Sometimes it’s not possible to take a break at work, we do try to avoid working through the whole shift yet the workload or the responsibilities on a nurse may mean we keep delaying the breaks until before we know it the end of the shift has arrived
This can happen because of a few reasons- the workload or acuity is heavy, there may be staff shortages or we have to keep monitoring patients that are deteriorating or an individual patient who is impulsive. On the other side it’s unfortunate as I have met a few nurses who have made it a habit to work through shifts and even some workplaces have an ingrained culture of not having breaks.
The most important work hack I can think of is to take your breaks, during breaks we recover by eating food, drinking fluids to hydrate and give ourselves some space to breathe. This all helps us to replenish our energy levels and clear our minds away from all the strenuous hustle of the day.
There are two main areas of benefits for taking breaks as a nurse, the first is with decision making and risk management, with the second area being your own wellbeing.
1. Decision Making & Risk assessment –
Decision making is when we make choices by what information is available to us and then we choose the best possible action for the people we are caring for.
Risk assessment is when we identify hazards and risk factors that have any potential to cause harm. Nurses regularly recognise these vulnerabilities and we action to reduce the consequences of any adverse affects on patients.
I feel as nurses we forget how much skill we actually have and how much we are doing in a single moment, we are taught in a way that it becomes second nature when we are assessing patients needs and actioning changes. Yet we forget that our decisions and steps are also preventing risks.
Some quick examples of our daily work that become gradually second nature to us –
- Medications – Completing medication checks with identifying the right medications, right patients, right route etc, etc. Monitoring of infusion rates. Receiving verbal medication orders over the phone, etc.
- Skin Checks – We check the bony prominent areas like the heels for redness & put a pillow under them. Assessing nutritional needs. We provide regular pressure area care, etc.
- Hand Hygiene & Hospital Acquired Infections – Nurses are constantly using alcohol hand gel or hand washing to reduce transmission of infections. Monitoring of IV cannulas/PICC’s etc & using the correct infection control techniques with accessing them, etc.
- Reducing Falls – Keeping Call Bells In Place. Providing regular toileting. Patients being close to the nurses station for observation. Using low-low beds. Mobility alarms set in place, etc.
- Escalating Deteriorating Patients – Recognising & responding in a timely manner with initiating a Met call or another code with monitoring, providing equipment & administering of medications as a team of nurses & doctors, etc.
This list above is more hospital/ward based and isn’t exhaustive, there’s heaps more examples of the many steps and decisions we are constantly making in any day. In the many roles within nursing we are used to doing different duties and don’t always recognise how much we actually do.
Unfortunately every single person unintentionally will make the wrong decision at some point, it’s part of being human and happens in all industries. If we are not taking breaks we become increasingly tired or hungry, our decisions can become poor and more unpredictable with the outcomes having significant impacts.
2. Your Own Wellbeing
Nurses are known as self sacrificing, walking into work we never know what our day is going to be like. We have to remain flexible to the different situations that unknowingly can happen and so often at work we forget about our own needs.
Wellbeing isn’t for one moment only, its about what we do day in and day out and what’s important is not to forget that the work of a nurse isn’t just about pushing through any constant tiredness or even constant stress. The aim of wellbeing as a nurse is for thriving in a long term sustainable career.
World Health Organisation (WHO) defines stress as “the reaction people may have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope” (2019).
Taking your breaks at work will boost your energy levels so that you are not depleted or even exhausted, it will reduce the negative thoughts that can happen overtime. You will feel more fulfilled in your role as breaks promote positive health outcomes through building resilience at work and becoming better equipped to manage stress too.
For your own needs especially as a nurse, do the simple things at break time. If you can –
- Have a decent meal
- Drink water
- Try to get some sunlight & air
- Avoid sugary snacks (so tempting!!)
- More than anything- Be Kind To Yourself!!
When at work give yourself permission to have a break, I know on a tough day when I don’t have a break I start to seriously fade and I become sluggish. Its awesome when my co-workers recognise that i’m becoming slow and they volunteer to watch my call bells and after having a quick feed and a drink i’m able to prioritise my work heaps better and in a mutual way return the favour.
The negatives to sacrificing your breaks are both on your work and yourself too, I can’t help thinking about walking out of work, night nurses need to drive home and without a break I worry about their concentration in the morning traffic. Also, sometimes with the emotional labour of our work and when we get home there’s feelings of ‘don’t talk to me!’ and needing some space.
There’s a famous saying about being in airplane and putting yourself first- “Should an emergency situation occur, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help those around you” (Unknown).
Its a great saying and is definitely for nurses too, by helping yourself as an individual first, then your compassion for others as a nurse will follow. The benefits of focusing on yourself is massive, it offers a clearer mind, room to breathe, manage tiredness better and helps to beat the emotional labour of our work.
I reckon its time for a cuppa, Stay safe and healthy – Aussie Nurse
Support Resources –
– Nurse & Midwife Support– 1800 667 877 https://www.nmsupport.org.au/accessing-support/telephone-support