5 Tips to Make Your 12 Hours More Enjoyable

Written By: Tenley Force RN, BSN


​Working 12 hour shifts allows for a lot of flexibility, but it can feel like our lives are not our own for those 12 hours. This can lead to exhaustion and, if we’re not careful, burn out. For the entirety of each shift, we have to be fully present. We are not machines. We need breaks, rest, and to take little moments for ourselves to remind ourselves that we are humans first and nurses second.

In the moments in which we begin to feel machine-like, it is important to engage in little activities throughout each shift that help the long hours feel more enjoyable and boost overall wellness. So, let’s discuss 5 mini ways in which we can “treat” ourselves at work and reconnect with ourselves.

Tip #1:
Give yourself things to look forward to throughout your shift.

Having a literal treat for yourself is one of the best ways to boost internal morale. Sometimes it’s getting a meal or a snack from the cafeteria. Maybe it’s looking forward to a baked good you brought from home. Ordering food together as a unit is another fun idea. Or simply sitting down and having a sip of your coffee in the break room. The end of the shift still feels like it is far off, but it’s only a few hours until you get to have a treat and break up the day.

Tip #2:
Have rituals that involve your coworkers.

​Inviting someone into your own individual process of treating yourself can make the treat itself a more dynamic experience. We have someone to cheer us on towards the treat as we also cheer them on. A team member to remind us that something good is coming your way can add a glimmer of hope to a shift that might otherwise be difficult. Whatever the ritual might be, no matter how goofy or small, the important thing is doing it together. For example, I had two co-workers who would have “tea time” at  0200 when they worked together. The would cheers and drink apple juice together.


Tip #3: Get off the floor.  

Sometimes the floor can just feel like too much. It’s overstimulating.  Too many sounds, smells, conversations, things to do. Sometimes sitting in the break room doesn’t cut it either. The proximity to the chaos is just too close. Find any excuse to get out of the area for a bit. Take a sample to the lab, venture to the cafeteria, borrow a tool from another floor, or  offer to help transfer a patient to another unit. Taking a walk somewhere else helps us connect to yourself, reminding us that your unit is not the entire world.

Tip #4: Make everything a party.


​Completing tasks together has practical implications. For example, a second pair of hands during a PICC line dressing change allows a team to not break sterile field if a supply is missing just. But completing tasks with our coworkers also reminds us that we are part of a team. It’s a subtle reminder, whether performing a new skill that we are nervous about, or even an old skill that we are tired of having to do, the weight of patient care doesn’t fall solely on us. Making everything a party is emotionally regulating knowing that whatever happens, we don’t have to go through our shift alone.

Tip #5: Spend time with a patient.

One of the greatest feelings in nursing is connecting with a kind patient. Interactions like these can remind us of why we got into the profession in the first place. In these instances, when we are met with the same level of kindness that we ourselves are required to give for a full 12 hours, it can feel healing and restorative. These interactions don’t have to be profound, but connecting human to human with a patient not only helps remind the patient of their human dignity, it also reminds us of our own human dignity as well.

Bonus Mindset: Having an hour by hour mentality can help relieve some of the stress that comes with a 12 hour shift. Instead of asking yourself: Can I make it through another 10 hours of this? Try to break down your shift into smaller pieces by asking: Can I make it through one hour of this?

Once you make it to the end of each hour, implement a treat for yourself. It doesn’t matter how small it is. Find a moment to take some deep breaths, make a coffee, grab a Sprite from the patient fridge, stretch, or even just go to the bathroom. Whatever helps you recalibrate and recenter is a worthwhile activity to engage in.

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