(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 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!
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!
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Nurse burnout sucks. I’ve totally been there.
So, it may seem odd at first to hear that I also LOVE talking about nurse burnout. In fact, I think every nurse experiences burnout at some point in their career (if you haven’t please email me back and let me know your secret!).
Here’s the kicker. Once you admit you have an issue with nursing burnout you open yourself to the idea of potential solutions. But if you just pull your hoodie over your eyes and continue to suffer in silence then nothing ever changes. And your burnout gets even worse.
So, let’s talk about solutions for nurse burnout! (Solving problems is always better than complaining anyway).
Last week I had an amazing opportunity to interview with nurse coach and fellow ER nurse, Jessica Smith about bouncing back from burnout!
Our Bouncing Back From Burnout YouTube interview can be found here:
During the interview, we discussed:
- How you can find a work-life balance with a busy nursing schedule;
- Why nurses need to make their own health a #1 priority;
- How getting to the “why” in your burnout can help you find patterns that contribute to your burnout;
- And why you should always surround yourself with positive support!
I’d love for you to listen in – and even better – leave a comment or share it with your fellow nurse friends!
Again, the link to listen in can be found here!
I can’t wait for you to check it out!
P.S. If you are a nurse struggling with finding ways to take better care of yourself, here is a FREE E-BOOK . It’s called Nurse, Take Care Of Yourself First. Because nurses work really, really hard. And we need to be taking better care of ourselves. It includes tips for nurses on how to stay healthy during 12 hour shifts, ideas for better self care at home and suggestions for finding a better work-life balance.
Additional Recommended Reading:
7 Ways To Beat Nurse Burnout
Nurse Burnout: How Administration Can Help
How To Achieve A Work-Life Balance As A Nurse
Nurse Health: Self- Care For 12 Hours Shift
Nurse burnout is common.
As a second career RN with 7 years of experience as a med/surg, telemetry, emergency room and resource nurse I have struggled tremendously with nurse burnout. In fact, I often wonder how long I can continue working as a nurse when I often feel so spent. The caregiver burden is real.
Nurse burnout is often described as the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion of nurses. Causes for nurse burnout include working arduous 12 hour shifts, working in high stress environments, dealing with sickness and death and constantly having to put the needs of others before one’s own.
Like most nurses, I am very passionate about my profession. It is a privilege and an honor to advocate for and serve my patients during some of the most difficult points of their lives. But there has to be a better way to help nurses find a better balance between patient care and self-care.
The nurse burnout problem is not going away.
Left unchecked, nurse burnout can lead to exhaustion, physical injuries, and even depression. Furthermore, disengagement caused by nurse burnout can negatively impact patient care, increase the risk of medical errors and lower overall patient satisfaction.
In addition, nurse health must be taken more seriously. Too many nurses are on their way to becoming patients themselves due to overwork.
Nursing burnout: administration can help.
Hospital administration can help.
Here are a few ideas that hospitals should consider to help nurses create more balance and achieve some self care during work hours.
1. Create a meditative space for nurses away from patients and visitors
Caregiver burden is an issue for nurses. 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.
2. Offer yoga and meditation classes
Offering yoga and meditation classes during the nurse’s lunch breaks would be beneficial. Studies show that yoga and meditation can greatly improve quality of life for nurses by reducing stress levels. In turn, nurses are able to give better patient care.
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 reduced mental stress.
Yoga at work could also help many nurses manage the chronic back pain they have developed as a result of nursing. An evidenced based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. A 30 minute gentle yoga class during a nurse’s lunch break could help nurses manage this issue. Yoga stretching not only increases flexibility, but also increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain.
3. Make sure nurses get adequate breaks
Working for 6, 8 or even 12 hours without eating or sitting would make anyone become resentful after a while. Patient loads can often feel so overwhelming that sometimes nurses will work right through a break without even realizing it. Exhaustion from not eating or drinking enough water and being on your feet for grueling 12 hour shifts will eventually lead to nursing burnout.
4. Recognize nurses for their hard work
This should be a given, but for some reason it isn’t in many facilities. A “thank you” goes a long way. It is very much appreciated by nurses who work extraordinarily hard to keep patients healthy and safe.
Too many hospitals put little to no effort into helping nurses celebrate for nurses week every year. This sends a very strong message to nurses that management does not care about the hard work and dedication they put into caring for their patients.
5. Involve management in nurse bullying and cliques
Unfortunately, too many facilities allow bullying in their workplace. According to a 2017 survey by RN network, 45% of nurses have been verbally harassed or bullied by other nurses at work. Some forms of nurse bullying are obvious. However, many times the bullying is much more subtle, such as a nurse talking down to another nurse in front of a patient.
Building a supportive working environment is important to the health and well-being of nurses. Bullying should never be considered acceptable behavior and hospital management should be more involved in helping to prevent it.
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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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