If you work outside of healthcare, taking a break during your workday is essential and encouraged. Taking a break, or even a breather, is something that’s done proactively by the worker’s own initiative and is often taken for granted. For a busy nurse, on the other hand, a break may be the only time that they see during a 12-hour shift to regroup, rejuvenate their minds, rebuild their spirit, reenergize and rest their bodies. It’s crucial as a nurse, then, to maximize your breaks and breathers whenever they come and remember that patient care relies on good self-care.
Taking the proper breaks can be easier said than done in this landscape, but knowing that your breaks are as beneficial as they are important, and knowing how to utilize them, can help you maximize a lot more than just your breaks themselves.
Why Is This So Hard?
Once you slip into work mode, it can be hard to let go of your purpose for a break — especially when you’re likely so used to putting your patients’ needs before your own. It can also be hard for others to leave you alone when you’re proudly wearing your women’s scrubs on break that make you look like you’re ready for action. Hand-in-hand with this of course is the stigma that surrounds taking a break in this position, or heavy workloads that can restrict it. Where that’s not the issue, getting too comfortable and having a hard time jumping back in can be the culprit for not maximizing your breaks as a nurse as well.
Break Maximizing Methods
Nurses are notorious for not taking their breaks. This can be for a variety of reasons as we’ve seen, and it may seem noble, but it doesn’t come recommended even by the nurses who do it. You’re entitled to a break, so make sure that you’re exercising that right — right!
Embrace the Silence: Due to the nature of the job, nurses will undoubtedly find themselves overstimulated and overwhelmed often. Getting away from your unit for your breaks whenever possible and going outside or to a quieter area, indulging in light meditation and putting down your phone can all have a significant impact and help you to recalibrate.
Subtly Stretch: Incorporating subtle and inconspicuous stretching time into your break allows you to prepare your body for the rest of your shift, while also helping your muscles relax a little after multiple hours of already doing the job. Along with helping your muscles relax, this will also prevent them from relaxing too much and getting stuck in break mode. If stretching isn’t an option for any reason, always remember that walking is a simple and effective way to refresh you mentally and physically.
Refuel Frequently: As a nurse, your lunch break is the most crucial break to embrace — and, unfortunately, also the one that’s normally the first to get cut short. Not only are a nurse’s lunch breaks normally cut short, but they are sometimes cut entirely, with no indication of when the next opportunity to eat will be. To combat clouded judgment and encourage your well-being, it’s best practice to make sure you carry a snack with you for when the opportunity to eat presents itself.
Proactively Plan and Prepare Meals: If you get a minute to eat, don’t waste it by running to the vending machine or waiting in line at the cafeteria. Not only will your opportunity rapidly fleet away, but you’ll be drastically increasing the likelihood of unhealthy food indulgence. Make the most of your break by bringing prepared foods and easy snacks that offer the nutrition and convenience you need.
Restock Your Station: Restocking and organizing your station may not feel like the most relaxing use of your time, but if you’ve eaten and taken a moment to yourself, consider sitting and passively paying your station the attention it deserves. Missing supplies and misplaced tools make for messy shifts, additional time tacked onto tasks and additional time standing between you and your breaks.
Come Prepared: At the end of each shift, allow yourself the time to reorganize after the day, as well as prepare for the next. This is especially important when it comes to packing the medical bag that you use every day. Your medical bag should be well-stocked (and restocked/reorganized daily) with necessary and frequently used supplies, an extra set of scrubs, fresh food and whatever else you may need. By giving yourself the time to reorganize and prepare for your day ahead while everything is fresh in your mind, you’ll walk in confident the next day knowing that you can complete and will be prepared to do these tasks.
Dress for the Job You Want — And the Breaks You Desire: You certainly don’t want to waste your 10-minute break picking your wedgie or having to unlace and pull off your blister-inducing shoes just trying to get comfortable enough to relax. By wearing scrubs that fit you properly and provide comfort, finding comfort in compression socks designed for long workdays and heavy workloads and utilizing the most forgiving footwear for hard-impact floors, it can be easier to get comfy on break and easier to stay comfy on the floor.
Is a Short Break Worth It?
Whether it be at work or in life, you likely know that neglecting your break time can result in negative effects like fatigue, injury, financial impact on your facilities, compromised patient outcomes and more. That being said, your short spontaneous breaks may not feel like they’re doing that much to help. That’s why it’s essential to learn how to maximize even these brief moments — because ANY moment to stop and breathe can help!
Better Breaks Ahead
Outside of healthcare, there have been many industries that have been quick to realize the negative effects of shift work on employees and adopt appropriate measures to address them. Measures like limiting overall time on duty, mandating opportunities for sleep and implementing controlled rest periods could all be as beneficial to nurses. But in the meantime, it’s up to you as a nurse to pay your own needs as much attention as you can.