As a nurse, you will have studied hard and gained plenty of experience in helping other people. This is what you will do all day, every day, from when your shift begins to the moment it ends (and often well beyond that).
Yet you might be forgetting something – or rather, someone. Despite all the hard work and effort you put into assisting your patients most beneficially and effectively possible, are you also taking care of yourself? If you’re not, you won’t be able to do your best for your patients for very long; you cannot pour from an empty vessel, as they say, and in nursing, this is proven repeatedly. If you continue to work hard without taking care of yourself, you’ll burn out.
The good news is that burnout is not something that has to happen. Not all nurses will experience it, and there are several things you can do to prevent it from happening to you. Burnout should be avoided at all costs, as it not only means that patient care will be lacking, but it will mean you can become very unwell (mentally and physically), and at the very least, you’ll need some time off work. For some nurses, burning out means they never return. After finding your ideal career and working hard to achieve great results, this is not the outcome you’ll be looking for.
What Causes Nurse Burnout?
Before looking at how to avoid nurse burnout, it’s a good idea to look into what causes it. This could be enough for some nurses to learn how to avoid it altogether, or at least know when they are getting to a point where it might have the potential to cause harm.
Nurse burnout, which is essentially physical and mental exhaustion resulting from chronic stress (although there is more to it, this is a simple way to remember it), can happen for various reasons. One problem could be shift work, for example. Studies have shown that nurses who regularly worked shifts of 12 hours or more were two and a half times more susceptible to burnout.
However, working shifts is not the only reason for burnout; otherwise, people who work shifts in other sectors would also be just as likely to suffer from this condition as nurses, and although burnout is not the sole domain of the nursing profession, more nurses do suffer from it than anyone else. So what else could be the cause of burnout? Some nurses have reported that it isn’t the shifts themselves but how they change. They’ll be working nights one week and then switching to days. They’ll have to cover other people’s modifications. They’ll be working weekends and holidays. All of this can contribute to extra stress, increasing the chances of burning out.
Of course, yet another reason could be because the nursing job is such a hard one. Not only is it physically demanding, but there are many emotional issues to deal with too. You’ll be there when people are at their lowest and even when they die, and you’ll need to keep being professional and working as hard as you can. This stoicism might seem noble or ‘the right thing to do’, but the truth is that it can lead to burnout. Who else would be expected to work in this way? It’s unlikely anyone but a nurse would have to do it.
Although there are several different reasons why burnout could happen, the above should give you an idea of the things that lead to burnout and why you need to be careful.
Signs And Symptoms Of Nursing Burnout
There are some physical and mental signs that a nurse might be suffering from burnout. They will vary from person to person, but they are worth understanding so that you can spot them in the people around you – it’s always good for nurses to look out for one another – and, perhaps most importantly, in yourself.
Perhaps you – or someone is – are starting to arrive late to work, or at least not as early as you once did, even if you’re not quite late. Could this be because you can’t face starting the day at work until the very last moment? This might also extend to your social circle; you might not feel like you can meet going out in your spare time anymore, either because you’re too exhausted or because you can’t find joy in it. Or perhaps you are calling in sick more often for minor ailments that, in the past, you wouldn’t have thought twice about. This could be a good excuse not to go to work, but is it happening more and more?
Another symptom of burnout has a negative attitude. They no longer find joy in their job. For some people, this is their personality, and they tend to see the bad in situations before the good, so you’ll need to determine whether this is how they have always been or whether it’s a new way for them to be. If it’s new, it could be that they are suffering from burnout.
What happens when changes are implemented at work? Do you, or anyone in your working environment, always oppose them, even if they are small changes or ones that would make the job easier? Did you know that this is also a sign of burnout? It might sound strange, but it’s true. These seemingly small changes that most people would either not think about or would be glad about can be highly troubling for anyone suffering from burnout. It can make them feel even more overwhelmed, especially if there are new learning processes.
