How do I deal with burnout?


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And human beings have very real limits on their capacity for compassion and understanding.

Too many shifts plus too many patients plus unreasonable demands plus lack of sleep equals burnout, sooner rather than later.

Ironically, the nurses most at risk for burnout are the ones who care the most. High standards coupled with an ever-changing work environment can lead to frustration, shame and guilt. To survive, a nurse in the throes of burnout begins to detach. She may also experience mood swings, insomnia, headaches or GI disturbances.

If that sounds like you, it’s time to take some action. Pushing on despite your stress is not a sign of strength. It’s much more productive to:

  • Set realistic goals. You’re not going to be able to provide perfect care every shift, so let go of that idea right now. Aim for “pretty good” instead.
  • Ask for help. Going it alone doesn’t make you a hero; it just exhausts you. Delegate everything you can and ask your peers for help when necessary. Return the favor when you’re feeling stronger.
  • Learn to say no. You don’t have to be on the infection control team, unit council, school board and library steering committee. Cut back without guilt.

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3 Responses to How do I deal with burnout?

  1. Nicole, RN

    The three tips are critical for avoiding burnout. I, fortunately, have not encountered a severe case of burnout in my years as a nurse but have definitely had weeks where the last place I want to be is in the hospital. Delegation during a busy shift is key, because although one sometimes wants to do everything themselves, it is not possible all the time. Get more involved with activities outside of work involving your family, friends, church, whatever it may be that can take your mind off work.

    Also, regarding emotional attachments, they can lead to rapid burnout if you have multiple patients that you care strongly for that have bad outcomes.

    Don’t be afraid to empathize with patients and their families but know when it is time to detach yourself, because strong attachments can lead to heartbreak.

  2. Joan A.

    I’ve been dreaming I’m working at the hospital on my nights off; I wake up depressed by it. Even though I don’t think about it before falling asleep, it’s there. Any suggestions?

  3. Through your shift, be in touch with other staff. Share with the team members the plan for your assignment and work together all thru the shift. Each shift has their own unique goals. Day shift traditionally feels that they start the day and have all the admissions and discharges and nite shift could be doing more to help them out. Afternoons feels day shift left them things they could have started and have the rest of the admissions to complete, finish their own normal pm work and nites can finish up. Nites feels they are the catch all shift and are the most independent shift with the fewest staff and resources. Nites knows they have the highest staff to patient ratio and no matter what they do day shift will complain they do not do enough to help day shift out. Contrary to comments over the years, patients do not always sleep. I have not knitted a pair of socks or ate a bag of popcorn in years. All of this combined is a 24 hour day. A solid nursing manager will not permit nanny nanny between shifts. The manager will be supportive and regularly praise their staff. Each shift is there 8 hours and and each needs each other to complete the 24 hour day. Respect one another. Tell the next shift what needs to be done to help each other and your patients. Don’t be quick to “write one another up”. Talk and share. Have get togethers outside of work. On many occassions you are at work more than you are at home. Most nurses do take the work home with them because they care about the people they are taking care of. Do something for yourself. Read a good book, walk the dog, play with your kids and if you have a spouse, have a date with them. watch a mindless silly show on TV. I have been an RN for over 40 years. I have worked with nurses who were loveing, kind and special mentors. I have also worked with nurses who were just nasty. They were miserable at home and work. They also left nursing or frequently changed departments. We are all human. Remember to hug one another. We are all important. Nursing can be both sad and rewarding at the same time. Just remember you will learn something everyday and it is important to share what you have learned. Young nurses, you do not know everything and older nurses, please have patience with the younger nurses.Do not talk behind one anothers back. You are not in high school. You are a professional. “ACT LIKE ONE”. Nursing is hard enough without us eating one another up. Remember we are there to help our patients get the care they need to go home.If we all work together we can accomplish that goal and end our day with a pat on our backs for a job well done. .