Tips to Maximize Your Nurse Break


Tips for Your Nurse Break

By Alana Luna, Contributor

Nursing often means long shifts with little-to-no downtime, but finding ways to stay alert, manage stress and reduce burnout is an essential part of maintaining your mental health and building a successful career. Use these expert tips to make your breaks better from start to finish.

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Tips to Make the Most of Your Nurse Break

When your unit is at capacity and urgent cases seem to be popping up right and left, it’s easy to skip your break in favor of finishing up a chart or seeing to a patient’s family. The problem is that you’re sacrificing your own well-being in favor of everybody else’s needs, and that won’t pay off in the long run.

Donna Matthezing of Compassionate Care in the Air has decades of experience and knows firsthand how important it is to step back and breathe. “I have been a bedside nurse for 29 years, and the one thing about breaks: take them!” says Matthezing. “Even if you only have 10 minutes to gobble down some food to replenish you, do it!”

Embrace the silence. Matthezing also recommends getting off your unit for your nursing break whenever possible so you have time to rest and recalibrate, but even if you can’t relocate, you can take a moment to meditate and give your brain a time out.

“When you are working to the max and short staffed and constantly having to be alert, take 5 minutes to reset and look at nothing. Literally, just stare at the wall or take 5 minutes to sit by yourself,” suggests Matthezing, “because over stimulation is the number one factor that has nurses overwhelmed. Take that 5-10 minutes away from the chaos and noise and find some quiet for yourself.”

Stretch tight muscles whenever you get a chance. When you’re a nurse, stress isn’t just mental; it’s also physical. The good news is you don’t need a 30-minute block of time to treat your body to a little TLC. By incorporating a simple stretching routine into your pre-work and post-work schedule, you’re prepping your body for the taxing shift that lies ahead and helping your muscles unkink after hours upon hours of lifting patients, moving equipment and standing on your feet.

Even if you’re destined to spend your nurse break at a desk catching up on paperwork, you can indulge in seated stretches designed to deliver quick energy, increase blood flow and loosen up everything from your quads to your upper back.

Don’t forget to eat. Your lunch break is often the first sacrificed during a busy shift, but research says that decision could put your patients in peril. One study showed a link between hunger and the subject’s willingness to take increased risk, and another suggests not eating makes us more impulsive. Neither trait is desirable in nursing or any other medical profession.

Matthezing recalls how she dealt with keeping her energy levels up even when meal breaks weren’t possible, saying, “When I was a flight nurse, we never knew when our next food opportunity was going to be, so we carried a snack with us so that our hunger didn’t cloud our judgement and we were looking after our well-being. We can’t look after others if we can’t look after ourselves.”

There are ways to deal with stress outside of work, but be proactive and keep irritating coworkers at arm’s length to keep your shifts as calm and hassle-free as possible.

Make time for healthy meal prep. Running down to the cafeteria for lunch and waiting in line for food cuts into your break time and increases the likelihood you’ll indulge in some less-than-healthy fare. Research shows your diet can have a direct effect on your mood. Skipping meals, skimping on carbs, neglecting your omega-3 fatty acid intake, consuming less than the recommended amount of iron and eating too much fat can all serve to make you tired and send your emotions into a nosedive.

Make the most of your break by stocking up on healthy meal options and easy snacks that offer fiber, protein, filling whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables. Breakfast smoothies give you a boost on the way to work, and packed lunches such as hummus wraps and minestrone soup can be enjoyed quickly while your coworkers are busy hustling to the vending machine and trying to quell their hunger with candy bars.

Restock your station. If you’ve taken a few minutes to rest your mind and fuel up and you still have time to spare, use it to organize your station. Missing supplies make for frantic shifts, even (or especially) if you weren’t the one to leave the bins empty. Nurses spend just 37 percent of their time with patients yet completed a staggering 72.3 task per hour. Even with multitasking, that’s a lot to get done, and interruptions and inefficiencies, such as searching for an IV start kit or rummaging for a roll of medical tape, only means more distance between you and the people who need your help.

For a busy nurse, a break may be the only time they have in an 8- or 12-hour shift to breathe, eat and regroup. Make sure your take a moment to collect your thoughts and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit — it’s good for you and great for your patients.

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