Nurse burnout is a pervasive problem in our community. If you have ever felt worn out, run-down, or completely exhausted by your nursing job, know that you are not alone. This genuine issue affects countless nurses in all capacities of our profession. Even more alarming is that it is costly for you since it might require time off from your duties. It is also expensive for your health care organization, as there are increased expenses and other fallout associated with nurse burnout. These negative consequences can include higher nurse turnover, lower morale, and more significant potential for patient harm or overall work dissatisfaction.
Nurse burnout can directly affect the quality of care you provide your patients. Research shows that there is a direct correlation between high levels of burnout and lower quality of care ratings. Therefore, you owe it to both you and your patients to get a handle on your burnout and find the appropriate ways to handle your stress.
What causes burnout?
Nurse burnout can be caused by several reasons, the least of which is long hours and working in a stressful environment. Nurses who work in a standard 12-hour shift are two and a half times more likely to experience burnout symptoms than those who work shorter shifts. However, stress does not just come from working long shifts – balancing switch shifts, as well as working overtime, nights, and weekends can all contribute to the feelings of overwhelming fatigue. By picking up extra shifts and being on-call leads to compounded weariness, all of which accelerates into burnout.
Symptoms of nursing burnout will vary for each nurse, but generally includes some of the following symptoms:
· Being late to work
· Calling in sick more often
· Exhibiting a negative attitude
· Opposing changes to workplace procedures
· Withdrawing from social activities
By learning to recognize these signs, you are better equipped to implement ways to de-stress and overcome negative feelings before they become too much to handle.
Define your burnout
Before you can accurately strategize how to treat your burnout, you should understand your specific type of nursing fatigue. Generally, there are three categories of nursing burnout.
Emotional exhaustion – If you are continually feeling both physically and mentally tired, you might be suffering from emotional exhaustion. This kind of burnout manifests itself as not being motivated to get up, get moving, or even finish writing one last chart.
Depersonalization – Are you finding yourself with impersonal responses to the people in your care? If you do not have an intrinsic desire to nurse, then you might be depersonalizing as a way to cope with your burnout.
Dissatisfaction in personal achievements – You might be feeling a lack of competence relating to your achievements at work. When this type of burnout occurs, you lose interest in things that you normally enjoy doing.
Everyone periodically experiences some of these issues. Nevertheless, when these three elements happen repeatedly, it is time to take a closer look at burnout and find ways to make a change.
When you care too much
If you are like most nurses, you entered this profession because you are driven by a desire to help others. However, that core motivation might be responsible for your burnout. A 2014 study from the University of Akron revealed that nurses who are primarily motivated by the desire to help people are more likely to become burned out throughout their careers.
The study noted that nurses who care too much might not be able to maintain appropriate and healthy distances between themselves and their jobs. In turn, the neglect of their own lives and health can deplete the emotional reserves needed to perform the duties of being a nurse properly.
The primary way to avoid burnout is to pay attention to what you are feeling and how you manifest those feelings in different situations. Working on the negative thought loops and trying to find ways to seek out the positive in every scenario. This is the foundation of mindfulness-based stress reduction, which cultivates a greater awareness of the present.
Knowing how to practice self-care
For these reasons, all nurses must practice the right kinds of self-care. This is not just for your wellbeing, but also for your patients and preserving your ability to continue what you love to do. Here are ways to help take care of yourself and lower your chances of finding yourself burned out. Nothing you can do will make nursing an easy job, but there are things you can do to help ensure you feel supported, valued, and seen.
Eat well, rest well, recover well
Nursing is exhausting – emotionally, physically, and mentally. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and exercise. Also, keep in mind the impact that a well-balanced diet has on your overall mood and feelings of contentment and satisfaction.
Maintain the right work-life balance
As with all professionals, it is imperative that you find and pursue the things that you love. During your off-hours, making time for hobbies can help you avoid the pitfalls of burnout. If possible, try doing small errands throughout the week to maximize your off time as much as possible.
Drop your anchor
This approach reminds nurses to stop what you are doing, take a deep breath, and remember why you are doing it. Dialing back into your original motivation to become a nurse can help you feel more energized and excited about your job. This is especially helpful for instances where you are feeling disconnected from your work.
In this changing paradigm of healthcare, being a nurse comes with a very real set of challenging circumstances. It is natural to feel overwhelmed, and on occasion, it is hard to remember what brought you to nursing in the first place. When you are feeling overwhelmed, dropping your anchor can help you remember why you are a nurse.
A 2016 paper from Harvard Business School revealed that stressful jobs contribute to over one hundred thousand deaths each year and cost upwards of two hundred billion dollars. Another study showed that 44% of all working adults think that their job has a direct impact on their overall health, and roughly, the same number reported that their position harmed their stress levels.
As a nurse, you are subject to burnout because you are in a stressful position that requires you not only to think logically but also to care for your patients in myriad ways. It is only natural that from time to time, you experience some level of job-related burnout. By remembering to drop your anchor, practice self-care, and knowing when to step back, you can help offset the challenges of burnout with the very essence of what brought you to nursing at the beginning of your career.
Higher nurse turnover: NCBI, Burnout disrupts anxiety functioning among nurses, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5554532/
Two and half times as likely, Health Affairs https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2011.1377
Correlation between stress and care, NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908908/
2014 Study: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140819082918.htm
2016 Harvard Business School paper https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/how-work-stress-hits-minorities-less-educated-workers-hardest
44% of adults think their job has an impact on their stress levels, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2016/07/work-place-impacts-overall-health.html
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