How to Turn Around a Bad Nursing Shift


Published: 06 December 2015

Bad days happen to all nurses.

Sometimes, it may seem like there is nothing but bad days, and that’s a sign that you are nearing the burnout stage.

However, If you find yourself in the middle of 'one of those days', you can find ways to regain your pre-shift optimism. It isn’t easy to find a way to recover from a doctor berating you, a difficult code or constant interruptions, but there are techniques you can use to turn it around. You won’t be skipping down the hall, but at least you will be able to continue without the black spectre of what happened earlier in the shift hanging over your head.

Take it One Minute at a Time

Nursing is about mental toughness. What does that mean? Mental toughness is best exemplified by the US Navy SEALs' basic training course. If you think of how much the future is going to hurt or be unbearable, you will give up. Focusing on the task you are doing at the moment and nothing else is the only way to survive and avoid being overwhelmrf. It is hard for a nurse who has to multitask to focus on one thing at a time, but if you think about having 10 hours of this left, you will only make yourself miserable. Focus on getting through the next minute. Don’t think of the future. Think only of the task you are doing this minute.

Debrief With a Trusted Colleague

Debriefing will allow you to let go of the emotions that have you so upset about your shift. No matter what has happened, your emotions are likely involved, and it helps to talk about what you are going through. When you are done, you may feel an uplifting feeling from unloading. You have to be careful, however. The colleague you choose should be trusted beyond question. Debriefing to the wrong person can lead to the conversation turning into gossip or the conversation becoming unprofessional. If you don’t have someone like this on your unit, then don’t take the risk.

You should also make sure you have your discussions far away from patient areas. You would be surprised at what patients can hear from their rooms, and complaints can land you in trouble.

Find Somewhere Isolated

Nursing quiet

Sometimes you just need to get away. If the day is really bad, allow yourself to go somewhere private and just let go. Cry, pound the walls, or find some cathartic way to get your feelings out. It is okay just to bask in the silence, too. Bathrooms are ideal places, but the traffic through them can make them feel less than isolated. Try a stairwell that leads from one floor to another, as these are usually low traffic. You can also find an empty patient room, close the door and take five minutes to breathe. Give yourself permission to be alone if that is the way you handle stress. Your patients will be there when you get back, but they will get a better nurse when you do return. You will be able to give them your all if you take care of yourself first.

Talk to a Friendly Patient

Many nurses enter the profession to help people, connect with them and make a difference. If you are one of these people, talking to a friendly patient may make you feel better, as it will connect you to the reason you became a nurse. Yes, it will take time, but there is no reason you can’t talk to the patient while you are performing other functions, such as med pass. Ask about their lives, about why they are there, and about their stay in the hospital. Most patients will appreciate the attention. If you have one of those patients who like to tell stories and jokes, hang out with them for a little while to ease some of your stress.

Find Something Funny

Laughter is the best medicine, as the old cliché goes. Well, it became a cliché for a reason, and that’s because it works. It is very hard to find something to laugh at on a nursing floor. One idea is to share a story with a coworker about something funny that happened in the past. For instance, you could talk about an epic code brown, since most nurses find this hilarious after the fact. You can talk about that patient who walked around naked. Anything that will make you laugh. Another idea is to have some joke apps on your phone. Take it to the break room and read some funny stories. Remember times when you heard a really great joke and tell it to a coworker. Find something to laugh about in all the chaos. This is probably the hardest way to turn around a bad day, but with some of these strategies, you can find yourself smiling all the way to the end of the shift.