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, it is being recognized much more and understood better, meaning that those suffering from it can more easily do something about it.
Burnout was previously thought of as tiredness, overwork, or a sign that a vacation was needed. Today, we know it’s much more than that and needs to be handled before it becomes 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.
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.
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 bad for the nurse in question, 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.
It can manifest in several ways, 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 to be able to notice the signs of burnout in yourself and 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 suffering from burnout or think you might be developing the symptoms, it makes sense to stop doing the job 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 various areas.
Alternatively, you might be 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.
Many options are 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 support system, whether 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.
If the people you live with or talk to our nurses, it will be easier for them to understand exactly the problem and why you feel the way you do.
This is why having good relationships in the workplace is so important; these people 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 good, although it’s much easier said than done.
However, although it might be difficult, it’s something you will need to do, even if it takes some time to determine 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. There will be time for work, of course, and once that is done, you should block out time for family or friends, relax in front of the TV, or head to the gym.
In other words, ensure time to do what you want. 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 constantly think 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, 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. As 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 your shift pattern or how long you work. If you don’t sleep enough, you will not be tired; 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, have greater stamina, improve your mood, and feel more motivated, which means that burnout will be pushed much further away from you.
Getting a good night’s (or day’s) sleep will depend on several different things, but if you can make your bedroom as comfortable as possible, this will 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.
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 too easy for a nurse to go to work, care for everyone else’s medical needs, and forget about their own. They might never give exercising or relaxing a second thought, especially when 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, 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 needed.
Just as you would take a day off when you are sick with a cold, cough, or 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 stay in bed and binge on a box set.
Do whatever makes you happy, and that puts you back in the right frame of mind 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 can 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.
No point in understanding talking to someone who has expert ideas and can offer the right advice is a good idea and not doing anything about it.
It may feel like just one more thing to add to your long to-do list at first, but once you start your sessions and 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 problem we might have, including nurses who are on the verge of – or who already are – experiencing burnout.