The ability to transition is not generally viewed as a form of self-care, but the process of leaving our professional world and re-entering our personal world deserves attention.
Leaving what we have been immersed in for the last 8+ hours can often be very difficult, and when working in the field of oncology, these experiences more often than not include witnessing sad situations and the suffering of patients and their families. It can leave one feeling disoriented and out-of-sorts, and it takes a toll not only on the nurse, but also on those who the nurse goes home to. The poem, “Talking to the Family,” by John Stone, MD, exemplifies the stark and harsh difference between what we see and do in our jobs and what we do at home.
So how can one ease the transition from work to home?
Engineer a transition period Most of us follow a ritual before we go to work: morning coffee, walk the dog, drop the kids off at school, read the newspaper. Constructing a ritual for the end of the day that disconnects us from work is just as important. Whether you walk, bike, bus, train, or drive home from work, use that time to do something that clearly shifts you to a different place and mindset. Avoid perseverating on the hard parts of the day.
One nurse shared her ritual for finishing up work in a busy oncology clinic: “I consciously take off my lab coat as a reminder that I am switching gears. I listen to a favorite CD on the drive home and sing out loud, and when I pull in to the driveway, I reapply my lipstick. It all helps me walk in the door refreshed and able to be present to my kids and my partner.”
Another nurse talked about what she does on her bus ride home: “I close my eyes for a few minutes and visualize a mini-vacuum cleaner on the top of my head that is sucking up all the negative energy that has accumulated from my day. That might sound silly, but I notice a difference in how I hang on to thoughts if I don’t do it.”
Set limits We carry very high expectations of what can be accomplished in 24 hours and easily fall into a habit of trying to accomplish “one more thing” at work, turning an 8-hour day into a 9- or 10-hour day. Besides breeding resentment, this cuts into our personal time. Having reasonable expectations at work can help one to transition back to home. Once at home, setting a few limits on what you can do is important. Balancing the “must dos” (laundry, dishes, car upkeep) with the “want to dos” (read a book, go to a concert) may require negotiation with oneself and with family, so that the less enjoyable activities still get done, but are distributed fairly.
Make a plan for after work Knowing what to expect when you do get home can help with the transitioning process. At the beginning of the week, look at the calendar and make a schedule for yourself and everyone in your household to avoid the stress of last-minute craziness. If a particular day promises to be tight, plan accordingly. ONA