As s a nurse I have been exposed to so many stressful situations. I’ve been cussed at by angry patients (more times then I can count), swung at, kicked, had a full urinal thrown at me, been exposed to, been in the middle of dozens of violent patient situations and take-downs, and been the victim of nurse bullying.
In addition, I see other nurses being treated poorly from patients, family members, doctors and even sometimes other nurses. In fact, it’s not even unusual. And, like other nurses, I am expected to continue giving compassionate patient care without regard to my own well being.
This sacrificial attitude of putting myself last on a very long spectrum of compassionate care is just not going to cut it anymore. The thought of spending an entire career with this amount of wear-and-tear is frightening. Something has to give before I completely fizzle and burn to a crisp.
Nurses need to have compassion for themselves too.
I came out of nursing school with equal parts compassion and adrenaline to save lives and make a positive difference in the world! In fact, I left a very lucrative 10 year medical equipment sales career so I could do just that. I was determined to advocate for and serve my patients to the best of my ability. Compassion was one of my greatest strengths.
As an overachiever for most of my life I have always maintained the attitude that I can do anything as long as I try hard enough. And now, after 7 years as a registered nurse, I am discovering that I am failing at the one thing that actually defines a great nurse: compassion.
The nurse burnout is real.
What I am currently experiencing is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that is more extreme than anything that I have ever experienced in my adult life. I started my nursing career with the determination to give amazing patient care and here I am, 7 years later, losing my compassion.
(And just so you know – this has been hard for me to acknowledge because I have been a “yes” person my entire life.)
There is beauty in the breakdown.
My nursing burnout amplified after the birth of my first child in 2015. Then, it got even worse after my second child in 2018. In fact, I started writing regularly again out of desperation to find an outlet for the exhaustion and overwhelming fatigue I was feeling as a nurse and new mom. My goal was to find more effective ways to take better care of myself and make my life a little easier. And it actually has helped me find a little reprieve.
But most importantly, it has opened my eyes to the fact that I need to make some huge changes in my life. Most of all, I need to find my compassion again. But this time I am unapologetically focusing my compassion on myself, first.
So, in light of this discovery I am 100% accepting and honoring these uncomfortable feelings. I am using them as a catalyst to make changes in my professional and personal life. My mental and physical pain will be an opportunity for growth and finding self-compassion.
I rarely take the time to do nothing and reflect. This is a good year for more of that.
I am on a mission for self-compassion.
You know how when you fly in an airplane, there is the safety warning before take-off? Passengers are instructed to put the oxygen mask on themselves first, then help others around them. Because if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you’re not helpful to anyone!
So, here is me putting the oxygen mask on myself first. Some of the changes I am making are professional and some are personal. But they are all things I have been wanting to do for a really long time but haven’t because I was thinking about others’ needs before my own.
Here are my new personal nurse self-care and self-compassion goals:
#1. Work two 12 hour shifts a week instead of three
This one is hard for me because it equates to a significant decrease in pay (and I really like money!). With two toddler age children, child care is our biggest expense (besides housing) and it’s not going away any time soon. But fortunately, we are in a position to afford it for the time being and I want to use the extra day off to spend more one-on-one time with my adorable babies.
In addition, since most hospital shifts are 12 to 13 hours I don’t get to see my children at all on the days that I work. I am also staying away from working back-to-back shifts, because I just don’t want to be away from my children for more than one day at a time.
#2. Work less holidays and as few weekends as possible
After I had children I really hated having to work on holidays. I have missed so many birthdays, Easters, 4th of Julys, Thanksgivings, Christmas and New Years to be working at the hospital. At some point I started to resent missing that time with my family. Working on holidays is the norm for many nurses, and I expect to work some. But since I will be working a little less anyway this will also equate to working less holidays as well. Same goes for weekends.
Self Care for nurses is more important now than ever.
#3. Continue working per diem
There are a lot of benefits and drawbacks to being a per diem nurse. For example, I love that I can schedule myself to work on the exact days I WANT to work. However, it also means that if I am not needed then I get canceled at 0400 and then I don’t make any money for that day. And since I end up paying for a nanny regardless, that’s a double whammie.
