Nurse's Station

Recognizing & Coping With Nursing Burnout


Nursing Burnout
Nurses are often compassionate by nature. After all, one of the reasons you may have chosen nursing is to help people. But nursing can be a demanding career and at some point, you may find your wide-eyed enthusiasm for the profession is fading.

Although everyone occasionally has a day when they are less than thrilled with their job, if you’re feeling unfulfilled most days, you may be starting to burnout. Nursing burnout involves feeling emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. Simply put, you may feel as if you have nothing more to give.

Why Does Nursing Burnout Occur?

Healthcare burnout, sometimes also referred to as compassionate fatigue, can affect nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. So how do you go from an empathic nurse to someone who feels drained?

Burnout in healthcare usually happens gradually. It can develop for different reasons and often is caused by a combination of factors. For example, maybe you’re always working short-staffed or have a supervisor who is unsupportive when issues arise.

For other nurses, burnout may occur due to being overloaded with traumatic and sad situations. If you watch people suffer long enough and don’t find healthy ways to deal with it, it can take its toll.

Dealing with critical patients, upset family members and life and death situations can be stressful. Nurses who provide bedside care are especially at risk for becoming burned out. Also, many hospitals have moved to 12-hour shifts, which may make scheduling easier, but it can increase burnout. According to a survey conducted by The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, the percentage of nurses reporting burnout increased as their shift length increased.

Signs of Burnout

Nursing burnout can have an effect on your job performance, satisfaction, and your life away from work. It can also affect your overall wellbeing. Some of the signs of nursing burnout include the following:

  • Dreading the thought of going to work: Everyone has days they would rather do something other than going to their job. But if you are always dreading going work, there may be a problem.
  • An increase in physical ailments: Burnout can cause an increase in physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach problems.
  • Calling in sick a lot more often: A sick day here and there is not unusual, but using all your sick time, when you are not physically sick can be a sign of burnout.
  • Feeling bored: Burnout can sometimes go hand in hand with boredom. If you feel bored, you may find you’re just going through the motions at work.
  • Becoming easily annoyed at work: Nurses who suffer from burnout may find they become frustrated more easily with patients, co-workers, and visitors.
  • Decreased compassion: If you notice you are getting increasingly cynical and are feeling detached from your patients, it could be a sign of burnout.

Dealing with Nursing Burnout

If you think you may be suffering from nursing burnout, don’t ignore the problem. It’s not likely to just go away. Nurses who are burned out may feel stressed, unfulfilled, and depressed. In addition, it’s hard to do your best work if you feel burnt, which means the patients suffer. Nobody wins if you bury your head in the sand and don’t deal with the issue. Consider some of the suggestions below for dealing with nursing burnout.

Identify the problem. Do a little soul searching. Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself what is bothering you the most. Is the problem your specific place of employment? Do you need a new challenge? Are you tired of bedside care? Once you figure out the reasons for how you feel, you make some changes.

Consider your options. One great aspect of the nursing profession is there are lots of different things you can do with a nursing license. In addition to providing direct patient care, there is discharge planning, education, case management, infection control and many other specialties. Some specialties may require additional education, certifications, or training.

Talk it over. Some nurses are afraid to talk to anyone at work about how they feel, but talking it over may help you make the changes you need. Consider speaking to your supervisor or and an employee assistance counselor who may be able to help.

Look for new opportunities. Are there opportunities to move into another department, work as a travel nurse, or go back to school for an advanced degree? Sometimes a new challenge can help you feel revitalized.

Take care of yourself. It may sound like a no-brainer, but not everyone takes care of themselves, which can make you more susceptible to burnout. Make time for exercise, eat healthy, and try to get enough sleep. Learn healthy ways to relax, such as yoga, meditation, or listening to music.  

Take action. Once you figured out the problem and have come up with a solution, take action. Whether it’s reducing your work hours, or pursuing a new specialty, you need to make it happen. 

Find a balance. While you’re at work, it’s great to be 100 percent focused on your job, but you have to learn to leave work at work. Finding a balance between your work and home life is essential.

Keep perspective. Some situations nurses deal with are heartbreaking. Remember, you can’t fix all situations, and you can’t control bad patient outcomes. But there are also instances where you made a difference during a patient’s toughest days. Learn to let go of what you can’t control and focus on the fact you can go home at the end of the day knowing you did your best.

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