Rational Detachment: shutting off after a shift

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Providing care to others and their families can be incredibly rewarding but stressful at times. 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.

Healthcare professionals should be able to shut off after work, detach from a shift and look after both their physical and mental health. In today’s article, Clinical Service Lead, Nikki, shares her advice on rationally detaching after a shift.


What is rational detachment?

Rational detachment is controlling our behaviours and not taking 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.

As a healthcare professional, I have learnt to detach myself after a shift. Below, 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 it's 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

Give yourself a set time 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 professional boundaries for yourself to enable you to tune that care and compassion into yourself as well.

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.

Many factors can contribute to a difficult situation. It’s important to understand why the situation has occurred. As you experience different challenges, you can create tailored action plans or toolkits for what to do if they ever happen again.

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 situation or shift, let yourself move forward from it by putting it in your visualised container or filing cabinet and closing 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, friend or an appropriate person within your life that 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 on the 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 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, and you’re a Pulse Nursing at Home nurse or support worker, you can access our sleep workshop by logging in to your Compass portal and navigating to your Wellbeing and Support Hub.

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. We’ve also created a guide for practising mindfulness, that discusses it’s benefits, why healthcare professionals should implement mindfulness into their routine and different types of mindfulness techniques to try.

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

When you arrive at home, spend a few minutes reflecting on your shift then once you have spent time reflecting, take work out of your mind till the next shift. If you would like more guidance on living a healthy work-life balance, read our article, which shares our top tips for caring for yourself and others. 

If you’re looking for some more advice, the mental health charity, 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.

We’re always looking to grow our team of experts. If you would like to join our team of healthcare professionals, then register with us using the form below or contact our team on 0207 959 1003

We’re always looking to grow our team of expert nurses and support workers. If you would like to join our team of healthcare professionals, then register with us using the form below, or contact our team on 0207 959 1003. 


The information in this blog post is for general informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for personalised guidance. The author(s) and publisher(s) are not liable for errors or omissions, and reliance on the content is at your own risk.

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