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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 R.N. 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 completely worn out. Not only do nurses work long 12 hour shifts, but many nurses are working mid shifts, night shifts and overtime. 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 essential 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 R.N.’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 take care of themselves, they can 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!
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I experienced nurse burnout after two years of being a nurse.
That’s right. After only TWO YEARS, I was already feeling overstressed, exhausted, and cynical about my career.
When my mind finally wrapped itself around this understanding, I thought I’ve barely graduated with my BSN, and I’m ALREADY burned out? How am I going to continue in the nursing profession for an entire career?
I was frustrated, confused, and, to be honest, a little heartbroken. I was passionate about helping others, and I did enjoy the mental stimulation that I got as a nurse. But I couldn’t figure out how there were nurses on our unit who had been doing the same thing for the last 5, 10 or even 20 years. Didn’t they feel the same way?
Lately, I have spoken with a lot of nurses about their experiences with burnout. The truth of the matter is that most, if not all, nurses feel spent and exhausted at some point throughout their careers.
Do you feel exhausted, anxious, physically ill, or dread the thought of going to work each day? If so, you, too may be experiencing burnout. Here are some tips that can help you overcome this chronic, stressful state and learn to thrive again.
Seven ways to beat nurse burnout: reclaim your passion!
1. Find a work-life balance.
Are you rotating days and nights? Constantly working overtime? Or maybe just working too many hours per week? That may work for a while, but it is not a very good long term plan. Everyone needs a break, especially nurses! Consider taking a vacation (or stay-cation) and plan a few solid days of “me” time. A little TLC can go a long way. You simply can’t continue to take good care of others before taking care of yourself first.
Becoming a per diem nurse helped me find a better work-life balance. What can you do to help balance your life?
One of the best things a nurse can do to help prevent nurse burnout is to take good care of themselves. Often this notion is counter-intuitive to nurses because the nature of their job is to continually put others’ needs in front of their own. Ask yourself, what do I need to be healthy? Here are a few suggestions:
- Take a yoga class or join a gym.
- Make sure you plan for your 12-hour shifts, so you have healthy snacks while you are at work.
- Get at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep before a shift.
- Try meditation or just sit alone with your eyes closed for 10 minutes during your lunch break.
- Create a calming environment (at work or home) with a stress-relieving essential oil such as Lavender.
3. Find the “why” in your burnout.
What is it that is causing you to feel the burnout? Try writing your thoughts down at the end of a few shifts to help figure out what is overwhelming you. Is there a pattern? Perhaps you need to plan your shifts differently. Are there a few personalities in your workplace that you are not jiving with? Or, maybe you just are not inspired by your chosen specialty. Permit yourself to be brutally honest about what you need to overcome nurse burnout.
4. Challenge yourself.
Are you under-challenged at work? There are so many ways to challenge yourself as a nurse:
- Become a certified nurse in your specialty (or a completely new specialty!)
- Take on a charge nurse role.
- Be a preceptor to novice nurses on your unit.
- Take on additional committee roles.
- Attend a nurse conference.
- Change your nursing specialty.
- Consider advancing your nursing degree.
5. Surround yourself with positive support.
Compassion fatigue and nurse burnout are so common among nurses. Left unchecked, it can lead to mistakes, unhappiness, or even depression. Share your burnout struggles with a close comrade from work who can empathize with your struggle. If that doesn’t help, consider talking to a trusted mentor, a therapist, or find a career coach that can help you work your way out of nurse burnout. Nurses are self-giving creatures by nature, but we must give to our own needs as well. Crawl out of your shell and start talking it out!
6. Find an outlet.
What do you do on your days off that may you happy? If you don’t have a stress-relieving outlet, then its time to find one! Is your inner artist craving a creative outlet, such as painting, designing, or even scrapbooking? Does a day on the golf course or an afternoon on the tennis court bring you joy? Maybe you have been so busy that you have forgotten how wonderfully distracting it can be to become enveloped into an activity that you love to do.
Research has shown that finding a joyful outlet can enhance your mood, increase energy, lower stress levels, and even make your immune system stronger. Today is the time to find your joy!
7. Consider new options.
Have an honest discussion with yourself about your career. Are you a med/surg nurse who has always dreamed of working in the ICU? Or maybe you are an ER nurse with interest in becoming a flight nurse. A change in specialty might be precisely what you need to tackle nurse burnout.
On another note, nurses don’t have to work in a hospital. Perhaps working with injectables in a dermatology office or as a home healthcare nurse would be a better fit. There are so many nursing careers to choose from. The sky is the limit. Go find your nursing passion!
What do you do to beat nurse burnout? Leave a comment below!
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