Burnout is not a new phenomenon; people have been experiencing it for as long as there have been jobs to do.
However, in the 21st century, is it being recognized much more and understood better, meaning that those who suffer from it are more easily able to do something about it.
In the past, burnout might just have been thought of as tiredness, overwork, or a sign that a vacation was needed.
Today, we know that it’s much more than that and that it needs to be handled before it can become too detrimental to life.
Nurses are particularly prone to burnout since they work long hours and their job is highly intense, going from one patient to another and sometimes not getting much of a break in between, or at all.
Although nurses do, for the most part, love their job, the chances are that they will suffer from the symptoms of burnout at some point, and a physical and mental toll will be taken.
In fact, the National Academy of Medicine states that at least half of all nurses (and others in caring professions) will experience some or all of the symptoms of burnout which include:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Low sense of accomplishment
- Feeling detached
- Feeling drained
- Procrastinating more
- Feeling overwhelmed
Burnout can lead to mistakes, poor job performance, and mental health problems, meaning it’s not just bad for the nurse in question, but for the team, they work with and their patients.
Noticing Nurse Burnout
Before anything can be done about dealing with or even preventing nurse burnout, you must first be able to notice that it’s happening.
There are a number of ways it can manifest, but most of the time, it will be noticeable in the symptoms we mentioned above.
If you suddenly feel as though you no longer want to go to work or that you feel as though anything you do at work means nothing or you think you’ve got too much to do and it’s all weighing you down, then it could be that, far from ‘just’ being tired, you’re suffering from burnout.
It’s important not only to be able to notice the signs of burnout in yourself but also in others, especially if you are a manager or supervisor.
The earlier the signs are spotted, the sooner something can be done, which means the results won’t be as detrimental as they otherwise could be.
With that in mind, here are some of the best ways to prevent nurse burnout so that you and your team can work as efficiently, productively, and contentedly as possible.
Of course, you and others might still feel exhausted at the end of the day, and that’s perfectly natural considering how much work a nurse needs to do on each shift, but if the other symptoms are missing, that’s a positive thing. Read on to find out more.
If you are a nurse who is suffering from burnout or you think you might be developing the symptoms, it makes sense to stop doing the job that is causing you so much distress and do something else.
Of course, this is an extreme measure, and not everyone is going to be happy to do this, but if you have found that nursing is no longer making you happy, and you know that even if you can deal with the burnout, you still wouldn’t enjoy the job, then it’s time to move on.
The skills you would have learned during your training and on the job will be valuable in a wide range of different areas.
Alternatively, it might be that you’re happy to remain a nurse, but you want to change disciplines and do something different.
This might be working in a different department, specializing in a specific area of nursing, or gaining a second degree at Elmhurst University so you can become a manager and supervise other nurses, for example.
There are many options open to you, so if you feel that doing something differently either within or outside of nursing would help you be happier and feel less exhausted, this is a route you should investigate.
Develop Strong Interpersonal Relationships
When you have good relationships at home, you know you will have someone to talk to after a long, hard day, and that means you can relieve some of the emotional pressure that might otherwise build up and cause burnout.
Therefore, having some kind of support system, whether it’s a spouse, parents, children, a roommate, or even an online forum where you talk to relative strangers but still feel accepted and as though you can be open and honest, is a good thing.
It will help you talk about what is happening and how you feel, and even if you don’t receive any specific advice, it can still make you feel better.
As well as having strong interpersonal relationships outside of work, it’s crucial to have the same support inside the workplace.
Unless the people you live with or talk to are nurses, it will be hard for them to understand exactly what the problem is and why you feel the way you do.
This is why having good relationships in the workplace is so important; these are the people who will truly understand and may even be able to help with advice.
Whatever the case, talking about the issues and taking some time to reflect can be extremely useful in terms of relieving burnout or preventing it from happening in the first place.
Set Boundaries Between Your Work And Personal Lives
The idea of having a good work-life balance and setting boundaries so that your work and personal lives don’t mix is a good one, although it’s much easier said than done.
However, although it might be difficult, it’s also something that you will need to do, even if it means taking some time to determine exactly the right way to go about it.
