It’s all too easy to lose your healthy lifestyle while on placement, explains Student NT editor, Heather Phelan.
The early starts and late nights mean sleep suddenly becomes a mythical creature that you stop believing exists, like Santa Claus.
The chaos of life on the ward means you struggle to make time to eat. The long hours make it harder to get to the gym, and juggling your placement with essays and a part-time job means your stress-levels suddenly sky rocket.
But there are ways to make it easier.
You might be one of those people who can work all day on 5 hours of sleep, and have bucket-loads of energy despite skipping breakfast, and not gain any weight despite having McDonalds for dinner every day. I am not one of those people.
If you, like me, find yourself wanting to cry every time you wake up in the morning before the sun has risen, then these tips are for you…
1) Meal prep
No one is hungry at 5:30am, which makes it really easy to skip breakfast. Sometimes, your lunch break is only 30 minutes long, and you don’t have enough time to run out and buy something healthy, so you resort to a bag of crisps.
And then by the time you get your break in the evening, everywhere is closed, and you find yourself stopping by KFC when you get home at 10pm. The best way I’ve found to avoid this is to prepare your meals in advance.
Breakfast needn’t be a fancy chia-pudding-overnight-oats concoction. Pack a few breakfast bars and eat them on your commute. You can spare a few hours on your day off to make a few batches of something healthy and simple, like a curry, and then freeze it, so that you have something for lunch and dinner whenever you need it later in the week.
2) Fight for your sleep
There’s no way to avoid sleep. You need it. You need it more than you think. It affects everything.
It’s so easy to sacrifice your beauty sleep for other things, and rely on coffee to wake you up in the morning, but caffeine is no substitute for your REM cycle, and before you know it you’ll start making mistakes at work, feeling more emotional, and getting burnt out.
Force yourself to go to bed an hour earlier than you usually would. If you have trouble winding down after a long day, try taking 20 minutes before bedtime to do whatever it is that calms you down. Invest in some ear plugs. Buy a white noise machine.
Do whatever it takes to get you off to sleep an hour earlier, and you won’t regret it.
3) Make use of study days
When you start your placement, think about if you have any assignments coming up that you’ll need to work on.
Try talking to your mentor and letting them know that you’ve got work to do, and see if they’d be okay with your taking one or two study days while you’re on placement. They may flat out refuse, which you can’t help, but it’s always worth asking.
Most mentors will understand that you have coursework, and will let you take a day just to get on top of those daunting, 4000-word essays.
4) Work less
If you work part-time, it makes it twice as hard to get enough sleep and enough time to de-stress while you’re on placement.
The worst feeling in the world is when you’ve woken up before the crack of dawn, done an entire day’s work, and then have to go do another shift somewhere else. It can be tempting to do this though – placement is a bit of a paradox.
You’re spending more money than usual on travel, but you have less time to work.
So, if at all possible, try and get in those extra shifts in the month before your placement starts. That way you won’t feel so pressured to keep the money coming in, and you can have the satisfaction of going home at the end of the day like everyone else (ah, the dream).