The best part of being a per diem nurse is that it offers me a much better work-life balance. When I worked as a career nurse it was almost impossible for me to secure childcare because my work schedule was always changing. Some weeks I got the schedule I needed and others I didn’t. So on the whole, being a per diem nurse is the right choice for me and my family.
#4. Continue writing and growing my website to help other nurse moms
In 2016 I became a nurse blogger. My venture was born out of my frustration with burnout as a registered nurse and my desire to create a more flexible work-life balance. Writing about nurse lifestyle topics that interest me and exploring ways that nurses can take better care of themselves helps me to take care of myself better too.
My little blog is even starting to make a small monthly income, which absolutely thrills me. I have a dream that if I keep working hard my website will make enough money that I can work one day a week instead of two.
#5. Take a comprehensive course in website management and blogging
Last week I signed up for a comprehensive blogging course that will probably take me the next 6-8 months to complete. I honestly haven’t been more excited to do something for myself like this in a really long time. In fact, I can’t wait to see my progress over the next year!
#6. Explore other medical related career options
A few weeks ago I interviewed for an aesthetic sales position. Although I didn’t end up working for the company, it did open my eyes to the fact that there are so many other great opportunities that I could be interested in and also fit my skill set as a nurse. A nursing practice can take many forms and I am giving myself permission to continue learning about other nursing career options.
#7. Focus more energy into my family and friends
One of my New Years resolutions this year was to “choose fun.” So many studies have shown that spending quality time with family and friends is incredibly helpful in decreasing stress and improving burnout symptoms. Since I will be working a little less I will have more time to focus my energy on the people who matter most to me.
#8. Enjoy my new fancy gym membership (with childcare on site!)
In the spirit of investing more in myself, I started 2019 off with a gym membership. It has been a complete game changer for me. In fact, the old me would never have never splurged on a fancy gym membership. Making regular time to work out always makes me feel great, clears my head and gives me more stamina. And my 1 year old loves the Kid’s Club, so its a win-win.
As a nurse and mom my life basically revolves around caring for everyone else, and I am SO GRATEFUL to be able to do that. But if there is one thing I have learned through my own compassion fatigue it is that I need to put the same care into myself as I do into my patients and family. So in the spirit of self-compassion, I am metaphorically putting on my oxygen mask first, before helping those around me.
#9. Practice more yoga
I have been regularly practicing yoga for 14 years. Finally, in 2o15 I completed Yoga Works’s 4 month Urban Zen Integrative Therapy program for medical professionals. I learned how to teach simple yoga, do guided meditation and perform Reiki. It was amazing!
However, in recent years I have not been practicing as much as I would like, and that is going to change. My goal is to incorporate yoga into my busy schedule every single day. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Yoga helps me stay balanced in times of great stress, gives me flexibility (both physically and mentally) and has been extremely grounding. In fact, I recently started teaching my 3 year old daughter a series of yoga poses and it is bringing us both great joy!
These two are already happy about self-care goal #1: Work two 12 hour shifts a week instead of three. Job flexibility has never been so important to me.
Nurse self care matters. If we don’t care for ourselves then how can we expect patients to listen to our health advice and education. I am taking this opportunity to give myself compassion and hopefully lead others by example.
If other nurses find themselves feeling as unappreciated and burnt out as me I encourage them to find ways to care for themselves first. Otherwise, we are perpetuating a broken system that does not acknowledge that nursing burnout is a real issue and ignoring nurse health and well being.
So nurse, what are you going to do to take care of yourself today? Leave a comment!
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(This post about simple stress management for nurses may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure page for more information.)
Nurses are more stressed out then ever.
It is no surprise that prolonged stress damages the body. Yet many nurses are dealing with unchecked chronic stress for years or even decades. Still, the passion that many nurses have for helping others drives them to continue forward in their nursing careers. But who is helping nurses?
