Shift Work: a Blessing and a Curse.

This weekend, I find myself in the lovely (but rare) situation of having both days off work.

Because nursing and midwifery is a 24 hour service, 7 days a week, it stands to reason that I, and my colleagues, find ourselves working a lot of weekends, which I usually don’t mind too much.

But my goodness, it IS lovely to have a whole weekend off.

After working night shifts during the week, and knowing I have another week of nights ahead, it is bloody glorious to know that for these two days, I can just sit in the sunshine, drinking tea and patting the dogs, and I don’t need to be anywhere, or doing anything. The kids are chilling out at home, Hot Husband is reading a book, and we are all just…..being.

It’s great.

Now you guys know, I really love my job. I could rave about how much I love it until the cows come home, and it still wouldn’t be adequate to describe just how much I love it.

Despite this, no matter how much I love the actual work, shift work is one of those double edged swords, in many ways.

On the plus side (because I am an eternal optimist), because there are three potential shifts to work on any given day, it makes the work-life balance a bit more achievable with kids, because most of the time, it’s more flexible than jobs where the days are a rigid 9am-5pm. I can fit a remarkable amount of stuff into the morning before starting an afternoon shift, and if I’m on an early shift, I can be there for my kid’s after school sports and events, which is great. If I’m working nights, I can be there to tuck my kids into bed before I leave for the night, and I’m getting home as they get up, with plenty of time to pack their lunches and get them ready for school. Lots of the working parents I know choose to work nights, for the simple fact that there is less overall impact for their families than if they are working days.

However, as all the literature tells us, shift work is hellishly bad for our bodies. There’s a reason why shift-workers are constantly asking what day it is. It’s because our body clocks are absolutely destroyed. Last week, I was eating pringles at 3am as I sat and wrote progress notes. Today I’m drinking coffee at 12pm on a day off. Next week, I’ll be sleeping all day with ear plugs in, eating breakfast at dinner time, and the week after that, I’ll be working a delightful combination of arvo and early shifts, where I’ll be getting home at 10pm, only to start work again at 7am the next day. You’ll be hard pressed to find a shift-worker who doesn’t get genuinely excited when they’re on holidays and they resume normal bowel habits. Literally every bodily function gets a bit messed up by shift work.

We all know it’s a part of the role, and we don’t begrudge it. But, it’s tiring!

Where I work, we are given the chance to request our rosters as much as possible, to lessen the impact of the crazy shifts a bit. However, the nature of our work is all-systems-go, pretty much all the time, and we invest heavily in the care we provide; emotionally, physically and mentally. The potential for burn out is ever-present, and as a profession, we are notoriously bad at practicing what we preach, in terms of self-care.

We work extra shifts to help our colleagues.

We work longer hours to help our patients.

We select weird shift combinations to help our families.

And sometimes, in all of that helping of others, we forget to help ourselves.

I have many, many colleagues, who are, quite frankly, exhausted. They’re giving their best to everyone around them, and finding themselves at the bottom of the pile, time and time again. As carers by nature, it feels impossible to stop.

After experiencing a couple of months of pretty rubbish health, triggered by fatigue and crappy immunity, I’ve been reminded of the incredible importance of practicing good self care around the work I do. Wearing that badge of busy-ness, like some kind of medal, has lost it’s sheen. Saying yes to every request, accepting every extra shift, attending every social event. It’s just not a sustainable model.

So…

While shift work is a non-negotiable requirement in my career, I’m realising that the way I live my life around it needs be modified to support me, which in turn enables me to support others, including Hot Husband and the juniors.

Less yes.

Less filling the gaps in the calendar with more stuff.

Recognising that being busy isn’t the same as being productive, and that being productive isn’t necessarily the golden ticket to happiness.

On days like today, I’ve got the chance to re-align my system somewhat, before jumping back into the thick of it, and it makes me appreciate the true value of the down time. I’m eating food at normal times, sitting down when I get tired, and I will be going to bed at a normal hour.

While I may not be “doing” much, I’m enjoying the sunshine, and the peace, and the simplicity of a lazy Saturday.

Here’s to weekends off, and bloody good self-care strategies in amidst the chaos of shift-work.

It’s worth it, because we are worth it.

Big love,

Rysie.

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