Shift-work with Ease

by Elizabeth Dolan RN, Australia

In a recent article published in the BBC News Health section1 the author reports on an analysis of studies involving more than 2 million shift workers published in the British Medical Journal.2  The studies found that shift work can disrupt the body clock and has an adverse effect on lifestyle. They also reported that shift workers are more at risk of having a heart attack or stroke than day workers. Other studies have shown that shift work has an adverse effect on appetite, digestion, increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes and has an overall negative effect on health.

I have worked as a registered nurse for 30 years. In that time I have done a lot of shift work. I am still doing shift work, currently on a busy medical ward. This means that I work morning, afternoon and night shift – often all three in one week.  When I first listened to Serge Benhayon’s presentations about eight years ago I was convinced that what he was saying about honouring yourself, being gentle, being self-nurturing whilst still working on a busy ward doing shift work could not be done. In fact, I felt that it was completely unrealistic and unattainable. At that time I was working in an Aged Care facility. The work was very physically demanding as well as emotionally draining. I didn’t know it then but I was actually taking on a lot of what was going on around me. This would leave me exhausted. I was at least 15 kgs overweight, drinking lots of coffee and alcohol and basically just trying to “survive life”. I was burnt out and working mainly afternoon and night shift because I couldn’t cope with the workplace dynamics that happened during the day. I was barely coping. Then I met Serge Benhayon. I was so far away from being gentle, self nurturing or honouring of myself that I felt what he was presenting was unrealistic unless you sat around and did nothing all day. I certainly could not see how it would work in a busy workplace.

Slowly I began to connect with what he was presenting about honouring yourself. I changed my diet and stopped eating gluten and dairy. This had a huge effect. For years I had known that I could not tolerate gluten or dairy but had done nothing about it. It just felt too hard to give them up. The relief my body felt when I did was enormous. I stopped drinking alcohol when I connected with the true harm it was doing to myself and others. And I began to practise the gentle breath meditation as taught by Universal Medicine. This technique is presented in a way that assists you to re-connect to yourself. It indeed did re-connect me back to my own body and I noticed that I no longer reacted to certain situations and people in the way I once had. In fact, I was now able to respond to what in the past, would have been very stressful situations, for example, dealing with life threatening incidents without losing myself in the process. I discovered through re-connecting with my body that I felt more confident with the quick reflexes and quick decision-making needed in life threatening situations. I also found it a lot easier to deal with conflict and chaos.  Slowly I began to change. I lost weight without even trying. I started to do more day shifts as well as afternoon/night shift.

My colleagues at work began to notice this and asked me what had changed. They too could feel the benefit of how I was being.

Next I tackled my sleep rhythm. This is something so obvious, yet it took Universal Medicine to introduce me to the fact that there is a way to support the body that can bring about true rest and rejuvenation by how we prepare for and work with our sleep rhythm. From years of doing afternoon and night shifts I had gotten into the habit of going to bed late. I felt that if I didn’t stay up I would be missing out on something. I therefore rarely went to bed before midnight. I began to observe how I was in the evening. When I was working on an evening shift I started to notice that at around 8 pm I would start to feel tired and my body felt like it wanted to wind down and prepare for sleep. I noticed that in order to keep going with my work I had to ignore or over-ride that feeling of wanting to wind down. I did this by using whatever form of stimulant I could find, be it chocolate, coffee or an emotional reaction.  I noticed that this also happened for my colleagues. Many of them would start to get grumpy around 8 pm and reach for chocolate etc.

I then started to pay attention to what I was doing before sleep on my days off. Sure enough, around 8 pm I would naturally feel tired. However, I would ignore that feeling and stay up. I was so used to over-riding what my body was telling me that I would just ignore its signals. I made a decision to go to bed when my body naturally felt tired. Sounds simple and it is. Yet it took quite a while to stop ignoring that natural impulse. I continued to work every shift but on my days off I went to bed when I felt tired. Sometimes that was even earlier than 9 pm, which was horrifying for me at first. I already felt cheated by having to do shift work, so the idea of cutting my day short when I was on a day off didn’t appeal to me.

I also started to address the harsh way in which I treated myself and became gentle with how I did things as well as being gentler on myself. I slowly began to feel the benefit of this. I discovered I had more energy. I discovered that I did actually enjoy going to bed earlier. I stopped pushing myself so much. And I discovered the benefit of waking up earlier in the morning and how I could actually get a lot more done compared to trying to do it at night when I was tired. The rhythm of going to bed around 9 pm created a solid foundation that could then sustain me when I worked afternoon and night shift. Over time this has developed so that I can now easily do shift work without being affected by it.

It is of course a continuous development. I have found of late that the way I eat very much affects how well I can do shift work. This is particularly noticeable with night shift. In the past I felt that I needed to “eat to keep awake” or “eat to keep my strength up”, but now I find that the lighter I eat when on night shift the better I feel.  I find I need to prepare for night shift two days before doing it. I begin to eat lighter food. Then on the nights that I work I eat light and only during the day. I never eat during the night when I work. That way I can finish a night shift at 0700 and be back at work the next morning at 0700 for a day shift without any ill effects. It is important to mention here that this is what works for me. It will be different for everyone according to what his or her body feels.

