you’re supposed to work. It pays to prepare for these glitches by building a good rapport with your manager—but it’s critical to pick your battles and never to cry wolf. “If a nurse is constantly demanding changes and places as much weight on a Friday night date as a child’s starring role in the spring performance, the scheduler won’t be as likely to rearrange dates when you need to most,” says Whitaker, who thinks being respectful always helps. “I always ask for their ‘help’ and use phrases like ‘I know this is short notice….’” Show your appreciation, too: Express sincere thanks when requests are granted, and make assurances that you’re willing to fill gaps in the schedule or pitch in when needed.
Make the shift-switch yourself.
It’s always a good idea to present a solution, not a problem, to your superior. So, before asking for a change in a set schedule (which would mean your manager would have to alter your shift as well as someone else’s), take matters into your own hands and try to switch shifts on your own. You get what you need, you may be making another nurse’s life easier—and you’ll earn the appreciation of your scheduler. You’ve just created a win-win-win situation!
Party like a night nurse.
“I’ve worked nights for many years and we are a rare breed, living our lives opposite of what is considered normal,” muses Chicagoan Dorothy Rhodes, RN, MS, who celebrates her offbeat off-hours with gusto! “Do something only a night nurse could appreciate: Have a cocktail party at 8 a.m.!” She and her fellow ER nurses have done so several times at a restaurant just a few minutes from their hospital. “The place opens at seven in the morning,” says Rhodes. “We make arrangements for food and drinks, and we carpool and have designated drivers available.” Cheers!
Remember, when the cat’s away….
Do you feel your serenity start to subside as soon as your time off winds down? Chances are your supervisor and other administrative types won’t be around during the wee hours when you return to work. “During the day shift, you have to be on your best behavior because your boss could appear at any minute,” Zogby Comp points out. “You’re always being given extra tasks because your boss happens to see you and thinks of something. Well, when I work, my boss is sleeping. The atmosphere is so much more laid-back when the boss is at home!”
For more Career Advice for Nurses pick up the latest issue of Scrubs magazine, available at a retail store near you!