Learning about these symptoms of burnout and what they might look or feel like will help you get on top of the problem before it gets too bad. However, the best thing to do is to avoid it altogether, and here are some ways that can be done.
A nurse has a duty of care to their patients, which is something that, as we’ve said, is at the very heart of nursing and always will be. However, self-care is just as important, and all nurses must practice this as well as everything else. If not, they can become overburdened and too stressed, and burnout will follow.
Find out what it is that helps you de-stress best. It could be one thing you love to do, or it could be a variety of different things. Whether it’s having a massage, binge-watching a favorite TV show, exercising, going for a walk, doing a puzzle, listening to music, or anything else, make sure it features in your life. If you can reduce the stress you have in your life, you can reduce the chances that burnout will occur. Nursing will always be stressful and complicated, so making the most of your free time and using it to de-stress is vital.
Get A Hobby
Something that links with the above idea is to get a hobby. Some of the things we’ve mentioned above might be hobbies, but whether they are or aren’t, having hobbies can help when it comes to avoiding burnout. This is because they give you something to focus on and look forward to and could even be used as a reward for a well-done job. Even if you don’t feel like going to your class or enjoying your hobby, it’s worth trying – the rush of endorphins your body will produce when you do these things will make you feel great. They will reduce the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body, resetting your stress levels and keeping you healthy.
Eating well is another important way to prevent burnout. It can be so tempting to grab a sugary snack from the vending machine or call for takeout when you get home from a shift, but try to avoid it if you can – although it is good to treat yourself now and then, and if you do decide to do this, make sure you practice moderation.
If you eat poorly all the time, you’ll feel terrible – you’ll feel sluggish and tired, and you might also feel bloated and uncomfortable. This won’t help you make the most of your job or enjoy it.
When you eat healthily, however, your body will use its energy wisely, and you shouldn’t feel any slump that you think needs extra caffeine or sugar to get past. Eating more healthily will help you with nutrition and health, but by having a meal, you’ll also have time to stop what you’re doing, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and take a breath. Sometimes this is all needed to help you get back to where you need to be.
Be Careful With Your Extra Work
Picking up extra shifts can be a great thing if you need to boost your income (perhaps you want some spending money for a vacation, or maybe you need to pay for some car repairs, and so on), but it shouldn’t be something you rely on in the long term. If you are constantly working overtime, when will you get any time to rest? It doesn’t matter how much you love what you do for a living. If you’re doing it all the time with no free time, you’ll soon come to dislike it, plus you’re putting yourself in line for burnout.
It’s great to be able to do favors for your colleagues and take on a shift for them if they need a specific day off, but you must make sure you are putting yourself first, as selfish as that might seem, especially when you’re already busy. You also need to know how to say no in some cases. Imagine if you had planned to research AGACNP certificate programs or even study for one because you want to advance your career, and then you felt you had to say yes when someone asked you to work their shift for them. This would make you feel very stressed, and eventually, it would be too much.
If you have plans, or even if you don’t and feel you have done enough work, don’t be afraid to say no. It can be the best thing for you to avoid nurse burnout.
Use Employee Assistance Programs
In the past, the mental health concerns of nurses weren’t factored into the working environment in most cases. If nurses became burned out, that was just seen as a negative part of the job. Today things are very different, and you must take advantage of this.
To begin with, there are systems in place to spot the signs of burnout before they can become too much of an issue – managers should be trained to see the problems and to speak to their team if they think anything is amiss.
Not only that but there are other safeguards in place, too, including employee assistance programs. These programs exist so that people suffering from burnout or on the road to suffering from it have a safe place to go to get the help they need. There will be people to talk to who understand and have the answers to your questions and issues.
The programs in place will depend on the healthcare facility. Still, the general idea of all of them will be to promote good mental health and give people the tools they need to protect themselves from burnout and other issues like depression and anxiety. If you need to use these programs, do so – they will help you hugely.