The unfortunate truth is that nurses themselves are the one who must take care of themselves first. Nurse safety and well-being is not being taken seriously by the very own hospitals where we work so hard and strive to give only the very best patient care. Nationwide, it appears that hospital administrators main priority is making money for the hospital, and the health and well-being of their own nurses doesn’t even make the list.
Do some hospitals see nurses as indispensable?
For some nurses, it may feel like it. Even I have felt that despite my own dependability, clinical knowledge and positive attitude that it wouldn’t matter in the slightest if I left. The feeling is disheartening.
For example, I became a per diem nurse after the birth of my first child because a unit director stated that they were “unable” to give me consistent scheduling so I could plan day care for my child. Per diem nursing gives me flexibility to schedule my days to fit my childcare situation, however, now I have no benefits, no disability, no retirement and no maternity leave – and I had another baby this year! Needless to say, it was a hyper expensive year for us and caused a lot of stress for me.
But, they knew another nurse would come along and fill my spot. So why be flexible with my schedule so that I could stay?
I still have a passion for nursing, despite the stress.
Workplace stress in nursing is common. I am not leaving the profession soon because my children are still very small I still do have a strong desire and passion to help others. So in the meantime I make stress management a huge priority in my life.
If you are a nurse who feels like me, keep an eye out for nurse burnout symptoms that could be wrecking havoc on your overall health and happiness. And start taking simple steps to help keep stress in check so you don’t end up as a patient yourself. Nurses shouldn’t be creating unhealthy habits to cope with their stressful nursing careers. And if it becomes too much where your health is seriously being effected in a negative way, then consider other nursing options away from the bedside. Nurse, you need to take care of yourself first!
Simple Stress Management Techniques For Nurses:
1. Watch a funny movie
When was the last time you had a good laugh? Do you even remember how good it feels to laugh out loud? Watching a funny movie is a great way to passively tune out and focus on something more light-hearted. Especially for nurses who deal with immense stress in the workplace.
Studies show that laughter is so good for your health. A good laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. In addition, laughter increases your immune system by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies thus improving your resistance to disease.
Laughter makes people feel good, which is exactly what stressed out nurses need. It releases endorphines, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Studies show that laughter has the power to promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
2. Get moving: endorphins are natural stress reducers
Get your heart rate up on your days off! The benefits of exercise have been well documented is is essential for nurse self care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood and helps decrease stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also helps nurses have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
3. Yoga: learn the art of how to relax
Yoga is great stress management for nurses. Compassion fatigue can be overwhelming for nurses and learning how to use yoga for relaxation can help.
A study published in Workplace Health & Safety on yoga for self-care and burnout prevention of nurses found that yoga participants “reported significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion upon completion of an 8-week yoga intervention.” While the control group demonstrated no change throughout the course of the study, the yoga group showed a significant improvement in scores for self-care, mindfulness, and emotional exhaustion outcomes.
Nurse self care in the form of yoga is scientifically proven to be beneficial:
- Stress management. A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only 8 weeks of yoga the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a major reduction in perceived mental pressure. (If that is what can happen after only 8 weeks, imagine the impact a regular, permanent yoga practice could have on stress management levels!).
- Prevent or eliminate chronic low back pain. Chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. Yoga not only increases flexibly, but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain.
- Prevent burnout and compassion fatigue: A study published in Workplace Health & Safety on yoga for self-care and burnout prevention of nurses found that yoga participants “reported significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion upon completion of an 8-week yoga intervention.”
4. Have a social life
Good friends can help you manage chronic stress. It is important to find balance when you work as a nurse, and that includes making time for friendships and a social life outside of the hospital.
Nurses with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index. Talking with other nurses who are struggling with the same stressers you are can help provide support when you need it most.
Having a good social support group can help in many other ways:
- Increase your sense of belonging and purpose as a nurse
- Boost your happiness and reduce your stress
- Improve your self-confidence and self-worth
- Help you cope with traumatic situations in the workplace, such as patient deaths and abusive or combative patient situations
- Supportive friendships can encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise
Meditation is the practice of focusing your mind on a particular thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. It is claimed to reduce stress, anxiety and burnout, and enhance resilience. And stressed out nurses working long, arduous shifts with often changing schedules need this more then anyone.
