Ten Ways To Know You're Burning Out
Here's a primer on how to recognize nursing burnout......BEFORE it destroys your career and lands you in the booby hatch.
Here's something a little different from the writer who usually brings you the funny top-10 lists.
Recently, a good friend of mine I'll call "Viv"---an LPN who's worked at the same LTC for eight-and-a-half years---suddenly up and quit her job. Without notice. Just went to work one morning, told the DNS, "I'm done", handed in a hastily scribbled resignation letter, and shook the dust of the place from her feet.
Not surprisingly, Viv is having trouble finding a new job, even though she's one of the best nurses I know and would hire in a New York minute if I had a position for an LPN. Quitting a nursing job without notice, especially in this economy, is a cardinal sin for which I fear she may pay a terrible price. Yet she is oddly calm about the entire episode, because, as she says, "there are worse things than being unemployed.....like going on the way I was."
Now our group of friends are left to wonder what drove such a wonderful nurse to such a desperate act. Even Viv herself doesn't fully understand what happened; all she knows is that the stresses and strains incurred on the job quietly piled on top of each other for years, until critical mass was reached and she couldn't take it anymore. Now, she's just a statistic---another victim of nursing burnout.
Most of us have been there. I know I have.......more than once. So how do nurses learn to recognize the signs that we're getting a little crispy around the edges and take measures to combat burnout, rather than wait until we're completely fried and then commit career hara-kiri? Here are a few clues I wish Viv had listened to before flaming out in such spectacular fashion:
1) Take inventory of the shifts you've worked over a period of at least 4 weeks. If the bad days outnumber the good ones, it may be time to look at changing positions. Life is too short for sucky jobs; to avoid burnout, you have to take action when the suckage overrides the benefits of staying put.
2) Do a gut-check. Are you mostly satisfied with what you do at work, or do you dread going in every day? Again, if you're having two or three bad shifts every week, you are probably not enjoying life even OUTSIDE of work and it's time to consider other options.
3) Ask your family and/or friends if you seem more on edge than usual. They're almost always the first to feel it when a nurse is in the early stages of burnout......oftentimes, before we're aware that we're getting frazzled.
4) Note your overall mood and energy levels. Sometimes, what we think of clinically as 'depression' strikes us when we're starting to brown around the edges: we start feeling anxious, sad or blue; we may sleep or eat excessively (or not sleep/eat enough), and so on. Other times, it may simply be a free-floating unease that we can't put a finger on.....we only sense that something isn't quite right.
5) If you spend a lot of your waking time daydreaming about winning the lottery or counting the years/days/minutes till retirement.....you may be approaching burnout.
6) If you constantly think about the job, talk about the job, have nightmares about the job......you're probably already there.
7) How's your overall health? Is your blood pressure creeping up? Have your diet and exercise habits changed? Are you still enjoying all of your normal off-duty activities, or do you find yourself saying "I'm too tired" and begging off whenever you're invited to go out with friends or family?
8) When was the last time you read a good book........went to church........saw a movie........knitted a sweater........played a game with your kids?
9) If you have vacation time saved up (and what nurse with symptoms of burnout doesn't?), take a week or two and see how you feel after you've unwound for a few days. Imagine walking back in to your workplace; does the thought inspire a reaction like "Yes, I'll be ready to go back to work," or "OMG---if I never went back it'd still be a day too soon"? If it's the latter, you may want to consider using the last few days of your vacation to look for another job.
10) If, when you ask yourself whether you can imagine doing this for the rest of your life---or even for the next twelve months---and the answer is "Oh, HELL no".....you are burnt to a crisp and had better call for help before you get hosed. Believe me, if you're burned out, your supervisors have noticed it, and there are too many hungry new grads and older, experienced nurses out there who need work......so do whatever you have to in order to quell the flames and refresh yourself. Your career, your emotional well-being, and even your health may depend on it.Last edit by Joe V on Sep 6, '11
About VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN Guide
VivaLasViejas has '20' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'LTC, assisted living, geriatrics, psych'. From 'The Great Northwest'; 58 Years Old; Joined Sep '02; Posts: 26,475; Likes: 42,300.Sep 6, '11I know I am there. I did quit one of 2 jobs, and despite the fact now that we barely have enough money now to keep the lights on, I am happier than I have been in a long time. I am still looking for my next job - hopefully out of nursing.Sep 6, '11Great post...
I have been where your friend is. I got up, went to work, pulled into the parking lot and KNEW there was no way I could handle another day on that job. So, I called, told them I wasn't coming in and drove back home.
I know it's not the best course of action, but one has got to do what they got to do for their sanity.
