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According to Celeste Pinney, a registered midwife who works at Victoria’s Nursing and Midwifery Health Program (NMHPV), the challenges for nurses and midwives maintaining relationships outside of the demands of shift work are many and varied.

“You’re obviously working odd hours that can often be opposed to other people’s hours, the normal 9-5 business hours,” Celeste explains, noting that shift work will often run in parallel with other people’s social hours, whether it be after-work or across the weekend.

Furthermore, the irregularities of constantly shifting schedules and staggered lunch breaks within hospitals, plus exhaustion after night shift, can make it difficult to enjoy a regular collegial relationship with other colleagues, or even entertain the idea of a traditional post-work catch up.

“It makes it really hard to even want to socialise,” Celeste adds, noting that brain fog is a typical symptom that one grapples with towards the end and aftermath of a long shift.

“You just want to curl up on the couch and have a nap.”

Nevertheless, Celeste, whose senior clinical role at NMHPV allows her to provide clinical and counselling support to nurses and midwives dealing with health and wellbeing issues linked to the demands of their work, says that the science is clear, and maintaining relationships has a clear mental and physical health benefit.

“It was really important to prioritise and find maybe more creative ways to keep up social connections, or try to keep those relationships at a quality type of level,” she says of her own experiences.

“Over the course of a lifetime, people who have good quality, close relationships tend to be healthier throughout the life span, and even particularly more healthy in older age.”

Celeste says that, for her, treating relationships as another area of focus, akin to say exercise or healthy eating, was key to engineering positive changes.

“I saw it as something that I needed to do regularly, even if that was just once or twice a week,” she explains.

“Making sure that I would make a plan with friends or a friend to do something; trying to make connections at work…. For me it was about changing my mentality around it and realising that if I want to lead a happy, healthy life that I needed to find ways to incorporate keeping social in my life.”

While Celeste stops short of suggesting a one-size fits all solution to this, recognising that people have different factors like family and domestic duties, or their own social needs, that influence their ability and want to socialise, she nevertheless recognises there are mechanisms that can help ensure regular social interaction.

Some of those include:

  • Integrating social interaction by inviting other people into exercise activities such as walks and bike rides.
  • Blocking out time in your diary or calendar dedicated to socialising.
  • For those who are less innately social, identifying areas of interest (such as a choir or craft activity) where you can meet people and build healthy social relationships.
  • Phone conversations and Zoom catch-ups are just a helpful form of interaction if you’re struggling to make space and time for in-person gatherings.
  • A gradual build-up towards a routine of interaction is more likely to result in a long term habit shift than rushing into a variety of activities without structure.

For those who understandably may struggle in this part of their lives, Celeste reiterates that, while socialising in the midst of a busy work schedule can be daunting, the steps you take don’t have to be disruptive to your life, and that even small adjustments can have a big impact on your wellbeing.

”We know that loneliness is a risk factor for disease… [Socialising] does negate some of those health risks,” she says.

“Having friends, or feeling like you’re connected, it does have a big impact on your immune system, on your mental health, your happiness, your ability to feel content in life.”

Nurses and midwives who are struggling with loneliness, or read this article and want to reach out for further support and discussion, can reach out to NMHPV in Victoria or Nurse and Midwife Support nationally for more information and help.