Career Woman

5 Ways to survive a 12-hour shift

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The average American works less than 40 hours per week. For many people, this means 8 hour days, Monday to Friday. But what if your role requires you to work shifts? How do you stay healthy and productive if you’re on your feet for 12 hours at a time? There are many professions where work shifts will regularly run past the 8-hour standard. You may immediately think of people working in emergency services, such as doctors and firefighters, but many technical jobs such as computer support specialists, often involve long shifts. We’ve put together our top five tips for surviving a 12-hour shift. 

1. Prepare snacks

Depending on your role, you may not be able to take scheduled breaks during your shift, and it’s important to keep your energy levels up. Prepare some healthy energy-boosting snacks at home and bring them to work packaged in a way that allows you to store some in your pockets. Granola bars are a great choice. Many include essential fats from nuts, yet they won’t easily get squashed or melt (avoid chocolate-coated varieties). You should also stay hydrated, so make sure you have access to a bottle of water.

2. Exercise and stretch

Employees who are required to work for 12 hours at a time will get breaks — even if these are unscheduled. Whether you’re on your feet all day or sitting at a desk, taking time to exercise and stretch is important to protect you from injuries to the back and other parts of your body. Instead of using your break to sit down, take a few minutes to stretch out the parts of your body that are under pressure while you’re working. If you’re sitting at a computer, make sure you stretch out your back, wrist, and fingers. If you’re on your feet for most of your shift, do some yoga poses to stretch out your legs and feet. You can practice many poses in even the smallest space.

3. Wear comfortable clothing 

If you’re working a 12-hour shift, you want to be as comfortable as you can in your clothes. This means choosing garments that fit well and will help you regulate your body temperature, so you are neither too hot nor too cold. Your work may provide you with a uniform which limits your choice of clothing — but make sure this workwear fits comfortably. If it hinders you performing your job in some way, speak to your employer. Workwear should be something you can forget about so you can focus on the task at hand.

Whatever your profession,  if you’re on your feet for most of your shift, it’s a great idea to wear the most comfortable shoes you can find. Nursing shoes are designed to provide cushioning, and support and are a great choice for people who spend long periods on their feet.

4. Make the most of your breaks

When you do get the chance to take five, get away from your work area and — if possible —  take a walk in the fresh air. Eating a sandwich at your desk is not going to give your mind or body the rest they need for optimal performance over the rest of your shift. Take a walk around the block or do some stretches outside your building. Leave your work phone behind and try not to think about work for the duration of your break. Reading a book or listening to music is a great way to switch your mind off from work if you find this difficult.

5. Manage your time and learn to switch off

Even in a 12-hour shift, you may feel pressure to achieve what feels like an unrealistic amount of work before you clock off. Long shifts can be exhausting, and adding undue stress to the mix only makes them more so. Set yourself clear goals for your shift, plan your time, and stick to this as best you can.

Of course, people involved in emergency work will find this more of a challenge. But the same ethos can be applied. Set yourself realistic goals and be prepared to leave your work at the door when your shift is over. Turning a 12-hour shift into a 14-hour shift by spending the first 2-hours after work playing things through in your mind or catching up on work emails, will not be sustainable long term. It’s especially important for people working long shifts to learn to switch off at the end of the day. Change out of your uniform, put on some music, and mark the divide between work time and your time.

Take care of yourself and boost your performance 

It can be easy to lose sight of yourself and just focus on getting the job done, impressing the boss, and pleasing your colleagues or clients. Taking a few simple steps to care for your well-being during a 12-hour shift may seem like time away from your work, but it will boost your performance in the short and long term.

If you push your body too far too often, ultimately you’ll burn out. Take the time now to make sure you’re adequately nourished, rested, dressed, and stretched to perform at your best for your whole shift, and you’ll reap the rewards.

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