In today’s high-tech healthcare environment, nurses are routinely taking on greater workloads and responsibilities, as well as extended 10- to 12-hour shifts. Meanwhile, cost-cutting measures often mean fewer support resources for nurses.
As a result, more nurses are dealing with a combination of stressors that can take a significant toll on their physical and emotional wellbeing – which can lead to nurse burnout.
Left unchecked, nurse burnout can adversely affect not only your health and career, but also patient outcomes. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of these common warning signs of nurse burnout and be proactive about preventing it.
Sure, nursing is a physically demanding job. But a good night’s rest should make you feel refreshed and ready to take on the day. Conversely, going to bed tired and waking up still feeling tired is not normal.
If you’re unable to enjoy time with your family and friends, can’t find the energy to exercise, or fall asleep when reading a good book, you could be experiencing physical exhaustion, which is an early sign of burnout.
Feeling Overworked or Under-Appreciated
Many nurses feel like their efforts go unnoticed and many feel overworked. When you begin to feel this way, take the time to figure out why.
If you are working too many hours, it may be time to cut back. If you’re taking on too many responsibilities, see if you can get some help. If your supervisor is not giving you the support you need, let him or her know.
Feeling frustrated or resentful on the job is not good for you, your co-workers or your patients. If that’s where you find yourself, it may be time to think about whether your job still fits in with your lifestyle and your goals.
Lack of Enthusiasm about Work
Are you just "going through the motions" at work? Another early sign of burnout is loss of enjoyment in your job.
When you’re at home, you lack enthusiasm about – or even dread – going to work. Once you're there, you can only think about going home. This mindset can become a potential danger, since healthcare workers need to focus on their patients and be careful with procedures. As stress increases, this lack of enthusiasm could start affecting other areas of your life.
Most nurses enter the profession to care for others, because they have a high degree of compassion. But after years of emotional stress, coupled with witnessing fear, pain and suffering, even the best nurses can suffer from compassion fatigue.
If you are detached from your patients, feel cynical about your job, or feel like you're "failing" as a nurse, you could be a victim of compassion fatigue. This is a huge red flag for nurse burnout and should be addressed right away.
Don’t Put Off Dealing With Nurse Burnout
Burnout is not a normal part of being a nurse. By the time you reach full-fledged burnout, your supervisors will likely have already noticed it noticed it – which can be detrimental for your career. Learning about the warning signs can empower you to do something about your stress before it takes an even greater toll on your health and the health of your patients.
Consider a Different Specialization
If you decide that the position has become too much to handle, consider making a career change. Keep in mind that there are other careers within the medical profession that may not be as stressful. You can still help patients without providing direct patient care.
While many nurses love their work, the fast pace and long hours can take a toll on an unsuspecting nurse. Changing the work environment by switching specializations can help reinvigorate a love for nursing. Fortunately, the nursing field continues to grow, and new careers are emerging. Nursing informatics, for instance, is in high demand and offers excellent salary potential. While switching jobs may feel like quitting to some nurses, it should instead be approached as a new opportunity.
Cut Down on Stress
Nurses are some of the most stressed-out health care workers in the industry. If not dealt with properly, high levels of stress can lead to not only burnout, but significant health problems. Here are a few ways to help alleviate stress.
Practice meditation. Meditation offers many health benefits including increased concentration, decreased stress levels and a general sense of happiness and well-being. The goal of meditation is to focus 100% of concentration on one thing, such as a person’s breathing or a lit candle in the room. Doing this can help quiet the mind and lower stress levels. Committing to meditating just 20 minutes a day has been shown to decrease stress levels.
Exercise. In one way, nurses get a lot of exercise on a daily basis because of the constant walking and lifting they do. But this type of exercise is not as relaxing as taking a hike in the park, going kayaking or riding a bicycle. Remember, exercise should be good for the body, mind and spirit as well.
Eat Right. Many people believe that nurses live a healthy lifestyle and consume a well-balanced, nutritious diet. More often than not, because of odd working hours and long shifts, nurses frequently grab meals out of vending machines and, in general, resort to using sugary and fatty snack foods as a pick-me-up. Instead, nurses should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and make sure to get plenty of protein, especially from certain fish like salmon which contains Omega-3 fatty acids.
One way for nurses to feel accomplished and fulfilled is by pursuing a higher education. Non-traditional classes offer degrees and certificates online. Even with a hectic schedule and long hours, it’s possible for Nurses to pursue their interests in self-improvement through education. While earning a new degree or certificate may not ultimately be to change a current career path, taking classes and working toward something outside of work can instill a sense of purpose which can be lost for Nurses facing burn-out.
Nursing burnout is almost inevitable at some point in a nursing career, but by following these practical tips, some of the stress can be alleviated and attention can then be focused on taking a nursing career to the next level or in a new and exciting direction.