A few benefits of meditation:
- Decreased burnout
- Better focus and ability to ignore distractions
- Boost compassion
- Better sleep
- Stress relief
- Happier state of mind
Headspace is an app for your phone that has many different meditations each lasting 1o to 60 minutes. If you can find 10 minutes in your day then you have no excuse not to meditate! Meditation is attainable for even the busiest of nurses!
Like yoga, meditation is a practice. There is no good or bad. It is just what it is at the time. You can keep practicing to train your mind to do better the next time. And then eventually your brain is rewired by the habitual repetition of meditation and it becomes easier.
It is not uncommon for hospitals to have a space for spiritual prayer or meditation for patients and their families. However, nurses should also be offered a meditative space to clear their heads, and have a quiet moment to themselves. This would help nurses return to their work environments with renewed energy and focus to give better patient care.
6. Eat nutritious foods
Nurse break rooms are notorious for having sugary snacks like donuts, cookies, or other unhealthy junk food all within an arms reach. Sweets are so tempting to nibble on when you are tired and need a little extra energy. But then a few moments later you crash and are even more tired. On another note, eating nutritious and easy snacks will keep you energized during a 12 hour shift.
Pack snacks like these in your lunch bag to help keep your blood sugar levels balanced during your shift:
- Baby carrots, broccoli or other veggies & hummus
- Celery and almond butter
- Strawberries, blueberries
- Granola and yogurt
- Almonds or cashews
- Avocado toast
- Sliced apples and peanut butter
- Cottage cheese with pineapple or banana
- Trail mix
Tips for nurses to make healthy meals fast: Try making a big batch of quinoa, brown rice or black bean pasta to have handy in the fridge. These are a few great staples that you can build a nourishing meal around. When you get hungry you can mix in a protein, veggies, nuts or seeds, dried fruits, or even just enjoy them with a little olive oil and sea salt. The key is to have healthy food that is easy to prepare BEFORE you get super hungry.
P.S. HEY NURSES! Remember to grab your FREE E-Book “The Nurse’s Guide To Health & Self Care” below! (scroll down)
Additional Recommended Reading:
(This post about time saving tips for nurse moms contains affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here. To contact us regarding collaboration click here).
To the mom who is a nurse: You’ve got amazing skills and you are beyond capable of running the world.
At work you are busy caring for patients, organizing plans of care, giving life-saving treatments, advocating for patients, all while continuing to make them feel safe and well-cared for. Now its time to apply your nurse time management skills at home. After all, nurses know more then anyone about how to prioritize the most important tasks first. Our patients lives often depend on it.
No one has the ability to multi-task the way a nurse does. Here are a few time saving tips and tools to help you apply those talents as a mom managing a household:
Simple Time Saving Tips For Nurse Moms:
1. Have your to-do list in your phone
I love planners because I think they are pretty. Problem is, when you have children you almost never get a chance to look at them. Which is why I have found it necessary to keep my to-do lists organized in my phone where I can easily see them.
Here are a few awesome apps to stay organized:
- Trello: This is my favorite!
- Google Tasks: simple tasks in Gmail and Google Calendar
- Google Keep: A bulletin board for your tasks
- Remember The Milk: very simple yet powerful task management
2. Make preparing lunches and family meals easy
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3. Listen to podcasts for perspective on nursing, motherhood, parenting and lifestyle tips
Podcasts are a great way to add a little adult conversation to your day. After the birth of my first baby I seriously missed reading books. So, I would take my daughter for long walks and listen to podcasts for hours. I was able to walk off my baby weight relatively fast and learn about ways to make my life easier in the process.
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts:
4. Make it super simple to tidy up your home
I remember people telling me just to “let things go” after I had a baby. Then I heard it even more after my second baby. I think this might be the worst advice I have ever gotten as a new mom. Who feels better when their lives and homes are a complete disaster? Not me.
