Most nurses are familiar with long work days, having to deal with stressful patient situations, short-staffing, and rotating shifts. Many may even assume that it’s part of the job. Some may feel as if their work contributions are measured by how busy they are, or as if admitting to exhaustion or feeling overwhelmed is a sign of weakness.
Perhaps you assume nursing burnout isn’t something you need to be concerned about. You’ve powered through before and then rested on your day off, or you plan to wait for that vacation you keep thinking about. Most nurses aren’t thinking about ways to avoid burnout, but perhaps they should be. The increasing prevalence of burnout has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize burnout as an occupational phenomenon.
Building Up to Burnout
Nurses are often asked to pick up extra work, and you may take advantage of this for an opportunity for extra cash, and to support your coworkers and patients. Although just because you can pick up extra shifts, it doesn’t mean you should. The ongoing nursing shortage has resulted in inadequate staffing levels, and the need to do more with fewer resources. A higher workload can result in frustration, and your passion for nursing may not be enough to sustain you through the physical and mental demands.
The causes of burnout and the way symptoms manifest can vary, and it’s important to rule out other mental or physical health problems. Symptoms of burnout can include:
- Irritability or ongoing frustration
- Lack of interest or engagement in work
- Decreased motivation
- Appetite changes
Taking steps to avoid nursing burnout can start with shifting your mindset. Embracing the idea that making time for yourself is not selfish, and that self-care is a necessity and not an indulgence, can help you return to work refreshed.
Nurses spend so much time caring for others that they often neglect to care for the most important person—themselves. A lack of self-care, and neglecting the development of positive coping mechanisms, can leave you frustrated and unable to effectively deal with daily stressors.
- Leave work at work. Unwind on your commute with an audiobook, or take a walk, to separate your personal and professional time each day.
- Know your limits. Acknowledge fatigue and communicate your needs with confidence. Don’t feel guilty about saying no to that extra shift, or an unnecessary obligation on your day off.
- Prioritize healthy habits. Nurses educate patients on maintaining wellness, but often don’t prioritize these habits themselves. Remember to get adequate sleep, eat well, and exercise.
- Practice positivity. Don’t use your break to rehash work stressors or gossip. Consider reading, mindfully enjoying your coffee, or discuss family or other non-work related events.
- Focus on being self-aware. Spend your time in ways that align with your personal priorities and values. What’s relaxing for one person might be stressful for another. Make time for other passions outside of work and do something that makes you happy.
Evaluate Your Work Environment
If workplace expectations are unrealistic, or the work environment is toxic, it could contribute to job dissatisfaction. The stress that motivated you to power through long shifts may become counterproductive and reduce work engagement.
- Does your workplace culture encourage wellness, positive relationships, and make you feel like your contributions are important?
- Do you feel comfortable speaking up about how burnout can affect staff as well as the facility? Or do you avoid communicating because you fear a negative response?
If you neglect nurturing a work and life balance, in addition to the risks to your mental and physical well-being, it can result in increased medical errors, and affect your ability to provide quality patient care.
Set Yourself Up for Success
If you recognize the signs, take steps to avoid nursing burnout so you can return to work with an increased focus and better ability to deal with whatever the day brings. If your workplace is negatively affecting your mental or physical health, perhaps it’s time for a change. Travel nursing may be one solution to help you explore additional career options.