How to cope when you’re off duty at odd hours


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“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 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!”

Nina Malkin
Nina Malkin has written for The New York Times, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Essence and Cosmopolitan. She’s also the author of the novel Swoon, a paranormal romance, and the memoir An Unlikely Cat Lady.

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