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6 Effective Postshift Wind-Down Routines for Nurses

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated March 3, 2023
    Using a wind-down routine after work can help lower your stress and reduce burnout. Three busy nurses shared their favorite six strategies.

    Taking a little time to wind down from your shift before focusing on taking care of yourself or your loved ones is key for self-care, mental clarity, and stress management.

    Allowing ourselves to effectively wind down after a long shift gives us a moment to relax, reflect, and check-in.

    “I find that when I do not give myself that very deliberate period of ‘me’ time, I tend to carry a lot more stress on my shoulders, and have a hard time disconnecting from work,” says Fumi Ogunsemore, CEO and nurse with 10 years of experience.

    Stress from your shift often follows you home. Hormones flood the body when we’re faced with stress and contribute to developing high blood pressure, headaches, and depression.

    We share six easy and effective wind-down routines nurses use to decompress after a long shift. Feel free to incorporate these into your day whenever you need a little destressing.

    Nurses Share 6 Relaxing Routines to Try After Your Shift

    We asked three busy nurses who own their own healthcare businesses about their wind-down routines after a busy day. As you consider these routines, remember to choose those that can realistically add to your day.

    Most of the routines below can be used when driving home or done throughout your morning or evening, whenever you get off work.

    We’re sharing the key elements to these routines so you can pick and choose which may work best for you. When you find something that works, maintaining it is the best way you can reduce your stress levels and lower your risk of burnout.

    1. Start With Intentional Breathing

    According to Harvard Medical School, breath control helps reduce your stress response. Deep abdominal breathing encourages better oxygenation, can slow the heart rate, and stabilize blood pressure.

    For many, however, this seems unnatural. Most people hold in their stomach muscles as they breathe, which interferes with deep breathing. It makes shallow chest breathing seem normal. Yet, this type of air exchange can actually increase tension and nursing anxiety.

    Efrat LaMandre is a family nurse practitioner with her own medical practice. She believes wind-down routines are essential for working moms. She starts with five deep intentional breaths.

    “When you inhale, feel the belly expand first leading the breath up into the lungs, then the chest, and lastly the throat,” she says. “Hold it for a moment. When you begin to exhale, release the breath slowly, feeling the chest drop, then the lungs, and lastly, the belly sinking in.”

    This can be done in the car, the shower, or even while making dinner. Really, anytime you feel nervous or anxious, you can take several deep intentional breaths and feel more regulated.

    2. Listen to Your Favorite Music

    Music is powerful. It can pump you up, calm you down, and nearly anything in between. Music’s influence on your brain and emotions is the focus of one literature review, which found it can lower your heart rate, release endorphins, and reduce physical or emotional stress.

    Music helps Ogunsemore temporarily block outside noise, focus on herself, and take a minute to catch her breath.

    “I find my wind-down routine very effective because it is so simple and straightforward, but it allows me to think better and manage workplace stress very well,” she says. “I always incorporate music into my wind-down routine, because every day I can change it up.”

    Movement also helps release stress and tension stored in the body, so feel free to move around and dance to your wind-down music, too!

    3. Repeat a Quick Mantra

    A mantra is not the same thing as an intention. Instead, it is an instrument used to ground you and affect your mind in meditation. A mantra is an effective wind-down technique because its repetitive nature helps calm the activity in your mind.

    Several types can help center your thoughts in gratitude after a difficult shift. LaMandre uses a mantra to ground herself after chaotic days.

    For many, the term mantra means self-affirming statements, but the purpose is the same. It is a way to focus your chaotic thoughts.

    For example, you may choose to repeat:

    • “My positive thoughts guide me to new heights.”
    • “I am conquering my fears and getting stronger each day.”
    • “I speak with confidence and self-assurance.”
    • “My mind is calm; I feel relaxed and at peace.”

    If you notice, a matra is always stated in the positive. LaMandre uses the Hawaiian/Polynesian practice called Ho’oponopono. Roughly translated, it means to cause things to move back into balance.

    The mantra goes like this: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”

    With regular practice, LaMandre has found it helps with self-care and letting go of the day, so she is in a better place by the time she arrives home.

    4. Use Grounding Techniques and Progressive Muscle Relaxation

    Grounding techniques are used successfully in people with post-traumatic stress disorder and nursing anxiety. The technique helps pull your mind away from tumultuous thoughts and into the present moment.

