How To De-stress After a Tough Nursing Shift

Stories - MatthewYou know the kind of shift I am referring to. You woke up late, there was no gas left in your car, and you forgot your lunch. It was one of those days that didn’t start off right and became worse with the handover of a difficult patient assignment. The worst part is that this was your first of three or more shifts. While there are many, here are just a few suggestions for a speedy, post-crappy-shift recovery.

A Bath

This is my recommendation to anyone who is stressed, tired (but in post-shift can’t turn your brain off mode), or achy. Add 1-2 cups Epsom Salts (Magnesium Sulfate) and your tired, achy muscles will thank you. You can find Epsom Salts in the grocery store, pharmacy, or health food store. Add 5 drops of your favorite essential oil and there you’ll meet calm. Rose, jasmine, or lavender oils have a particularly calming effect. Essential oils can be found at any health food store. Soak for at least 15 minutes. Use natural light or candles for deeper relaxation. If you don’t have a bath tub, soak your feet for at least 15 minutes in a bucket or foot spa with 1 cup Epsom salts and a few drops of your favorite essential oil.


I sometimes will book a massage for my first day off when working several days in a row. It gives me something to look forward to and gets me through those tough shifts. It is not just for the privileged anymore. We now know the benefits of massage go beyond a day of self-indulgence. Massage releases endorphins, increases circulation, reduces cortisol levels, boosts immunity, relaxes those tight, stressed muscles, and leaves you renewed.


Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. A short workout of some kind can instantly shake off the stress of the day. It can be as little as 15-30 minutes. Walk/run off the stress. Breathe off the stress. I usually work nights, so my exercise consists of 30 minutes of pre shift yoga. It does not have to be your most intense workout. It can be simple stretches or a short walk.


Deep, focused breath taps into your parasympathetic nervous system. Close your eyes. Take 20-30 deep, conscious breaths in and out of your nose. Make each breath deeper than the previous. You can do this anywhere- in the car on your way home or at work. It’s great during heavy traffic. Practice especially while lying in bed at bedtime with your eyes closed and you will notice a wave of calm that leads you to sleep. Breathe quiet… breathe calm… breathe relaxation.


After having tried any or all of the above, solid sleep is the most important suggestion of all. As nurses, we know the importance of a good night’s sleep. Sometimes it is difficult to turn post-shift brain off, but breathe it off. The day is over. Leave it behind. Sleep it off.

Chronic stress can lead to illness including hypertension, heart disease, depression, and anxiety. We know this. It is an epidemic in our country. We see it in our patients’ faces. It’s important to manage those tough days, take care of self. How do you de-stress?


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