I have found though the years that its easier to keep my home clean and organized when I don’t keep things that we are not using or providing a helpful service to us. Basically, if its not being used, then its got to go. Here are two books I read that inspired me to declutter our home and keep it that way:
5. Make family photo books in 20 minutes with Chatbooks
ChatBooks is a mobile app where you can pick photos from your social media accounts or mobile device and have them printed in a pretty book. Chatbooks are photo books for people who don’t have time to make photo books (ahem, nurse moms!) You can easily add, edit, and rearrange your favorite photos to create a beautiful photo book.
Before I had children I had the time to spend hours making photo books and ordering pictures. Now that I have children, I want to document everything they do and make hard copy books for our family and ourselves. Problem is, there just isn’t time anymore! Chatbooks has been the best and easiest solution for this problem.
Every few months I go through my phone and make a new book. I have books for both of my children first year of life, all of our family photoshoots, vacations, and other special events. Plus, it has made it so easy to make great birthday and holiday gifts for grandparents as well.
6. Get off social media
Limiting social media is simply one of the best time saving tips there is! There is nothing more time wasteful then scrolling through social media or constantly uploading photos.
Focus on whats most important to you. Besides, studies say that people who look at social media are likely to become more depressed. And if your are a busy working mom, you have got no time for that!
I try and focus on any of these productive tasks instead of mindlessly using social media:
- being a wife
- raising an amazing kid
- spending time with friends
- writing in this blog
- listening to music or a podcast
- practicing yoga
Recently, I was reading an article about an author named Tim Ferris who wrote a book called The 4-Hour Workweek. He talked a lot about how being perpetually busy just for the sake of business is actually a form of laziness. Ferris explained that on a superficial level, being busy is a satisfying substitute for doing important work. “It’s very easy to confuse activity with productivity,” says Ferris.
This got me thinking… Is my addiction to social media just me being lazy? Am I unconsciously browsing social media instead of living my life with intention? This realization inspired me to do an experiment and quit all forms of social media for one week. And guess what?… I survived! And I was motivated me to limit myself to checking my social media accounts 1-2 times a week from then on.
I have so much more time now to focus on things that actually serve me well.
I hope these time saving tips inspired you to be more productive and purposeful. Now, continue doing what you do best and continue running the world!
Additional Recommended Reading By Mother Nurse Love:
To the nurse who is also a mom: It is possible to find time for exercise, but you are going to need to get creative. Being a nurse mom is challenging, and it’s all about finding balance.
Long gone are the days when I could leisurely wake up naturally and decide whether I wanted to take the 9 a.m. or the 11 a.m. yoga class or when I would put my running clothes on in the afternoon and lay around until I “felt ready” to head out for my jog, sometimes several hours later.
Before becoming a nurse and mom, I used to put a lot of thought into the location of my runs. Where would I go today? The beach? Or to the running trail? I never even thought about how long I would be out. I just ran until I felt tired and then called it a day.
Now I’m lucky if I get to squeeze in a 20 minute run after I put the kids down at 8PM. And by that time I’m usually so tired I can barely muster the energy to get out the front door!
For the record, I am happier now than I think I have ever been. I wouldn’t change anything about all of the blessings in my life that make me so incredibly busy. I LOVE being a mom and an ER nurse. But, as a healthcare professional and a person who enjoys a little self-care here and there, I am all too aware that I need to get regular exercise if I want to keep my sanity intact.
What are the simplest ways to exercise as a busy nurse mom?
Over the last month I have been interviewing fellow nurses to find out how they squeeze in a workout while balancing motherhood and 12 hour shifts. Some of the feedback I received was very encouraging! The conversations I had with these nurses convinced me that it is in fact very possible to stay fit when it seems that there is no more time in the day.
For me, finding time for fitness has been a trial and error project. Over the past three years (since my first baby was born) I have tried several methods to squeeze workouts into an already crammed work/life schedule. Some of these methods worked, some I tried but didn’t stick to, and some never came to fruition.
My personal journey to stay fit along with the information shared with me by my fellow nurse comrades revealed 4 primary ways that nurse moms can successfully find time to exercise.
