Little rituals, big results: Preserving your sanity off the job


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There’s a lot of information out there on how not to stab other people or yourself with calipers while you’re at work. You can do breathing exercises, short meditations, even workouts in your chair. But what about before or after you punch in? How do you keep your work from bleeding over (pun intended) into your real life?

  1. Have a ritual for going in, and a ritual for leaving. These don’t have to be huge or complex. I take a couple of minutes, literally, and clean out my pockets before I leave. Putting everything away at the end of the day tells my overactive Nurse Brain that it’s time to shut up and go to sleep. Likewise, the simple ritual of getting a cup of tea before the shift notifies my subconscious mind that it’s time to rumble.
  2. Do not, under any circumstances, talk to anybody who’s not a nurse about a rough day you’ve had. This can only end in frustration if you’re talking to somebody who wants to play My Day Was Worse Than Yours, or if you’re talking to somebody who has no clue what you’re complaining about. Find one nurse friend, start a blog or hang out on nursing forums. You might meet some jerks online, but the nice people outnumber them and are willing to lend a shoulder.
  3. Likewise, do not entertain nursey questions at social events. It’s tempting to be All RN, All The Time, but that way lies madness. You spend your workdays up to your elbows in misery and pain; why answer questions about some new acquaintance’s rash during a party? You are neither a source of gross-out entertainment nor free medical advice.
  4. Don’t, and I mean don’t, check your work email on days you’re not at work. I’ve expanded that to “don’t check anydamnthing about work when I’m not at work,” but I’m jaded and bitter. If it were that important, they’d call you. If you really needed to be there, they’d have scheduled you for an extra shift. Nobody, even you, is irreplaceable.
  5. Cultivate a hobby or an interest that has nothing to do with nursing. Mine is baking. This has the double benefit of taking my mind off things and being something I can use for bribery when I’m on the job. Take up jewelry making, skiing, animal rescue or bodybuilding. Find something so fascinating and involving that you can’t wait to get into it. If it’s something you can do every day, so much the better.
  6. Remind yourself that nursing is a calling, a career and also only a part of who you are. Read things that don’t have to do with medicine. Watch TV shows other than medical dramas and documentaries. In other words, get as far away from being a nurse as you can every chance you get.

Shutting that Nursing Stuff down will make you better, happier and more effective on the job, and help to stave off burnout. Trust me on this. Nobody issued you a superhero outfit when you graduated, and you don’t have to make your own.

Agatha Lellis
Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at

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