How do you break the cycle of exhaustion?


Looking for advice on how to stop feeling so beat down after my shifts. I'm working inpatient oncology (first job as a new grad, about 8.5 months in right now), and as much as I look forward to my days off, I never get anything done because I am so physically wiped out.

For perspective I was in the military and also had work assignments requiring 12 hour shifts/night shift/etc. during my service so I never thought I would have this much trouble adjusting physically; I thought the toughest part of the job for me would revolve around anxiety/stress/learning curve/etc. (not that that stuff doesn't get to me too!).

Anyway, I'm just looking for some suggestions on how you guys recharge after a stretch of shifts. The experienced nurses on my unit often remind me I need to take my breaks and sit down and drink water but I feel like there just is not enough time in the day for that and the idea of actually taking a break causes me way more anxiety than the idea of skipping it to make sure I get my work done, haha. I just never stop running all day long and somehow I still feel like I'm behind.

I'm heading out to get some epsom salt now because I thought maybe taking a bath on my days off would help soothe my muscles. I think my body is also a little beaten down from my time in the military so maybe that is contributing too, but I'm only 31 and I see nurses who have been working at the bedside for the entire length of my life and can't help but have respect and wonder how they are pushing through when all I wanna do is lay around and do nothing when I finally get home!

Thanks for reading :)


1 Article; 2,220 Posts

Specializes in Travel, Home Health, Med-Surg. Has 20 years experience.

I think any bedside job these days is nonstop running all day. Your coworkers are right, you need to take breaks, and eat/drink throughout the day (this does make a big difference!). Once you get in the mode/routine of this it will get easier to do and you will benefit both physically and emotionally (ie lower stress). I have also worked inpatient Onc so know that there is an extra layer of emotional stress with this pt population. You need to be aware of that (consciously) and take extra care of yourself in this area (know where the line is for you personally) bc emotional stress will also affect your physical body. Onc is an esp hard unit to start as a new grad. Sounds like overall you are doing OK. It usually takes new grads at least 1yr (probably longer in Onc) to feel comfortable/competent. I would start taking your breaks and also ask some trusted coworkers how they seem to be "pushing through". Maybe they can offer some experienced advice for your particular unit, time management, delegating etc. (Although maybe they go home just as beat as you do?). I am sure as more time goes by and you continue to become more comfortable in your role it will get easier and less stressful which will impact how you feel on your days off. Also , I would consider your schedule if you have any say in the matter (working all in a row vs spaced apart). Sorry you are having a hard time right now and I hope it gets better!!

Specializes in ER, Pre-Op, PACU.

Definitely try to take your breaks - if your coworkers offer to cover your assignment so you can eat lunch, then you need to take them up on that offer. I started as a new grad in the ER and for the longest time went 12 to 16 hours without eating and barely drinking for most of my shifts. It sent me into exhaustion fast and I eventually realized that I couldn’t think well when I needed that critical thinking. After that, I began finally taking up others on their offer to cover my assignment so I could at least take a break. It did help!

As for days off.....try to meal prep meals that are easy to eat at work, exercise, find hobbies you like, etc.

kkbb, BSN, RN

134 Posts

Specializes in Oncology. Has 6 years experience.

I also am inpatient hem/onc. Breaks are essential. So is good hydration. I had a coworker that always rushed around, missed breaks, stayed late to finish charting. They were just running themselves ragged. We would try to get them to take a break, but they never went. Sometimes you just have to step away for a few. Think about it....we tell caregivers all the time to practice self care. Even the safety lecture on planes starts with "put your mask on first before you place it on your child."

You mentioned that you always feel like you are behind. Without knowing you or working with you it is hard to offer advice on this. What is it that you feel behind in (charting, med passes, pt care???) Do you cluster your care so that you are not constantly returning back to a room (I was terrible about this when I started)? Do you have a trusted coworker that might be able to help figure out why you are rushed?

It sounds odd, but I randomly changed my brain sheet from one sheet per pt with tons of info on it, so a basic one with just tasks and times for everyone on one side and important facts on the other and this simple change was a game changer for me. Turns out having too many sheets with too much information overwhelmed me.

Specializes in Community Health, Med/Surg, ICU Stepdown. Has 10 years experience.

I agree with the excellent advice above! Learn to accept help, it's wonderful that you are on a unit where it's offered and your coworkers care about your well being. Even if you just take 10/15 mins here and there and you know coworkers are watching your pts it helps. Drink water and eat snacks if you feel too stressed being away from the floor for 30/60 mins.

As a new grad I felt like every task was essential to do immediately. I think you are a good nurse and feel this way, but something like an extra pillow is not an emergency, and you don't need to leave your break for it. Better to rest and you will be better for your pts, more able to think critically if you are not dehydrated, hypoglycemic and frazzled.

The brain sheet helps too! I have one side with all the info and the other as mentioned above with just the times/tasks and checking them off is satisfying, shows you you're getting stuff done. Switching to a slower paced specialty is OK too, but it is normal to feel overwhelmed as a new grad. Glad you have a supportive team!

Specializes in Oncology. Has 4 years experience.

Thank you all for your advice. Sorry for my lack of response until now! But I read all of your comments and appreciated the recommendations! ❤️

Nunya, BSN

771 Posts

Specializes in NICU/Mother-Baby/Peds/Mgmt. Has 41 years experience.

If you write small enough you can get your times/tasks AND any extra info on one side of your brain sheet, now THAT'S a game changer!