It is possible to find ways to exercise as a busy nurse mom. Be creative!
Fit nurse tip #1. Work out before the kids get up.
Before kids I never in a million years would have dreamed that I would be awake in time to make it to a 6AM hot yoga class. But free time is sparse now. If I don’t make time somewhere then it won’t happen. It’s as simple as that.
The good news is that when I drag myself out of bed early for a workout then I feel amazing for the rest of the day. Sure, I’m tired, but I would be even more tired if I didn’t exercise at all. By starting my day with a yoga-induced rush of endorphins not only do I feel better, but I am so much more productive throughout the day.
My goal is to make it to a 6 a.m. class at least 2 times during the week on the days I don’t work. In addition, I am usually able to fit one early morning class in on the weekend as well. Sometimes it ends up being only once a week and sometimes if I’m lucky, all three. But something is always better than nothing!
Fit nurse tip #2. Work out on your lunch break.
A nurse friend of mine changes into running clothes and goes for a jog during her lunch hour. Talk about dedication to your personal health! She says it works for her because she can do it no matter what time her break is. Additionally, the midday exercise helps break up the day, helps her deal better with stressful patient assignments, and gives her energy for the rest of the shift. And she is a good role model for patients to boot!
(On another note, my husband replaced his lunch hour with an F45 class 3 times a week. Although he is not a nurse, he is a busy working parent nonetheless. The benefits for him are so obvious. He is noticeably better able to manage work stress and comes home with significantly more energy at the end of a busy work day. And he says he feels a lot better too!)
Fit nurse tip #3. Work out after the kids go to bed.
I know a lot of nurse parents who make it to the gym or a yoga class after working a 12 hour shift. This seems to be the most popular time for many parents because the kids are in bed and it’s a good time to work off the stress from the day. It is an effective way to put the day behind you and do something for yourself after spending 12 hours putting patients’ needs first.
On occasion, I will try to go out for a run or a walk if I still have a little energy left in me, usually during the summer months when the days are a little longer. Unfortunately, it is also usually when I am the most tired and I really just want to crawl into bed with a book and fall asleep. But I do love listening to music and disconnecting for a little while after a long shift, and a quick run is a relatively easy way to do that!
A post-work run for me is usually pretty quick, 20-25 minutes max. Unfortunately, if I run too long then I risk not being able to fall asleep and there’s not much worse than that. After all, sleep is important to the already sleep deprived parent!
Fit nurse tip#4. Try squeezing in exercise during the days when you are at home with your kids.
Finding new ways to exercise as a busy nurse mom requires some thinking outside the box. Why not try squeezing in a workout when you are at home with the kids during the day? Besides, isn’t taking care of a baby or toddler already a kind of workout in itself?
Here are few ways to exercise with kids in tow:
- Turn on a workout video in the living room (good when the weather is poor!)
- Take the kids for a walk in the stroller
- Take a stroller strides class with other moms
- Run around with the kids on the playground
- Kick a soccer ball around with the kids
- Try teaching your kids with a Gaiam yoga video (watching my daughter practice yoga just melts my heart!)
- Turn up the music and dance with the kids (it just doesn’t get more fun then that!)
How do you find ways to exercise as a busy nurse mom? I very much enjoy hearing about ideas of what others are doing. Feel free to leave a comment!
Additional Recommended Reading:
(This post about nurse burnout symptoms may contain affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here.)
The nursing profession tends to attract the most compassionate and empathetic people alive. For that reason, nurses are also the most susceptible to experiencing “burnout.” Eventually, chronic overwork and stress can lead to nurse burnout symptoms such as exhaustion, anxiety, physical injury or even depression. If you have been a nurse for a while then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
Nurse burnout symptoms don’t start right away.
A novice nurse is so fresh. The happiness to be done with nursing school combined with the excitement of having the title RN after your name moves the new nurse optimistically through each 12 hour shift.
Yet, many nurses find themselves experiencing nurse burnout symptoms, sometimes after only a year or two in the profession. Still, they continue working with the same rigor and determination without taking good care of themselves.
