Work-Sleep-Repeat: Can the Cycle be Broken?

It’s pretty well known that nursing schedules can be pretty tough- long, strenuous hours, weekends, holidays, you name it. Snow day? Guess what, not for you! Hurricane? Oh don’t worry, you’re expected to show up on time anyways. City is shut down? Well, not the Hospital. You get the point… I guess the toughest part, in my opinion is trying to find a balance between our hectic work schedules and our personal lives, which sadly gets swept under the rug most of the time, if existent at all.

Apologies if this post seems a little scattered but I just want to take you through the various schedule changes and challenges I have endured over the past year and a half or so to just give you an idea of what kind of roller-coaster ride Ihave been on.

This past year, in particular has been a big one for me with a lot of changes, ebbs and flows. I was fortunate enough to get accepted into graduate school at the University of Vermont in Fall 2013 to pursue my master’s in nursing to go on to become an FNP (family nurse practitioner). This was an exciting time for me, but also a very stressful time because I had to go in all-or- nothing. There was no option for me to take classes part-time, I would have to enroll as a full time student and somehow make that balance that with work. At that time, I was working committed scheduled hours at my first nursing job post-graduation, but luckily I was fortunate enough to be able to go to per-diem status so that I could (attempt to) schedule shifts around my school schedule. It was all shaping up to work out well, or so it seemed…

Naturally, school presented to be extremely challenging as well as a huge time commitment. I realized that I was spending more time at the library than at work, and when I was working, I was working all different hours and shifts and that I had absolutely NO routine. I wasn’t eating correctly- I would constantly forget to eat meals, sleep through meals during the day, or I would absolutely binge on junk food at work just to stay awake (FYI sounds gross but doritos and whipped cream cheese is a heavenly night shift treat, thanks Shep 5). I most definitely was not sleeping enough, and I absolutely could not handle the stress (ask anyone who knows me). But even with all of this, I think I was in denial, because at that time I refused to believe I was in over my head or that I had adopted such an unhealthy lifestyle.

Apparently somewhere between the stress of school and work, I ended up unintentionally losing about 10 lbs, most of which I really couldn’t afford to lose in the first place. In this case, I was so enveloped in the 12,000 things I was currently trying to tackle that I failed to even notice what was happening to my own body. I knew it was bad when people started making comments to me about it because that meant it was obvious enough to be noticed. They would say things like “oh my you look so thin”, or “are you eating enough” or my own personal favorite, ” you need to eat a burger, or two!”… Andddd cue to the tears. These comments made me want to curl up in a ball and cry.  How was it possible that all of this was happening? I was not trying to lose weight, I did not want to look unhealthy, or BE unhealthy yet I realized that that was exactly what was happening right before my eyes, but I was just too busy to notice. In a future post, I will come back to talking about dealing with stress specifically, as it is a major topic to touch upon for nurses and healthcare professionals (actually all young professionals alike), but for now I digress.

So the first semester came and went; I picked up hours at the hospital and worked through my winter break  (and even took a fun and much needed vacation) and before I knew it school had started all over again. This time, I was starting my second semester with the added stress of caring for a sick family member (more detail on this in a future post). Again, I put my health and my priorities aside because I needed to help nurse my sister back to health, needed to make it to class, put in my clinical hours, complete my assignments, and keep up with my per-diem hours. Even when I knew I was overbooked, stressed, or tired I felt really bad saying no to  co-workers who would ask me to cover a shift, so more often than not I would just cover their shift, because that is just what nurses do right? We are meant to work these demanding hours and push ourselves to the limits? Isn’t it our duty? Why is this the nurse mentality?  

