Pacing Yourself At Work

Have you ever experienced a day where you feel like you’re a chicken with your head cut off? Do you spend every shift with the sense that you’re a whirling dervish who can’t stop spinning? Or maybe it’s more like you’re on a runaway train that has no emergency break.

Whatever metaphor we use to describe the non-stop work of many nursing shifts, self-pacing is one way to push back against the constant barrage of tasks that keep us on our toes and running from the first moments of our shift until we head home to collapse.

There’s no denying that your work can keep you running. There’s also no denying that there are often simply too many tasks to do at any given time, and keeping up is simply a matter of moving forward at a breakneck pace.

Having said that, learning to pace yourself is crucial to avoiding burnout, resentment, stress-induced illness, and all manner of negative consequences of overwork.

In Japanese, there’s actually a word for death from overwork–karoshi. We have no similar word in the English language, but perhaps if we did, it might involve the occupation of nursing!

All kidding aside, overwork is not a laughing matter, and while most people will not actually drop dead at work, many of us will develop diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, headaches, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and an assortment of other conditions that one just might trace back to a life of high stress, high workloads and the inability to slow down.

So, how can you pace yourself at work if everyone else is going nuts?

First, check in with yourself on the inside. Are you wound up like a spring at work? Do you breathe consciously? Do you hydrate? Do you take time to snack to keep your blood sugar up during long shifts? Do you practice even the smallest types of self-care while working or do you just give in to the pressure and keep your nose to the proverbial grindstone?

Next, do you have any colleagues who agree that pacing yourselves and caring for yourselves is important? Can you create a “conspiracy of kindness” at work where you support one another in taking breaks, remind one another to hydrate, help each other out, and otherwise make sure that everyone is cared for during their shift? Support means so much, so why not make it official and enlist your colleagues in helping one another?

Lastly, do you value your health and well-being? Do you value it enough to do something differently? Can you dial down your stress, take a breath and brainstorm strategies for self-care and sanity at work? Are you courageous enough to value yourself?

There are so many ways to pace yourself and dial down the stress at work. What strategies do you use? Which ones are best? Which ones have failed? Which are foolproof and sure to help? We’d love to hear from you.

Remember, patient safety comes first, but the health of the nurse is pretty darn important too! What patient wants a stressed, sick nurse to care for them? So, care for yourself and you’re actually caring for your patients too!

About Keith

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Keith Carlson is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist.

With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers.

Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms, as well as at