    Grounding techniques can be physical or mental, as long as the strategy you choose helps refocus your mind. For example, you may try using body awareness:

    heartBody Awareness Technique

    1. Take five deep breaths through your nose and out through your pursed lips.
    2. Place both feet flat on the floor without shoes or socks. Spend a few moments noticing the sensation of the floor while curling and uncurling your toes.
    3. Stomp your feet several times, noticing how it feels when your feet make contact with the ground.
    4. Clench and unclench your hands into fists ten times.
    5. Press your palms together hard and hold for 15 seconds. Feel the tension in your hands and arms.
    6. Rub your palms together and notice the sound and warmth.
    7. Stretch to the sky for five seconds and then bring your arms down and relax at your side.
    8. Take five more deep breaths and notice the calm feeling in your body.

    You can also do a mental grounding exercise discreetly in public. For example, name all the objects you can see or count backward from 100 by 7s.

    Tina M. Baxter is an advanced practice nurse and owner of a legal nurse consulting firm. She incorporates grounding techniques with progressive muscle relaxation. She advises nurses to find a quiet spot to focus on what’s happening in their bodies.

    “Find the places of tension and work through relaxing them. Become attuned to how your body is responding to your environment,” she says. “Once you understand how your body reacts, you can practice relaxing those muscles and removing the tension.”

    5. Block Out Outside Noise and Just Sit

    The noise of daily life can impact your overall stress level through overstimulation. A loud hospital unit, yelling children, noisy traffic, and even irritating music can raise your stress level.

    Ogunsemore enjoys blocking out the noise of daily living combined with other strategies. However, sometimes silence is the best medicine for a noisy environment.

    Consider using noise-canceling headphones, going for a walk in nature, or enforcing a quiet time in your home. Children also benefit from quiet time to calm their busy brains, so playing the quiet game could be a new favorite wind-down technique for busy parents or caregivers.

    6. Take a Bath

    Taking a bath can be a rare luxury for working parents and busy professionals. However, it is beneficial to set aside time during the day just for yourself to decompress and destress from work and family obligations.

    If you can, spend 15 minutes soaking in a hot bath filled with aromatic essential oils. This engages a synergistic effect between the hot water and the essential oils to help lower stress and nursing anxiety.

    It can also help soothe muscle aches and pains from a long day at work. Calming essential oils include:

    • Lavender
    • Eucalyptus
    • Rose
    • Jasmine
    • Camomile

    The Benefits of Routines for Destressing

    People are creatures of routine. The more you practice a routine, the better you get at it. Although some routines can make your life boring, others are essential to avoid drowning in details.

    Ogunsemore notes that while we take care of others all day as nurses, we often forget ourselves. When you take a few moments to wind down and relax, you give yourself permission to deal with nursing shift anxiety, destress, and disconnect from work.

    LaMandre stresses that nurses must take time to wind down to help avoid burnout and “get us into a better mental state before we get home,” she says.

    Baxter agrees that winding down at the end of the day is crucial to a nurse’s mental health.

    “If we don’t get a chance to wind down and process what has happened during the shift, we find our minds and bodies constantly battling the stress which can lead to burnout,” Baxter says.

    These same routines can be effective before you go into work when you are experiencing nursing preshift anxiety.

    You can practice grounding, intentional deep breathing, repeating mantras, and listening to music in the car on your way to work. You may even practice intentional breathing and grounding while working, on break, or doing rounds.

    Meet Our Contributors

    Portrait of Fumi Ogunsemore, RN

    Fumi Ogunsemore, RN

    Fumi Ogunsemore has been a nurse for 10 years. She is the CEO and owner of Valley of Joy Home Care and Valley of Joy Medical Staffing, which she founded in 2017. In the few years that her companies have been in operation, Ogunsemore has hired 74 employees, staffed 5,000 nurses, and has helped over 40 homecare clients. Even as a busy CEO, she continues to work in the field as a nurse.

    Portrait of Efrat LaMandre, FNP

    Efrat LaMandre, FNP

    Efrat LaMandre is a family nurse practitioner who owns and operates her own medical practice, EG Healthcare. The practice has achieved the honor of Patient Centered Medical Home status, indicating excellence in patient care. Efrat also serves as the president-elect of the Nurse Practitioner Association State Board. In addition, she is clinical faculty at Wagner College and the primary care provider for the City University of New York, College of Staten Island athletic department.

    Portrait of Tina Baxter, APRN

    Tina Baxter, APRN

    Tina M. Baxter is an APRN and a board-certified gerontological nurse practitioner. Baxter has been a registered nurse for over 20 years and a nurse practitioner for 14 years. She is the owner of Baxter Professional Services, LLC, a consulting firm which provides legal nurse consulting services, wellness and chronic disease management coaching, and educational resources to healthcare organizations. She is the founder of The Nurse Shark Academy where she coaches nurses to launch and scale their businesses.