Anways, moving on… The second semester ended without any hoopla (thank goodness) plus I had something exciting planned- my first travel nursing assignment. I was going to live in Boston for the summer with my best friend and one of my “work wives” who I had met the previous summer while she was on her own first travel assignment in Burlington, VT! I was nervous and scared but excited at the same time. I knew this would be a good opportunity for me to gain some more experience, meet new people, try to de-stress and of course make some money in one of my favorite cities. I knew that if I stayed in Burlington, VT over the summer that I would not pick up many shifts because I was so burnt out from school that I would use that as an excuse to justify that to myself as a reason to not work, and then as a result I would be broke and lazy. So the travel idea was perfect solution to that.

I ended up LOVING my first travel assignment in Cambridge, MA, where I met some of the most amazing nurses and people I know. I learned so so so much from them and over the course of 15 weeks I felt like I had grown tremendously as a nurse. But, my schedule was pretty rough- I worked 36 hours a week, meaning I did three 12 hour shifts a week and it was a day/night rotating position. Somehow, I got through it all. I made time for myself, even made time for exercise/running along the beautiful dirty Charles River at sunset (taking advantage of the breathtaking views of the city as a main motivator). I made time for fun with my friends (crazy I know) and I met the love of my life, Matt, which I can say was easily the highlight of my summer. I will leave out the part where I broke my finger, was out of work for a month and had to extend my contract that extra month going into school, because it was easily the most stressful time of my life. That last month of work was so challenging trying to balance full time work with full time school AND clinical hours. I cringe just thinking about it. But I made it.

After that mishap, I was back up to Burlington to finish out the semester, and I was way way way behind in my clinical hours and courses. Luckily my professors were all very accommodating, but I still had to put in a lot of extra effort. At the same time I was picking up per-diem shifts whenever I could at the University of Vermont Medical Center because I needed the money and wanted to help out the short-staffed unit as much as I could. To say my life was hectic would be a major understatement at the very least. My life had no rhyme or reason; my roommate never knew if I was at home, at the library, working overnight, or just missing (kidding!). Half of the time I didn’t know what day it was, what week it was, what I was supposed to be doing, where I was supposed to be. I missed so many appointments, overslept through classes and missed assignments. Who was I? This had NEVER been like me, it was like I had a traumatic brain injury. I was losing my mind, because I had absolutely no routine and I was working myself beyond my breaking point.

But, what did I do next, you ask? Well I finished that semester somehow and passed (which is really just amazing to me that I could cry). Then I thought, oh well since I survived that, I can do anything! (wrong by the way, but people rave about being optimistic so I gave it a try!) So, with that being said, I took a shortened 8-week travel assignment in Boston, MA at the world renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It was a win-win in my eyes because, again, I got the opportunity to gain experience at a wonderful hospital, meet new people, gain new skills and I got to spend the time with my boyfriend over my winter break. How relaxing…. not.

When I got here and knew I had committed to night shift, so that was not a problem for me. However, I was expecting to work three 12 hour nights, something that I knew I could handle. I could bust out a few night shifts in a row, if I could get like 4 or 5 days off afterwards, no problem! But no, that was not the case. My hours here were all a mix of 8 and 12 hour shifts to make up 36 hour/week. Some nights I would work one on, one off, two on,etc. Again, there was no rhyme or reason to my schedule or my life at all. I was SO exhausted all the time; so moody and unhappy with everything. I was not eating, I was not working out, I was not making time for myself, my family and friends or my boyfriend. In fact all I was doing and all I thought I had the time to do was work, sleep and repeat.  I know many people probably feel this way, especially nurses, and it is so easy to see how you can get caught up in this vicious cycle. Yes I did have a routine I realized, but a really unhealthy and poor one. I would go to work, come home and go to sleep for as long as I possibly could and wake up with just enough time to shower and go out the door to work. Then I would come home from work and do it all over again. On my days off, I would still be catching up on lost sleep that I wouldn’t want to leave the apartment, heck my bed. I would justify not doing anything or not working out because, “I’m too busy” or “I’m too tired, my schedule is crazy”. I became a human slug.

 

Before all of this craziness, believe it or not I used to work out on a pretty consistent basis, it was my way of balancing my life out and relieving stress- a comittment I had made to myself for my physical and mental health.  I even managed to run my third half marathon this past November, but since that run, I had not exercised. Not once. It was so sad, and I could feel the toll it was taking on me physically and mentally. I felt like I was slipping away.

