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Connecting physical and mental health
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Connecting physical and mental health

Summary: Falon Mellon, Manager, Operations - Airports (MOA) for The Calgary Airport Authority, provides tips on balancing shift work while looking after her physical and mental health. 

YYC is open 24/7, which means many of us are shift workers. Not only are we often working a longer day (up to 12 hours), but we also switch between day and night shifts.

There are many advantages to shiftwork; however, it can be challenging on both physical and mental health. One of the most common questions I get asked is: “how do you stay healthy?”

The simple answer is by prioritizing sleep and health but that’s not always easy to do. I’m sharing five tips I’ve found that have worked for me over the years.

Tip #1: Make sleep a priority and follow a bedtime routine.

Sleep disorders are common among shift workers since we are required to wake early and attempt to get quality sleep during the day. Disruption to the circadian rhythm can cause fatigue, low energy and lessen the body’s ability to manage stress.

By following a bedtime routine that includes turning off electronics a minimum of one hour before bed, dimming lights or pulling blackout curtains, stretching or practicing yoga/meditation and having a bath or some sleepy time tea (or both) can help trigger relaxation and signal to the body that it’s time to sleep.

Tip #2: Keep healthy snacks on hand at home and work

It can be tempting when working long or overnight shifts to give into cravings and gravitate towards less-nutritious snacks. But, while the sugar in a chocolate bar might give a temporary jolt of energy, these types of snacks will not provide the sustained energy needed to make it through your shift.

Instead, eat small, frequent meals as opposed to large heavy ones, prepare meals beforehand and bring easy-to-snack-on veggies, fruit and nuts. If you crave carbohydrates, choose whole grains that take longer to digest and keep you full for longer.

Tip #3 Moderate your caffeine consumption

Drinking plenty of fluids will keep you hydrated and more alert than you may realize. Many shift workers rely on caffeine to get them through their long shifts or when working overnight. Although moderate amounts of caffeine can help keep you alert, drinking too much or too closely to the end of your shift will impact your ability to get a quality sleep. Try limiting your caffeine to the first half of your shift and switch to water, tea or juice to rehydrate for the second half.

Tip #4 Maintain a regular exercise routine

Exercise is important not only for your physical health, but also your mental health. Regular, moderate exercise will increase your energy, improve your mood and help you sleep better. Personally, a good workout prior to a night shift gives me plenty of energy for my shift.

You don’t need a fancy gym membership or equipment, something as simple as a 30-minute brisk walk or taking the stairs instead of the elevator are great ways to add activity into your day. Aim to raise your heart rate for 30 minutes, three to four times a week.

Tip #5 Communicate with family and make time for self-care.

Since shift work often involves working nights, weekends and holidays, this can put a strain on family-life as you may miss out on events and leave your partner to manage household chores or childcare on their own. Over time, this can become a stressor. 

By simply communicating with your family you can ensure they are aware of your schedule in advance and you set aside time to spend together. Also, find ways to get creative with your quality time. If you aren’t home for dinner, plan a family breakfast before your partner goes to work or your children off to school. Find special ways to celebrate holidays and create memories even if you cannot celebrate them on the specific day. Finally, a little rest and relaxation can do wonders for your mental health. Schedule in self-care and make yourself a priority!

Pictured above is Falon with her husband Garrett and her son Harrison. 

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