As a nurse, it’s normal to now and again feel tired, stressed, and compassion fatigued. In fact, many nurses chose a career in nursing because of their empathetic nature and resilience to working under pressure. But what happens when stress, exhaustion, or even emotional detachment starts to occur while working shift after shift—after shift? If you are a nurse and are beginning to feel anxiety, emotional exhaustion, or a lack of enjoyment while at work, you may be experiencing nurse burnout. Nurse burnout can result from working long hours without adequate sleep and not being able to catch a break—quite literally. The good news is that nurse burnout is most often a temporary emotional state, and there are plenty of ways you can either avoid or start to manage it.
Read on to learn what is at the root of nurse burnout, how to manage it (if you’re feelin’ the burn already), and some healthy ways to avoid it altogether.
What Is Nurse Burnout?
Put simply, nurse burnout is exactly how it sounds: a nurse who feels physically and emotionally “burned out” from their work. Nurse burnout can render symptoms of frustration, a loss of compassion, increased tension, and lack of sleep. Moreover, burnout can lead to feelings of moderate to extreme anxiety. Needless to say, nurse burnout is no laughing matter and needs to be taken seriously. In fact, studies have shown that nurse burnout stood at around 40% before the COVID-19 pandemic and is now hovering at about 70%. Since nurse burnout can exacerbate an already critical US nursing shortage, it’s important now (more than ever) that nurses and their managers are aware of how to prevent and cope with nurse burnout.
And while packing your bags and taking a vacation may be tempting when experiencing nurse burnout, sleep, exercise, and developing healthy coping mechanisms can be the best multi-faceted approach to stopping burnout in its tracks.
Get Your ZZZs On
Getting a few good nights of sleep is only the beginning of setting up a solid foundation for preventing burnout while working as a nurse. The average nurse reports getting fewer than seven hours per night of sleep before a work shift. And while experts agree that there is no one-size-fits-all method for sleep, some research shows that the ideal amount of sleep for adults is a solid seven hours a night. That is to say, seven hours of uninterrupted sleep has been shown to improve cognitive performance, mental health, and general well-being.
While improving your sleep routine is just the first step to managing workplace burnout, an author for CNN Style suggests “sleeping like your life depends on it” if you really want to pull yourself out of the trenches.
Build a Support Network
Building and maintaining relationships play a vital role in preventing nurse burnout. Furthermore, leaning on and talking to a trusted support network if burnout occurs is equally important for busy nurses. That’s because various studies have shown that solid social support can improve your psychological health, for example, by lowering the risk of depression. Additionally, a strong support network can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. And while it may come naturally for some nurses to have a large, tight-knit group of relationships, introverted nurses may find it challenging to reach out. In that case, finding common and special interest groups on social media networks and joining events in person can help an introverted nurse feel connected to the community. In either situation, having a support network to check in during high-stress times is one of the essential components of fending off work burnout.
One of the most popular reasons nurses switch from working full-time to working as-needed (on a per diem basis) is because it allows them the freedom to choose their hours. In fact, working as a per diem nurse (PRN) lets you choose a schedule that fits your lifestyle. This freedom means being able to decide when, where, and how much you want to work.
Full-time nurses can work more than fifty-five hours a week. According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), these long hours can jeopardize a medical worker’s health in a big way by exposing them to life-threatening conditions such as heart disease. As a result, many nurses are giving up their full-time careers to work as PRN nurses in order to foster a much healthier work-life balance. With that in mind, taking a per diem nursing job may require working a lot less, allowing for more time-off, and ultimately giving yourself the time you need to bounce back from burnout.
Take a Break
Taking a break to prevent burnout in the workplace can look like two things: taking small breaks at work and taking big breaks away from work. If you are a nurse and can take a few minutes out of your shift to step outside and take a few breaths, you will be one step closer to combating any stress headed your way. That’s because deep diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” can improve overall mood and alleviate stress. And while we mentioned before that taking a vacation won’t solve your nurse burnout, scheduling a getaway or two and enjoying yourself outside of work can definitely contribute to a mental “reset.”
So, whether it’s stopping to take a few deep breaths at work or finally booking a trip that will feed your soul, taking time away from work could help intercept an oncoming burnout.
Lastly, Be Kind to Yourself
Being a nurse is hard work. It can be one of the most selfless jobs out there. For these reasons, it’s essential to be kind to yourself on a daily basis. Being kind means giving yourself a pep talk in the morning in front of the mirror, a pat on the back when leaving work, and practicing self-care rituals (like the ones mentioned above) consistently.
If you are a nurse heading for burnout, start to prioritize yourself. Since compassion is one of the qualities that make for a great nurse, taking care of yourself first in order to show up for others will be one of your greatest strategies for staying mentally fit. And remember: You got this!
Have you experienced burnout as a nurse? What techniques do you use to stay mentally healthy in your work environment? Drop a comment in our community page!