So here I am today, in Boston, finishing up my last few shifts at the Brigham and I feel revived, I feel like a new person. I no long feel like a  total zombie- I mean I am still tired from time to time, and yes some days I just want to lay on the couch and watch trash TV all day, but that’s normal right?  But what have I done differently that has transformed me into being happier and having more energy? Well,  I have added in a consistent workout to my work-life routine to help balance out my life a little more and it has made me feel like a completely different person. What is this workout you ask? PureBarre– a mix of ballet, yoga & pilates and I am absolutely hooked. It is the best 60 minutes of my day and I try to make sure that I make time for it everyday regardless of if I have work or not. I even find that it is best if I go AFTER my 12 hour shifts just because I still have the energy and if I go home I know It will take me awhile to fall back asleep anyways so why not go get my workout out of the way? After all, It is just an hour out of my day and it helps to make me feel refreshed, helps me clear my mind from  stress and makes me feel fit and healthy- something I haven’t felt in such a long time.

Anyone who hasn’t hasn’t tried PureBarre or who doesn’t understand the hype of it needs to try a class- I can almost promise you that you will fall in LOVE with it.

I joined the the PureBarre Boston studio on Newbury St. in BackBay and I must say the instructors and everyone who works there is amazing and accommodating. They have a new client special going on that is 100$ for one month unlimited, which is totally worth it, because it can be quite pricey (ike 21$/single class pricey). The first class may seem overwhelming because it is pretty fast paced and they use some words you may not be familiar with, but the instructors will guide you through it and adjust you as needed. It is a total body workout and you can really feel it in your arms, thighs, abs when you leave and you will be sore the next day which is a feeling I love. But don’t be fooled, you won’t be too sore to go back the next day! In fact, barre is something you can go to 3-4 days in a row when you are just starting out and then up to 5-6days in a row/week when you feel your body has adjusted.

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If you are going to try a barre class here is what you can expect:

-Entering into a warm, cozy lobby with a cute boutique feel, candles burning and cute (expensive) apparel for sale

-You will get a tour/lay of the land of the studio/lockers just make sure you show up 15-20 minutes early.

-You will need a pair of socks with sticky grips on the bottom- you can buy a pair at the studio for 12$.

– You will want to wear pants, leggings/cropped leggings- definitely no shorts & a fitted top so that you can see your muscles working in the mirror.

-Don’t worry about what other people are wearing, you will see people wearing all lululemon or athleta, purebarre-wear etc… you don’t have to dress fancy, just dress prepared to sweat and have a good class.

-expect your muscles to shake, especially your thighs during some of the barre exercises but that is normal and actually means that your muscles are being worked to their max!

-the instructor will use the word “tuck” quite frequently and that basically just means to tuck your hips up and in and contract your lower abs! In fact you will be “tucking” so much that you will feel as if you are gyrating the air… well, that is because you are!

-You will leave feeling strong, energized, motivated (and probably a little sore) but most of all you’ll probably be hooked/obsessed! I don’t think it’s possible to do just one class.

Try it out & Let me know what you think!

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I already feel like I am seeing some of the benefits of Barre! We will see how it progresses a month from now!

Joining PureBarre has been one of the best decisions I have made in the past couple of weeks because it has helped me find a balance between my work life and personal life and has helped me break up the work-sleep-repeat cycle. My advice to you- find your barre (try not having it be a BAR though, that’s kind of frowned upon). Find some dedicated you-time to break up that awful work-sleep-repeat routine that so easily sucks you in and turns you into a tired zombie robot on repeat. Whether it’s yoga, knitting, reading, writing, exercise, etc., the sky is the limit – you choose!

Do you ever feel like you are stuck in a work-sleep-repeat cycle? What do you do to help get out of shiftwork funk?

Thanks for reading!

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