I appreciate these check points you have posted and good luck to Viv.Sep 6, '11After working in a SNF for two years where the conditions were TOXIC, I had had enough. I gave my 3 week notice, and when I was done, I was so done...compassion fatigue. I have been out of work for four months, and now I feel ready to search for a new job. Money is tight, but I am doing OK. What a relief to be gone from such an unhealthy environment.Sep 6, '11Yeap I was there... Yesterday was my last day in LTC after 2.5 yrs. I was having nightmares and I hated to go to work. This was also only a weekend position, it took all week to de-stress. I was so tired of working short and management calling my house or silly things. Last week I received 4 calls in one day or crap like scheduling and in-services that were to be held over the weekend.So glad I made that decision but I did pray on it and I acquired a new weekend position before I quit. My coworkers told me you should at least stay prn, you might not like your new job. I told them I didn't like this one but I managed to stay 2.5 yrs, so I'm sure I can't get at least a year out of my new job. I just hope this job is much better!Sep 6, '11I hear you all.....my last hospital job was like that, a poisonous atmosphere that literally sapped the life out of me. In fact, I spent most of the last year I worked there bouncing in and out of there---as a patient!! First it was chest pain which led to a 3-day stay and full cardiac workup; then it was MRSA cellulitis and its antibiotic-induced companion, C. diff. After that it was repeated gallbladder attacks and a lap chole, another bout of cellulitis, and finally an episode of malignant HTN in which my blood pressure soared to 260/130 and wouldn't come down with my normal medications.
The funny thing is, I never put it all together until I had missed a grand total of six weeks' worth of work. I'd used up all of my vacation time and had to go on FMLA during the cellulitis/C.diff episode. But it wasn't until the last time I got called into my manager's office and dumped on for what was really a minor error (I'd paged the wrong MD the night before regarding a patient who wasn't with that practice---I know, big fat hairy deal, right?) that I heard this still, small, and very sure voice in my head shouting: "Are you SERIOUS??!! Get the &*%$ out of here!"
And I did. I walked away from a $30-buck-an-hour job with perfect hours and no weekends, because I knew in my heart of hearts that I could not force myself to step out on that floor even one more time. Luckily, the actual Med/Surg department manager was understanding, and she told me that not only would the hospital spot me the two weeks notice (thank goodness for FMLA), but I should file for unemployment benefits because I was quitting for stress-related reasons. She also referred me to the employee assistance program, which turned out to be well worth the time spent in counseling sessions. So with a bit of financial cushion provided by unemployment and some time to figure out my next move, I wound up taking a couple of months off, which was a blessing in the long run.
Now I wish I could simply take two weeks off...........but the work would just keep piling up and I'd NEVER catch up.Sep 6, '11Oh yes I know this all too well.. After 2.5 yrs in LTC. I switch from nights full-time to weekend part-time, Sunday was my last day. So tired of working under so much stress, disorganization, short staffing, bad management and ridiculous turnover. People calling my house all week.I remember 4 calls in one day concerning in services for the upcoming weekend. I was hesitant to turn in my notice but after arriving to work last week and having to split 75 patients with another nurse, and with several Other nurses around gossiping and barking orders(from home then showing up later) and making up excuses not to help. I knew I made the right decision. Several coworkers asked why I didn't stay prn, stating I might not like my new job. I told them I didn't like this one but I managed to stay here 2.5 yearsSep 7, '11Another good one, Viva. I love reading your posts- they add to the value of nurses everywhere. I was once a crispy critter myself, and it drove me to actions and words and lost opportunities that I will regret forever. For any one who thinks that you're so indispensible that you cannot take your earned vacation time- that's just pride talking. The world will keep turning without you and your workplace will not crumble to the ground because you're gone for a week. Your job is what you do, it's not who you are. You're more than a job, an "FTE", a "warm body" to fill a shift.Sep 7, '11Good Luck Viv! It's just funny to open my email this morning and this is the first thing I see. I am a tele nurse that works nights. I am fairly young, and this is my first "real job." I've been off work for the last 6 days, and the first thing I thought this morning was that I do not want to go back in that place. I have began to complain about everything. I think my home life sucks. I just returned to school for a BSN. I am wondering if going to day shift would make it all better?? I don't want it to take 2.5 years for me to notice that I'm burnt out.Sep 7, '11OP, thank you for this article. I think I am on that slippery slope towards burnout. Weird thing is, I do love this job, or at least the idea of it. I like caring for children, the schedule is great, relatively low stress as far asgo...but yet I find myself dreaming of winning the lottery or "boring" office jobs, where I don't have to care. I think it's called compassion fatigue...I'm just tired of trying to summon up the will to care anymoreSep 7, '11I have just had three months off, for a number of reasons, but I have always loved nursing,
but once I made the call to leave the way others did, it took that long, to want to nurse again,
(after ten years after fulltime nursing), I think it's important it is recognized, talked about,
and nurses are supported to take time out, to recover,Sep 7, '11Been there, done that and now that I am better, trying to find away back. I had a great job, that I loved, but due to being burned out, unhappy with the management and several other things, I am finding it hard to find a job in a small community with limited options in nursing. I do not want to travel, I have a teenager at home. I have tried to apply and call everyone I know at other facilities, but no body is "hiring". I hope that I will be able to find my way back, to where I want to be. I am beginning to believe that I have ruined my reputation beyond repair. Any one got any ideas, suggestions or leads onin Missouri?
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