Shift Work Stress: How To Protect Yourself From It

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For someone who works rotational shifts 24/7 you would appreciate why the words ‘shift work’ and ‘stress’ go hand in hand with one another. Just lifting your weary body out of bed and into the upright position at the most inhospitable hour can be somewhat stressful.

Actually let me rephrase that, working shift work is stressful because your body is not designed to be up in the middle of the night nor early hours of the morning. As a result you are creating wear and tear on your body – both physically and mentally.

In fact a lot of shift workers experience adrenal fatigue where the adrenal glands are no longer able to function at their optimum because of over-use or over stimulation. One of the functions of your adrenal glands is to produce a hormone called cortisol which is designed to help protect your body from stress and to help keep your immune system strong.

As you can appreciate, long term stress (and adrenal fatigue) for a shift worker can become even more damaging to your health when your actual job is stressful. Combine this with working irregular working hours and it can be a dangerous combination.

Of course stress can fall under an array of categories. Anything from time-restraints, high volume or high intensity workload or just having people shout and scream at you can elevate your heart rate and make you extremely anxious. Picture a Triage Nurse in the Emergency Department on a Friday night – no thanks!

The second element to stress is in your ability to cope with stress – because ultimately, we are all very different. We can all react in different ways, perceive things differently and be more sensitive to certain situations than others. In fact combined with varying environmental factors, there has also been research showing a link between genetic predisposition and stress (Mammoth Magazine 2011). So in essence, there are some things that you cannot change.

After almost 20 years of working shift work I know my limitations. I can be thrown into a situation and end up going home in tears or I can watch a colleague be subjected to exactly the same scenario and hardly flinch. To them it’s kind of like “water off a ducks back”.

And here lies the key to stress. You can either do 1 of 4 things, or a combination of all four.

1.Learn to manage your reaction to stress – ie; enhance your coping mechanisms or remove yourself from it whenever you can.

2. Become a less stressed out person! Easier said than done, but by this I mean take up things that will help to calm your body and mind. For example, yoga, tai chi or some other kind of meditation.

3.Eliminate the stress or if that’s not possible…

4. Quit your job

Because the truth of the matter is, unless you can escape to the peace and serenity of a Health Retreat (and never leave) – you are always going to have stress in your life in some way, shape or form. You can never completely avoid it because life can throw us some curve balls – whether we want it or not.

But stress at work is manageable to a certain degree. Sure there will be plenty of things that you can’t change (like severe under staffing), but you have to make the decision if you want to spend the rest of your life exposed to this type of stress or go and do something else.

Easier said than done? Of course.

Nothing worth having in your life is ever easy, but you can still make it happen and it all begins with baby steps.

If stress at work has reached a point where you feel you’re not coping anymore but you feel trapped with no way out – make yourself more attractive to others. Now girls – by that I don’t mean slap on the lipstick and shortening the hem on your skirt!

I mean increase your skills. Take up a new course, read more books. In essence, make yourself more valuable to prospective employers. At the end of the day as the late, great Jim Rohn once said:

“Your paycheck is not your employer’s responsibility, it’s your responsibility. Your employer has no control over your value, but you do.”

So don’t let shift work stress ruin your life – make it the reason and motivation to make it better.

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