Here are a few nurse burnout symptoms to look out for:
1. Chronic exhaustion
Have you ever gotten 8 hours of sleep yet still felt exhausted when you woke up? Or, are you so tired that you can’t imagine how you are going to make it through another 12 hour shift? If so, you may be experiencing chronic exhaustion.
Many nurses aren’t just tired, they are worn out. Not only do nurses work long 12 hour shifts, but many nurses are working mid shifts, night shifts and overtime. In fact, studies show that the longer the shifts for hospital nurses, the higher the levels of burnout and patient dissatisfaction.
2. Compassion Fatigue
Nursing is a caring profession and compassion is one of the most important elements of patient care. However, constantly caring for others’ needs before your own can lead to compassion fatigue. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include emotional exhaustion, irritability, and poor job satisfaction. You simply cannot be a good nurse if you begin to dislike your job.
If you find yourself feeling like you are losing compassion for your patients because you are experiencing this nurse burnout symptom, then you owe it to your patients and yourself to take a break. Go on a vacation, play a round of golf, take a yoga class or find a way to get some quality alone time to recharge your batteries.
3. Losing your passion
When many nurses are asked why they decided to go into the nursing profession they say it was because they had a “passion” for helping humankind. Passion is exactly what drives us to do good work. So, if you feel you are losing your passion then it may be a good time to find it again.
Stagnation is the killer of passion. Do you feel like you are no longer learning within your specialty? Perhaps it is time to become certified within your specialty or even find a new specialty altogether. Nursing is a career for lifelong learners. Learning keeps us educated and it can also help you find your passion for nursing again. It’s a win-win!
More is expected of nurses than ever before.
Nurses need to find a work life balance more than ever. Heavier patient loads and the physical demands that come with working arduous 12 hour shifts are killing the spirit of many RN’s. To top it off, it seems as if hospitals are trying to save money in any way they can and unfortunately that usually translates into less and less resources for nurses.
The bottom line is this: when nurses are able to take care of themselves they are able to give the best possible care to their patients. This scenario is a win-win for everyone involved: nurses, patients, and the business people who are managing healthcare.
As nurses, we simply cannot continue to burn the candle at both ends and expect a good outcome.
If you are experiencing nurse burnout, there is hope! You can beat nurse burnout and even rediscover your passion for nursing. A result of my own nurse burnout was that I became a nurse blogger to vent my frustrations and help find solutions for my own burnout. However, it is your responsibility to figure out why you are unhappy within your career and find your nursing passion once again. You too can beat nurse burnout!
P.S. Sign up to receive your FREE COPY of “The Nurse’s Guide To Health And Self Care” at the bottom of this post!
Additional Recommended Reading:
Before you consider hospital nursing as a career you may want to weigh the pros and cons of 12 hour nursing shifts. I wish someone had shared this information with me before I became a nurse so that I had a better idea of what to expect. Especially as a working mother.
Pros of working 12 hour shifts:
More work flexibility
When you work 12 hour shifts you can get more creative with a work schedule. That is so important to me as a working mom. I want to be available when my kids need me to be home from work. In addition, I often feel that I get to experience what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom and have the ability to also work full-time (although I am a very tired mom these days).
I try to make my schedule the same every week for consistency. I usually work every Monday and Wednesday, and every other Sunday. However, if I need to be home on one of my usual work days then I can request to work a different day, or switch days with another nurse.
In addition, working as a per diem nurse has given me even greater flexibility with my schedule. I can work as little as one day a week or as many as 4 or 5 as long as the hospital has a need for nurses (although I choose never to work more than 2 or 3 max).
More days off
Who doesn’t want to work less days in a week? When you work 12 hour shifts as a full time nurse, you get to work three days a week instead of 5. That also means that you have 4 days off every week instead of 2.
On the flip side, keep in mind that a 12 hour shift makes for a really, really loooooong day. Never underestimate the exhaustion that comes with working as a nurse for 12 hours a shift! You will need those extra days of to recover.
Less commuting to work (save time & gas!)
