Top 6 tips for avoiding burnout

BananaStock | ThinkStock

BananaStock | ThinkStock

Whether you’re a nurse, student, or parent, we all face the same challenge: time. In a profession that revolves around caring for others, it’s not unusual for us to neglect ourselves. It’s a dangerous and slippery slope to go down.

We get swept up in countless responsibilities, obligations and assignments, often forgetting that our tank is running on empty. It’s important to stop, take a breath and recharge. Life is not a sprint…it’s a marathon. Avoid burnout by taking a few moments to take care of yourself:

1. Fuel up. Limited time? Not a problem. Smoothies are a great way to get essential vitamins and minerals on the go. Healthy snacks like baby carrots, peanuts, cheese sticks, apples, oranges and yogurt require no preparation time and can be taken anywhere. Three meals a day are ideal, but when that isn’t possible, be sure to continually snack on healthy foods throughout the day.

2. Get some ZZZs. There is no substitute for sleep (sorry!). Most medical errors are made during the last hours of the shift. Don’t feel guilty for taking a little extra time to recharge. You’re doing a favor not just for yourself, but your patients and loved ones as well. In situations where sleep gets skimpy, power naps of less than 30 minutes have been shown to improve alertness, restore wakefulness and increase productivity.

3. Unwind. Get your mind off of work. Disconnect. Unplug. People unwind in different ways–what’s your niche? Explore what works for you. Yoga, hiking, art, working out and music are just a few avenues. Even if it’s just for a few minutes before bed, let your brain rest so you can dominate at full force later.

4. Process. Whether it’s delivering bad news to family members or witnessing a patient’s condition crumble, nursing is emotionally taxing. Talk to a friend, family member, coworker, someone. If a long conversation isn’t possible, journal. Utilize the notepad feature on a smartphone, carry a pocket sized memo pad, or incorporate journaling into your bedtime routine. It’s important to process heavy emotions so they don’t weigh you down later.

5. Flex Time. Lifting weights isn’t the challenge…finding time to is. If you have a one-hour lunch break, spend the first half working out. Multitask on the bikes or treadmill. Make gym time a fun event and go with friends. If getting to the gym is difficult, find a YouTube workout video you can do at home. Exercise is a great way to rejuvenate your body and blow off steam.

6. TLC. Everyone needs some tender love and care. Juggling an active work, family and social life gets tricky. One way to balance it? Never eat alone. We all have to eat…might as well eat with company! Another great way to keep in touch with loved ones is to utilize transportation time to catch up on the phone (hands-free, of course) or send emails (if taking public transportation). With technology it’s even possible to hang out without having to leave your house (i.e. Skype, Google Hangout or Facetime).

It’s impossible to continue helping others when our batteries are near empty. Don’t feel guilty. You’ve got to help yourself before you help anyone else…and helping yourself may be the biggest favor you can do for someone else!

Rogers AE, Hwang WT, Scott LD, et al. “Hospital staff nurse work hours and patient safety.” Health Affairs. 2004 July;23(4):202–12

Dhand, Rajiv; Sohal, Harjyot (2007). “Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults.” Current Opinion in Internal Medicine 6: 9

National Institute of Mental Health, “Power Nap Prevents Burnout; Morning Sleep Perfects a Skill.

Divya Kulshreshtha is a nursing student at Columbia University. She has a double bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from the University of Maryland. She was inspired to pursue a career in nursing after her father was hospitalized, and has since done volunteer medical work in Kenya. In the future, she hopes to work with underserved populations and be involved with international health.


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5 Responses to Top 6 tips for avoiding burnout

  1. These are all excellent tips.
    I think something that many nurses don’t think about is changing their specialty. There are some many different things you can do in nursing that if you are smart about it you really should never be bored.

  2. Stinkyluk

    #5, really? What is a lunch break and someone out there gets an hour?

  3. Mike RN

    A one hour lunch break? Where the hell is a nursing job that gets an hour-long lunch break? I want to work there! (Actually, I don’t. . .an hour away breaks my momentum, big time!) But just thought I would ask.

  4. ElizabethScala

    Love the flex-time idea. In fact, I’ve written an article that was featured on the Nerdy Nurse’s blog about two ways to get exercise into the busy work day. Taking the stairs, parking farther from the entrance, doing squats at the nurse’s station, or even walking laps at your organization. These are all awesome ways in which we can use our time wisely!

  5. Natalya Phillips

    I work nights, and we rarely if ever get lunches, I would like to know in what hospital nurse will leave her pts for an hr. there is always something to do. And it’s easy to say , eat right, exercise and get sleep. Maybe for the nurses that aren’t married and don’t have kids and work at the doctors office with 9 to 5 jobs with out weekends . I sometimes sleep 3 hr in 24 hr . I have no time for ….unwinding . Even when I get home I am in call. If they want to make the job less stressful, and show that nurses matter, less paperwork will help, why do we have to document in 4 places on PRN med, one paper should suffice. My whole work shift consists of writing and running and getting yelled at that I am not fast enough, and some don’t care that a baby just came in with a severed leg and that’s why I am late with your Tylenol for a stabbed toe., I am getting burned out, us as nurses get abused to no end from all corners. And people who don’t work night have no clue what we go thought.