Rational Detachment: Shutting Off After Work

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Caring for others and their families can be incredibly rewarding but stressful at times. In the past 16 months, the caring profession has been under pressure like never before, with COVID-19 and the additional PPE/infection control requirements. The environment we live in has been anxiety-inducing and worrying for healthcare professionals.

It is so important for healthcare professionals to be able to shut off after work, detach from a shift and look after both their physical and mental health. In today’s blog, Clinical Nurse Manager, Nikki, shares her top tips on how to rationally detach after a shift.

What is rational detachment?

Rational detachment is being able to control our behaviours and not take things personally. It’s important to maintain self-control to protect and care for ourselves. Healthy rational detachment can help us remain professional, not take the behaviour of others personally and find positive outlets for negative thoughts and energy.

Nurses and support workers can find detachment challenging because they are highly caring and compassionate people. It can mean ‘switching off’ from a difficult, tiring or, highly emotional day at work can be hard.

Working as a healthcare professional, I have learnt many ways to rationally detach myself after a shift. I have compiled a list of my top learnings for practising rational detachment.

 Staying present in the moment

Try to be present in the moment. Avoid worrying about the past or future, whether this is at home or work. Remember, you cannot control what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future. You can only control the present.

Set time aside to think about your worries or stress

Always give yourself a set time during each day to reflect on your shift and anything that may have been particularly challenging about it. My motto for this is ‘schedule this time in, allow it, recognise it, then let it go.’ 

Set boundaries

Boundaries are important in healthcare. Caring requires a high level of care and compassion, but it is important to set boundaries for yourself to enable you to tune that care and compassion into yourself too.

Pre-plan how to manage challenging situations

Try to have a plan in place for what to say and do in any difficult situations that may occur with the client or family. Knowing you have a choice in how to respond can help with detaching from the difficult situation.

Use a visualisation method

This is a great method to try when detaching yourself from something. Think of a container or filing cabinet in your mind. Once you have reflected on the difficult situation or shift, let yourself move forward from it by putting it in your visualised container or filing cabinet and close the lid/drawer on it. This can help to detach from the situation and stop yourself from thinking about it.

Talk openly

Communication is a great way to relieve stress and worries. Find a colleague, family member or friend you trust who you can connect with to help you talk and let go of your work challenges and emotions. If you do not feel like you can talk to anyone about it, write it down on a piece of paper. You can even tear up/throw away this piece of paper afterwards to symbolise getting rid of the negative emotions.

Look after your physical health on shift

Your physical health is equally as important as your mental health. Try to make time to prep healthy meals and snacks to take to shift with you. Make sure to keep hydrated before, during and after your shift as well.
During a busy week, maximise the sleep and rest you get when you’re at home and not on shift. Avoid booking in anything too taxing outside of work when working a busy shift pattern. If you’re looking for some guidance and information on improving your sleep, you can access the ‘Sleep’ tab on the Wellbeing and Support Hub by logging into your account from the Pulse Nursing at Home website.

Take a break from technology

Our devices can be all-consuming and often contribute to our stresses and anxieties. Try to put your phone away in a drawer or another room for a few hours. Switch the TV and radio off and take some time away from technology to spend with family and friends.

Focus on the positives

Staying positive throughout and after your shift is so important. We all have bad days, but they don’t last forever. When you’ve finished your shift, ask yourself, ‘what is something good that has happened today?’. This will help you to maintain a positive mindset and come away from a shift feeling happy.

Consider practising mindfulness

Some people find practising mindfulness techniques very supportive and helpful at detaching after work. Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on the moment and think about your thoughts, feelings and current environment. There are many apps to help with mindfulness techniques, such as Headspace and Calm.

Leave work at work

Unfortunately, the nature of healthcare is that sometimes shifts can be difficult or stressful, and traumatic experiences do happen. Having a mental ‘Going home checklist’ for you to complete can help you switch off from work. This could include:

- Taking a moment to reflect on the shift.

- Consider three things that were difficult during the shift, learn from them, then let them go.

- Considering three things that went well on the shift.

- Thinking about getting home and how you are going to rest and recharge.

You could even spend your commute home reflecting on your shift. Then when you arrive at home, leave work at the front door.


If you’re looking for some more advice, Mind has created an article about looking after your mental health as a nurse. The article contains a range of tips, guidance and useful resources for you to read.

Our Wellbeing and Support Hub is full of useful articles and resources related to mental health. If you are a Pulse Nursing at Home nurse or support worker, you can access the hub by logging in on our website. 

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