Working three days a week instead of a more traditional Monday through Friday schedule means that you spend significantly less time commuting to work. In addition, if some of those days fall on a weekend then you can miss traffic completely! Personally, I don’t love working on the weekend because I prefer to be home with my family, however I do appreciate how fast I can get to and from work. That is something to consider when you live in a high traffic city like Los Angeles.
Congruence of care
When nurses work 12 hour shifts they only give report to oncoming nurses twice in a 24 hour period. Working 8 hour shifts requires that nurses give report 3 times in 24 hours. With a 12 hour shift, nurses do less hand off and are able to spend more time with the same patients.
Less caregiver change could potentially translate into a decrease in nurse error because you are handing over patients less frequently. There is less chance for miscommunication.
Congruence of care is more important on nurse units where patients stay for longer periods of time. As a ER nurse we are used to having several new patients and handing care over to floor units more frequently so this may not be as much of a benefit if you work in ER.
Possibility of taking “mini vacations” without using vacation time
When you have the option to have several days off in between work days, it becomes possible to take mini vacations without putting in a vacation request. In fact, I have taken up to a week off at a time to go to Mexico without using any vacation days.
When you consolidate your hours into longer periods of time per day, then you can take more days off in a row. For example, if I am putting my schedule in for a two week period, I can request a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday for the first week and a Thursday, Friday, Saturday for the second week. That leaves me with 8 days off in between!
There are pros and cons to working 12 hour nursing shifts that you may want to consider.
Cons of working 12 hour shifts:
May put a nurse’s health at risk
It is no surprise that nurses work incredibility hard. I come home at the end of a 12 hour nursing shift with an aching back and burning feet. This is because I, like most nurses, often don’t have time to rest while at work. When I do have a minute to sit down to chart, I’m lucky if I can find a chair. I know a few older nurses who have been working bedside for 25 years and they literally have a permanent limp and can barely stand up straight.
Many nurses work 12 hour shifts with minimal breaks. We are lifting and pulling patients, often spending the majority of our day on our feet, managing stressful and sometime critical situations while doing everything we can to hold our pee for hours on end! Some days when I finally get a break to eat lunch and I am at my weakest, I find that our break room is stocked with donuts and cookies. My exhaustion can be overwhelming and the temptation for a little pick me up is never higher than right at that moment.
With all of our education, nurses should be good role models for health. But unfortunately that is not always true. We have created a culture that sets many nurses up for unhealthy habits.
A University of Pennsylvania study on hospital nurses found that the longer the shift, the higher the levels of burnout and patient dissatisfaction. The researchers discovered that nurses working shifts that were ten hours or longer were up to two and a half times more likely than nurses working shorter shifts to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction.
One reason may be that longer shifts give nurses less time in a day to care for themselves. I have found it challenging to do any self-care on days that I work 12 hour shifts because nearly every waking hour is spent caring for patients. Furthermore, the study found that the nurse burnout associated with longer shifts increased the chances of the nurse wanting to leave the job.
If you have kids, you won’t see them on the days you work
As a nurse and mom, one of the worst parts of working 12 hour shifts is that I don’t get to see my children at all on the days that I work. They are still asleep when I leave for work at 6 o’clock in the morning and they are already in bed by the time I get home at 8:30 PM. Even worse, when I work back-to-back shifts I may not see them at all for 24 to 36 hours at a time. I could as easily have been out-of town as far as they are concerned. Nursing is a good career for moms, but this still something you may want to consider.
Working a 12 hour nursing shift makes for a very long work day. But that is the price I must pay for getting to spend more days at home. So, the benefits of the 12 hour shift far outweigh the cons for me. Admittedly though, I really do focus on the benefits of working 12 hour shifts as much as I can. I must remind myself to stay positive. There are some days I wonder how long I can physically keep up with the job before I permanently injure myself or completely burn out.
Right now I remain passionate about helping others as a nurse and I am grateful to have work flexibility that allows me to spend more uninterrupted days off with my family than I would have with a standard 9 to 5 schedule. When I think about it in that way I realize I am lucky to get to have the best of both worlds.
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