I will always remember my first ever placement; it was straight after the high of Christmas and New Year and in the middle of the January blues and my cohort was sent off to sample our first ever ‘long day’ and infamous ‘night shift’
This year, I am a few days away from my ‘return to hub’ placement, which also happens to be ”in the deep midwinter”, and upon qualification (unless I score one of those fantastic work contracts that sees six months in the UK and six months in the Maldives, I will also be expected to work shifts 365 days a year.
If you are anything like me, getting up early in the winter is torture. It’s cold, dark and usually drizzly.
Your housemates with no placement attached to their course get a lie in, which only intensifies feelings of misery and gloom.
”Come 8pm, you joyously leave the shift behind and rejoice in the intoxicating fresh air.”
To top it all off you then have to find your way to placement at 6am when you can’t see your face in front of you hands and are carrying three bags because you refuse to pay £6.50 for a sandwich and crisps.
Come 8pm, you joyously leave the shift behind and rejoice in the intoxicating fresh air. But you also hit a brick wall because its once again pitch-black and they don’t yet provide students with night vision goggles.
“You can feel sleepy, crave carbs and feel as though you want to hibernate as the days grow shorter and the temperature lowers.”
All joking aside, you can begin to feel as though you are operating in a weird limbo of cold, isolating darkness. Perhaps you don’t know what day or time it is, and your sleep may be compromised.
This is a recipe for not being very happy at all.
Feeling low in winter can be (at least) mildly debilitating and affects most of the population. You can feel sleepy, crave carbs and feel as though you want to hibernate as the days grow shorter and the temperature lowers.
“Not only is this damaging to you physiologically, as your body requires vitamin D and fresh air to run efficiently, but it is emotionally damaging too.”
Being student nurses, I believe working shifts in a hospital environment puts us all at risk of feeling down and can exacerbate these symptoms if you generally are a summer-loving person. Student nurses don’t always get the opportunity to enjoy the natural light as it occurs due to being cooped up inside, for a long time if we are doing a string of shifts.
On many occasions during my training I have left work in the dark, got home when it is darker still and not been outside for 13 hours. Not only is this damaging to you physiologically, as your body requires vitamin D and fresh air to run efficiently, but it is emotionally damaging too. Too often, during the winter I am left drained and at times overwhelmed and tearful.
”Although, if these low feelings persist for an unusually long period of time […] speak to your personal tutor or GP as you could be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).”
Although, if these low feelings persist for an unusually long period of time, prevent you from engaging in day to day activities and are not eliminated by managing diet, activity and lifestyle you may wish to speak to your personal tutor or GP as you could be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), in which case medical treatments such as light therapy and support is available to help you to cope.
If however you do just feel a tad low and dreary, I have devised the following top tips for battling through those long, winter shifts:
- Get an alarm which wakes you with natural light and the sounds of mating birds. This gentle, joyous wake can trick your body into thinking it is a beautiful spring day so you are able to prise yourself from your snuggly, warm duvet and get out into the real-world.
- Have breakfast, either before you leave the hourse or during an early break. Have something warming and nutritious such as porridge with honey - nature’s hug from the inside.
- Eat well in general. Consider supplements if you are deficient in vitamins and nutrients as this will make you feel pants. Do your research and consult your doctor first if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have any pre-existing conditions and medications.
- Be prepared for the elements. The worst sensation known to humankind is working for 13 hours in sopping wet socks and shoes.
- Listen to some upbeat music or whatever makes you chirpy when you are getting ready. Try to make your morning routine something you look forward to.
- Take your breaks and escape the ward. If you can, get outside and fill your lungs with the good stuff and feel the sun on your face.
- Try and get out and about on your days off, despite the evidence/assignments/dissertations etc. you need to write. A half-hour walk with friends or a game of your favourite sport with colleagues gets your recommended exercise in and gives you a chance for some much-needed socialising.
To finish, a bit on how to stay safe that you should take a look at in particular if you have to walk or take public transport to and from placement in the dark or if you are in a car alone.
Have your ID and uniform covered up. Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Keep mobiles tablets, wallets, purses, iWhatevers and other thief-inducing possessions out of sight. Check around you before getting into a car. Avoid dark alleyways, underpasses and cross the road if you are approaching unsavoury looking groups or persons. Don’t listen to music so your senses aren’t compromised and you know if you are being followed or about to get run over by a car without properly working headlights.
Stay safe, take care and enjoy your next round of placement. And remember, it’s nearly Christmas!
Peace and love.
Danielle Garrington-Miller is Student Nursing Times’ child branch editor for 2015/16.