The teachings presented by Universal Medicine are very practical and down to earth. Doesn’t it make sense that if we re-connect to ourselves we then have ourselves with us in all that we do? Reconnecting with ourselves allows us to reconnect with our body. If we listen to what the body is telling us we have a very effective way of knowing if the choices we are making on a daily basis are supportive or not. At 52 years old I feel the best I have ever felt. I am vital, my body feels amazing and I have more energy than most of my colleagues who are half my age.  I love what I do and these days I love how I do it as well. Universal Medicine introduced the importance of listening to my body and not over-riding what it was telling me. Could they be on to something? Could this be a clue as to what is needed to deal with the health care crisis we now face all over the world? What if people were to actually take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing through reconnecting with themselves and listening to their bodies?  In my opinion it is certainly worth investigating.

References

1)  Shift work linked to ‘increased risk of heart problems’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18996082

2)  Shift work and vascular events: Systematic review and meta-analysis http://www.bmj.com/content/345/bmj.e4800

403 thoughts on “Shift-work with Ease

  1. I can really relate to this at the moment as my working pattern and commuting has recently changed, it’s made me stop and appreciate how vital it is to maintain a healthy relationship with work listening to the body is. As when we do not take the time to prepare and support ourselves in work and life, then that’s where we become run down.

  2. I too have developed my way of life such that I can do a 7pm-7am shift and be totally rested, at ease and productive the next day. I would not have been able to do it (this quickly anyway) without the same man you speak of, Serge Benhayon.

  3. What you describe here is a ‘doing it yourself guidance’ to health and vitality and it works for many with everyone having their individual touch and timing to develop such a self-loving routine, with self-love being the main ingredient here.

  4. It is beautiful what you share, and how we can support ourselves and our body by making loving choices about what foods we eat that will support our body, to support us in our working day, whether it be day, or night. Preparation is so important and how we care for ourselves, something I have noticed as well. Working in hospitality we also have early mornings or late nights, and the body has to be rested and nurtured to live a healthy life.

  5. Shift work is certainly going to be harder on one’s body than a regular stable routine but if you take true care of your body in every way, you can minimise this to a large degree as you have demonstrated.

  6. Very, very good stuff Elizabeth. What you have mastered here, in a challenging situation (as shift work surely is for most of us) is revelatory and inspiring. If you can bring this level of self-love and care to your shift work, well the rest of us surely can reap the rewards of same in our more regularly-run lives. What a positive impact this would have on the level of service we are able to offer others in our work – and in our lives in general. We have the capacity to be ‘on’ all the time, living a ‘one life’ of 24-7 service rather than having segments of the day where we switch off and check out with no awareness of what’s needed and when.

  7. It is so interesting how going to sleep is often considered as time away from the fun things in life, like it’s a chore we have to do. I love reading here your changing relationship with sleep and bedtime and how it has become a very important part of your day that supports you in the other parts of your day, so no one activity is more or less important it is all the same and working towards the one purpose.

  8. Hi Elizabeth, your message is clear about how important it is to listen to our body and to not over-ride the wisdom it offers. Reading this blog does explain how easy it can be once we choose to take responsibility and focus on health rather than comfort. Awesome information for everyone especially those working shift work.

  9. The place I work, the security department works; two days 0700 to 1900, then two days 1900 to 0700 and two days off, then repeat. Most of these workers are young and always look exhausted. In a world that is increasingly becoming 24/7, it is at the cost of the disregard to our bodyies and ourselves.

  10. Big words and big actions from a very experienced person in their chosen field. I remember this when I did shift work, “I already felt cheated by having to do shift work, so the idea of cutting my day short when I was on a day off didn’t appeal to me.” It still kicks in on weekends as well at times and I remember it from a long time ago where you didn’t want the weekend to end or you didn’t want Sunday to end because that meant Monday and going back to work. So you would stay up late on Sunday only to find Monday was exactly how you imagined, you felt tired and regretted being where you were. What if you need to take more care around these times with how you are, setting up a busy day two days prior? Sounds like a plan and also I have seen it work, the way you are prior effects the way you are on the day.

  11. I have always wondered how shift workers manage, I have had some experience myself, yet only for short periods and my body was all over the place, until I set myself a rhythm and things became much easier. I loved the way you have embraced your shift work through changing what you eat, and also building a detailed rhythm for yourself.

  12. I too have stayed up late in case I miss something, and started waking up more exhausted than I had been the day before, and caught myself saying to work colleagues I’d love to have an early night, my body was asking for it, and yet I was the one who was constantly overriding it. I now go to bed early, and my days of exhaustion are a thing of the past.

  13. Long or heavy work loads can be worked with ease when we choose to connect to the key ingredient – honouring of ourselves in every moment.

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