The best way to start is to ensure that you block out time for each activity you need to do.
So there will be time for work, of course, and once that is done, you should block out time for family or friends or relaxing in front of the TV or heading to the gym.
In other words, make sure there is time to do what you want to do.
Of course, to do this in the right way, you’ll need to stop thinking about work as soon as you leave the hospital, clinic, or other healthcare settings, and this is the most difficult thing of all, especially if it has been an emotional day and there are patients on your mind.
Over time, however, if you ensure there is always something to look forward to after work, it will become easier.
Burnout happens much more easily if you are constantly thinking about work – no matter what work it might be – and never allow your brain and body to relax and enjoy other things.
Try to practice mindfulness as much as possible too. This means living in the present and not focusing on the past or even thinking about the future. In that way, you will be much less susceptible to burnout.
Get Enough Sleep
If there is one thing nurses know a lot about, its healthcare, yet that doesn’t mean they always put theirs first, and this is why burnout is so frequent; the nurse is so focused on their patients that they forget to take care of themselves, and wear themselves out.
Getting enough sleep is part of the solution. When you are a nurse, you will most likely work shifts with strange patterns that don’t always lend themselves to sleeping properly.
However, sleep is crucial no matter what your shift pattern or how long you’re working for. If you don’t sleep enough, not only will you be tired, but your immune system won’t be as strong as it should be, and your mind won’t be focused.
This can lead to you developing colds, coughs, and other bugs, and it can mean that you aren’t concentrating to the fullest on what you’re doing, making your work even harder than it would otherwise be.
When you sleep enough, you will be more alert, you will have greater stamina, your mood will improve, you will feel more motivated, and this means that burnout will be pushed much further away from you.
Getting a good night’s (or day’s) sleep will depend on a number of different things, but if you can make your bedroom as comfortable as possible, this will certainly help.
Make sure it’s cool and dark (blackout curtains and no electronics are ideal), and ensure you don’t watch any screens at least an hour before bed – go to bed and read if this is a problem, as this will help to calm your mind and it will mean you’re not looking at a screen with blue light emitting from it, which can cause problems with sleep.
If you still have problems sleeping, you may need to see a medical professional for more advice.
Care For Your Mental And Physical Health
It’s all too easy for a nurse to go to work, take care of everyone else’s medical needs, and forget about their own.
They might never give exercising or relaxing a second thought, especially when they are busy, but this can be a big mistake.
It could even lead to burnout or at least exacerbate the symptoms.
If you can take just 30 minutes each day to exercise (you don’t have to go to a gym; you can follow videos online – usually for free – or go for a walk around the parking lot at lunchtime, for example), your mind will be clearer, you’ll be more able to focus, and you’ll be healthier physically too.
When you exercise, endorphins are released into the body, and this helps to make your mood more stable so you feel happy and productive, and they keep you alert too.
If you start implementing this small amount of exercise into your days (including your days off if possible), you can reduce the chances of burnout.
On top of your physical health, you also need to think about your mental health. The best way to do this is to take time off when you need to.
Just as you would take a day off when you are sick with a cold or a cough or a migraine, for example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, unfocused, anxious, stressed, and so on, you should also take a day off.
Use that day to go outside and breathe in the fresh air, visit a museum, read a book, bake something delicious, or even just stay in bed and binge on a box set.
Do whatever it is that makes you happy, and that puts you back in the right frame of mind to be able to go back to work and help your patients in the way they need to be helped.
Sometimes more help is needed than a good friendship group or a day of doing nothing can offer.
In this case, seeking the help and guidance of an experienced therapist is often a good option.
You might even be able to find a therapist who is perfect for you at the hospital you work in, making it even easier to talk to them about your thoughts and feelings.
No matter where you go or who you see, if you need therapy, then you must have therapy.
There is no point in understanding that talking to someone who has expert ideas and can offer the right advice is a good idea and then not doing anything about it.
It may well feel like just one more thing to add to your long to-do list at first, but once you start your sessions and you can feel how it’s helping you, you’ll know you’ve made the right choice.
Sometimes outside help is the very best thing we can do when it comes to any kind of problem we might have, including nurses who are on the verge of – or who already are – experiencing burnout.
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