January marks four years working 12 hour shifts in Inpatient Behavioral Health. There are days I love the hours and the pros always seem to outweigh the cons. Over the last four years, I have come to know what I need to do to survive working 12 hour shifts. The only way I can effectively lay this out for you is to use Buddy the Elf.
(#1) Celebrate Your Accomplishment of Getting Out of Bed
This may not seem like a big deal, but when you have to wake up for your third consecutive shift, this is a greater accomplishment than climbing Everest. Pat yourself on the back. Even the days I hit snooze ten times, forget deodorant, and my hair looks like I stuck a fork in an outlet, I still celebrate this victory.
(#2) Go Into Each of the 12 Hour Shifts With a Positive Attitude
This right here. THIS is the image I have in my mind for our daily program huddle at 7:30 AM. I have yet to see us all jumping for joy to start the day, but someday. Someday this will happen. I’ll come into the team room and there will be clapping, jumping, cheers, and Santa will have left us all sugar cookies and iPads.
Let’s be real, though. Santa wouldn’t leave the sugar cookies. He’d eat them.
(#3) Don’t Waste ALL Your Energy On the First Set of Rounds
Common sense, right? Wrong! By the time the rounds board is in my hands, the first cup of coffee kicked in and I’m high as a kite on donuts and the fifteen packets of sugar in my coffee. I’m ready to rock the place. Remember, what goes up, comes right back down. What comes down often crashes like a bowling ball dropped from the tenth story window, so it’s best to spread the energy out over the twelve hours.
(#4) Use Your 30 Minute Lunch Break Effectively
Odds are you have been on the go since your feet hit the unit floor. In fact, you probably haven’t had a chance to pee, much less fuel up. A 30 minute lunch break is not a lot of time to consume all 2,000 of your daily caloric needs. Have heart, though! It can be done if you stay strong and believe in yourself.
If you spend your lunch break in the staff lounge, others may want to engage. You need to shut that down because there is serious consumption happening here. To reach the 2,000 calorie goal, you need to average 66-67 calories per minute. Every second is precious.
(#5) Don’t Let the Little Things Knock You Down
Easier said than done. Especially if all those “little things” accumulate throughout the shift. Remember: You rolled your butt out of bed this morning. You’ve got this! Take a moment to go sing in the bathroom or the break room. Singing improves your mood. It’s a fact. Look it up. On Wikipedia, probably. I’m uncertain about the effect your singing will have on those around you, though. Depends on your level of ability.
(#6) Approach with Caution
Sometimes the coworkers are not caffeinated enough. Perhaps the patient hasn’t had a cigarette in days. Maybe your perky first-12-hour-shift-of the-stretch attitude is annoying to the co-worker who is on day six. Always approach with caution, stay calm, have a plan, have an escape route, and know when it’s best to let someone be.
(#6 Part II) Grow Eyes on the Back of Your Head
Whether it is the coworker who is sleep deprived and under-caffeinated, or the patient who needs their cell phone, you have to always be aware of your surroundings. Anything can happen when you aren’t looking, so pay attention. Hopefully when you’re the one who is sleep deprived and under-caffeinated, someone will have your back, too.
(#7) Practice Self-Care
Self-care is difficult when you’re working 12 hour shifts in health care because you have to care for others. All the time. This is why it is important to check in with your inner toddler now and then. Give the kid some crayons. Let it push all the buttons on the elevator. Take it for ice cream after work. Watch a sloth eating a banana on YouTube until she falls asleep. Throw her in the bathtub with bubbles and a rubber ducky.
(#8) Know When You’ve Reached Your Limit
Most importantly — recognize when you are approaching, or have reached your limit. I approach my limit around the 11th hour of my 12 hour shifts. My symptoms include excessive talking, crossing of my eyes, lack of filter between my thoughts and my excessive talking, sending incoherent e-mails, uncontrollable giggling – often at inappropriate times, strong urges to engage in stupid human tricks, lack of coordination, and clumsiness.
(#9) Make Good Choices Between 12 Hour Shifts
It may be tempting to wrap up a 12 hour shift and go celebrate your stamina somewhere. Be aware, if you have to turn right back around in the morning for another 12 hour shift, this is not a good idea. It will be more challenging to celebrate the victory of removing yourself from the comforts of your bed. Showing up with a positive attitude when you’re sleep deprived is nearly impossible. Basically, leave work, go home, pet your cat, and crash between shifts. Save the party time for when you have the next day off.