Burnout: A Burning Flame At Both Ends

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    Nursing is a hard profession. Burnout can creep up on us without us realizing what is happening. Learn the signs, symptoms and some ways to combat nursing burnout.

    Burnout: A Burning Flame At Both Ends

    Nursing is not an easy profession. You are needed by many people at work and then go home to a busy family life. It is easy for the wick to start burning from both ends of our figurative candle. This is known as nursing burnout. Burnout can affect our lives in every aspect. Half the battle is knowing the signs and symptoms and simple way to combat the fire.

    What is Burn-out?

    The term burnout dates back to 1974, when Freudenberger used the term to describe workers' reactions to chronic stress common in occupations that involved direct interaction with people. (Jennings, 2008). Burn-out can create emotional and physical exhaustion that affects our ability to cope with even normal stressors.. This exhaustion may affect how we feel about our job, decrease our self-esteem and overall outlook on life.

    Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

    Below is a list of common signs and symptoms of burnout, which may affects us physically, emotionally and behaviorally:
    Physical Signs and Symptoms:
    • Feeling tired and drained
    • Increase in sickness
    • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
    • Change in appetite and sleep habits (Smith, et al., 2017)

    Emotional Signs and Symptoms:
    • Sense of failure and self-doubt
    • Feelings of helplessness, being trapped or defeated
    • Loss of motivation
    • Cynicism, having a negative outlook
    • Decreased sense of accomplishment (Smith, et al., 2017)

    Behavioral signs and symptoms:
    • Withdrawing from responsibilities
    • Spending more time alone
    • Procrastination
    • Using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
    • Taking out frustrations on others
    • Skipping work, coming in late or leaving early (Smith, et al., 2017)

    If you are anything like me, you may believe that this happens to other nurses, not you. However, once I experienced it, I was a believer. One thing I know for certain, nurses have stressful lives, usually balancing family, career and some form of enjoyment or hobby. Being a female increases the risk of burnout (Jennings, 2008). Burnout can affect every aspect of life, not just work.

    My Story

    For me, the first time I experienced burnout, I was a new grad. Eager to learn and make a decent living, I picked up every shift I could. I was making more money than I could have imagined, but eventually, life in general became overwhelming. I no longer enjoyed activities I once loved. I withdrew from family and friends. I started calling off when I should have been at work. And, when I was at work, I did not enjoy my job and I felt that I was no longer a good nurse for my patients.

    I had to learn more about myself as a nurse and a woman. Granted, I was a mere 21 years old and had lots to learn in this department! One of my greatest lessons was to realize that being needed was a huge professional turn-on for me. I loved being wanted and needed. And, the unit was playing right into my weakness in this respect. They needed me, all the time. So, I went, even though it started to take a toll on me as nurse, a woman and simply as a person. I had to learn to cope. But, how?

    How to Survive Burnout

    Just as you have likely told your patients, no one will take care of you, but you! We have to be active participants in our own health and sometimes this means we have to re-evaluate what we do, why we do it and when we do it. Below are some simple tricks to combat nursing burnout:


    One of the best ways to combat burnout is to spend time with others. This may be your spouse, children, other family members, coworkers or friends. Open up to them and talk about how you are feeling. Opening up does not make you a burden (Smith, et al., 2017). Seek out people who have a positive outlook on life in general. Steering clear of negative co-workers will help your attitude at work. (Smith, et al., 2017).
    Sometimes simple engagement with others can make a huge impact. Go to a public place, such as a park or mall and engage with others. Nothing helps stress levels quite like a little sunshine and watching others be happy. We are social creatures and need engagement.

    Be Selfish

    You are the only one who can put your health and happiness first. Take some time for yourself. Do something you enjoy. Lie on the couch, turn on relaxing music and revel in the moment. Start mapping out a few ways that you can set boundaries. Maybe, you only work extra every other time you are asked. Maybe you set a simple goal to say, "No" once per day to something extra someone asks of you. Make a goal in terms of healthy boundaries, write it down in a visible place and stick to it.

    Be Healthy

    Increasing activity and maintaining a healthy diet can do wonders for our attitude and overall health. Here are few quick and easy pointers:
    • Exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day. This can be 10 minutes 3 times a day or all at once. Make it fun and enjoyable.
    • Engage in exercises that move both your arms and legs. This has been proven to elevate our moods, increase our energy levels, increase our focus and relax our minds and body. Examples are walking, running, swimming, martial arts and dancing.
    • Eat a healthy diet, limiting caffeine, sugars and processed foods.
    • Decrease nicotine and alcohol intake. Both are stimulants and can increase anxiety levels. You may feel calm right after a drink or cigarette, but the effect is short lived (Smith, et al., 2017)

    Have you experienced burnout? Do you have any tried and true ways to decrease the effects of burnout in your career? I would love to hear your stories of burnout and how you were able to extinguish the flame!


    Jennings, BM.(2008) Work Stress and Burnout Among Nurses: Role of the Work Environment and Working Conditions. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
    Smith, M., Segal, J., Robinson, L., Segal, Robert. (2017) Burnout Prevention and Treatment: Techniques for Dealing with Overwhelming Stress. Helpguide.org
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  3. by   traumaRUs
    Thanks Melissa. Great tips
  4. by   Steffy44
    This almost totally describes me right now.
  5. by   melissa.mills1117
    Quote from Steffy44
    This almost totally describes me right now. ������
    Thanks for sharing. We all find ourselves there at times. It is good that you recognize that this is you. Reach out to your support system. Ask for advice. Take "me" time. Don't allow the fire to get out of control.

  6. by   billswife
    Quote from Steffy44
    This almost totally describes me right now. ������
    Wow!!! Me too, completely!!! I'm afraid my "fire" is already out of control.
  7. by   she244
    I see myself in so many of these examples. Great tips and I know I need to break out of this funk I am in and as you say. Take care of myself. I have already slowly started by shifting some of responsibilities around so not everything falls on me. That has helped a lot. I also have started making plans to get a way, hopefully I will keep those plans and make it happen. I have always refused to take time off work due to feeling responsible for my patients. But I finally realized if I died tomorrow or was fired. Someone else will handle it!
  8. by   NutmeggeRN
    Some days I feel like my overeating is really just a way to feed my heart....