“How is it NOON already?? I’ve been working for 5 hours? I should probably take a break… let me just finish this note first… then room 5 needs pain meds…. oh, and there’s a call light…”
Does this sound familiar to any of you? If you are in healthcare, especially if you work in a hospital, I’m sure it does. We get so focused on the needs of our patients, the demands of documentation (not charted, not done! right? ) that we push our own basic needs to the side.
I get it. I’m there with you. I have not been consistent about taking my breaks as I should. I’ve developed some bad habits which cause me to be hangry and foggy-brained too often than I’d like to admit. But I have recently been inspired to focus on changing my bad break habits. It may take time, but I know I NEED to improve how I’m taking care of myself and my patients.
Here are some simple reasons why….
- Self-care as a healthcare professional is critical to preventing burnout. I love my career and I plan to keep it that way for many years to come.
- My patients get better, safer care when their nurse is fed and less stressed.
- And simply, my boss tells me I have to. And I’m a first born so I like to follow the rules. (Especially if those rules let me put my feet up and have a snack).
Always something to do
Us superhero types- nurses, teachers, CNAs, moms, dads- have the tendency to think that our work depends only on US all the time. This perspective can make it difficult to step away for even 15 minutes during a busy time of your shift. And realistically, when is it NOT a busy time? There’s ALWAYS something to do. The struggle to relinquish control and take our breaks is not an isolated problem to myself or colleagues at my hospital. It’s a widespread issue for nurses.
The American Nurse Association Health Risk Assessment, a survey of over 10,600 registered nurses, reported that 56-57% of nurses acknowledged coming in early, staying late or working through their breaks to accomplish their work. (1) And personally I would gander that the number would be higher if only nurses in hospital settings where surveyed.
Nursing advocacy groups and employers are taking notice and working on implementing changes to help nurses get more consistent rest breaks. It’s part of the discussion for nurses on a national level. So friends, we have other nurses and policy makers cheering us on in the fight to get a more balanced work day. Whoo hoo!
For example, Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern made a focused effort on creating opportunities for employee rest during their shifts. With these interventions, along with a continued focus on employee engagement, the hospital saw an INCREASE in the golden ticket of health care PATIENT SATISFACTION SCORES. So apparently, our patients feel that they are receiving better care when nurses take meaningful breaks during the day.
Read more about CTCA Midwestern’s interventions here.
Ideal vs. Reality
“Great idea,” you think, “But that’s just not the real world. My shifts are CRAZY.”
Some days are, dear friend. Some days are completely insane and unpredictable. I know. That’s the reality of nursing. However, small changes can and will add up to make a difference in your overall experience. And if ALL shifts are so crazy for you, that you don’t have the opportunity to meet your basic needs of food, hydration and rest, then something bigger is going on in your workplace that needs to be addressed.
We need to rethink our break time. Nurses and CNAs are huge partners in creating a healing environment for our patients. But this also means that we ourselves have to first PARTICIPATE in the healing environment. When we run around burnt out, stressed and foggy brained, it follows us right into our patients’ rooms. We need to model self-care if we are to teach our patients the benefits of it.
How can we start to address this in our own nursing practice?
I am lucky to say that my workplace does provide many good resources and support for staff to take breaks. It is mandated by our contract that we get 3- 15 minute breaks and one 30 minute lunch each 12 hour shift. If we miss any of them we are asked to report it when we clock out and we get reimbursed for that time.
My hospital assigns each nurse and CNA a “break buddy” for the shift. Your “buddy” gets a quick report on your people and takes your work phone when you go on breaks. Your break buddy then can answer call lights, respond to doctor requests and give PRN medications. I’m a big fan of the break buddy.
Work to create a culture that values breaks and rest
We may not be able to change policies or union contracts tomorrow. But we do have influence in our day to day experience. First, look out for yourself. Make a commitment to take your own breaks as consistently as you can. Next, look out for your co-workers. Be a contributor to a work environment where co-workers are in-tune with each other and have each other’s back. If you in leadership or a charge nurse, round on your team regularly to check in and see how you can help them get the breaks they need. It is such a gift when my co-workers just take my work phone and say “Go, I got this. Enjoy your break.”
Be proactive in planning for rest times
When you look at your patient care load for the day, plan in your break times as well. Decide early in the day what time you will take breaks and lunch. Communicate early with your break partner about when you both want to take your lunch breaks.
Set a timer on your phone of watch if you have to for when a break or lunch is due. I’ve done this and it helps. It is very easy to get caught up in patient care and forget what time it is. The also goes off and gives you permission to step away.
Make your breaks valuable
Improving the QUALITY of your break time will also make a difference. If you spend your break gossiping or paying bills, are you going to return to your patients refreshed? Probably not. It is important to be intentional about how you spend the time. 15 minutes can go by very quickly…
SOME THINGS I’VE TRIED AND RECOMMEND FOR A REJUVENATING BREAK:
- Bring headphones. Download an audio book, favorite tunes and entertaining or inspiring podcasts. Just listening to something you personally enjoy for a few minutes can really feel up your happy tank.
- Try a guided meditation or mindfulness app. A few minutes of deep breathing and intentional relaxing has helped me through some overwhelming days. For example, my smart watch had a 30 second breathing app that I would do for a few rounds and I try to get my heart rate lower after each session.
- Getting outside for some fresh air. No matter the weather, I make it a goal to at least step out a door and breathe fresh air once a day when I’m working.
- Call a loved one. It helps me to connect with your support system outside of work. I try not to vent to family about my work stress on these calls because that usually stresses me out more.
- I set a timer on my phone for the length of my break. That way I can just relax and not have to keep checking the time.
- Be OK with being non-social. I normally am a social person. But on my breaks, I intentionally avoid places where I have to be social. When you communicate ALL day with patients, family members, co-workers and medical providers some good ol’ peace and quiet can really help.
Just start. You deserve it.
Dear readers, I write this not because I have all the answers. I’m somewhere in the “messy middle” of self-care at work. I have been holding myself accountable to my breaks for the past month and I am noticing an improvement in how I have been handling the daily stress of the job. I’m taking baby steps, retraining my bad habits of not watching the clock and forgetting to eat (or even pee). I love the work that I am honored to do everyday. It’s true that investing in yourself and your own personal health allows you to give more to those around you.
In health and joy,
Let me know how you manage break time at your work? Any struggles? Any great tips or encouragement?
The Case for Taking a Break by Jacklynn Lesniak MS BSN RN NEA-BC