As nurses, we know that nurse burnout pervades the profession. Insufficient staffing, long work hours, phone calls to come in to work on your days off, and a growing nursing shortage all contribute to nurse burnout. Sounds ominus, doesn't it? So given the cards that are stacked against nurses, is it inevitable for every nurse to suffer from nurse burnout in their career? Below are some tips and tricks to halt nurse burnout in its tracks before it gets a firm hold on you!
Stop with the Brave Face and Admit There is Something Wrong
When nurses are on the job, we put others' needs before our own; frequently not even stopping to go to the bathroom. But when we constantly push down our needs for a break or won't admit to ourselves (or others) that we're overworked and overstressed, we're setting ourselves up for failure. Nurses in direct patient care face tough jobs at the bedside. Stretched thin through insufficient staffing, nurse-to-patient ratios that are unsafe, patients with so many co-morbidities that it's impossible to address them all -- nurses' stress levels don't just put nurses' mental and physical health at risk, they also put the patient at risk.
The most effective way to deal with burnout before it becomes a problem is to talk to someone. The department manager or nurse supervisor is the first stop. Yes, they have heard complaints about nurse staffing before, but management can't help a nurse suffering from burnout unless it's known to them. Every facility handles nurse burnout differently, and some, unfortunately still have no programs in place to help alleviate the burnout problem. The first step in addressing the problem, in any case, is to speak up.
Second Line of Defense: Relationships with Coworkers
In the event that a facility lacks a program, plan, or resources to alleviate nurse burnout, the relationships that nurses have with their co-workers can often relieve some of the more detrimental effects of nurse burnout. A nurse friend of mine never dreamed she'd ever been a person that fished (yes, I mean with a fishing pole and a tackle box), but after learning that so many of her coworkers got together on off days to go fishing and raved about how much of a stress reliever it was, she decided to give it a try. She said that dark cloud she felt constantly hanging over her head at work was suddenly not so dark after all. All the normal work stressors were still there, short staffing, sicker patients, but she didn't feel they weighed so heavily on her because she felt closer to her co-workers. She felt there were people who had her back.
Engage in mindfulness and take a pause
When work and life in general becomes too stressful and nurses know they are burned out, it is time to take a pause and look at the big picture. Quiet time -- when there is no "mind" noise from technology, family, patients, but just time to breathe in and out and be quiet -- creates a space to be able to see problems, possible solutions and even long-held desires for the nursing career you'd dreamed of having. It may take some practice to see what you wanted when you began your nursing career and what you need to do in order to get it back on track. Approach the situation looking for possibilities. The path to get to the goal(s) may be reveal itself in time, or you may know immediately the steps to take to get there.
Let go of what no longer serves
If you've been a night shift nurse your entire career and now you need to transfer to the day shift, ask to be switched. If you've had your fill of your nursing specialty and think a change may refresh you, check the job board at your facility. If your normal stress relieving activities are no longer working, try new tactics. Even simply taking up a new hobby or sport can refresh your mind and stop the overwhelm from overtaking you. In the same vein, if you haven't had made time to engage in your favorite hobbies or activities, schedule them on your calendar like an appointment. And then, keep the appointment. You'd do it if it were a doctor appointment or one with your child's school, right? Give appointments with yourself the same respect and reverence.
I don't mean that you have to literally watch ants, just observe nature. Whether it's watching ants build an anthill -- something you may have done as a child -- or a spider build a web, or simply noticing the different shapes clouds make. When you're observing this amazing planet, it's tough to think about all the stressors at work. Taking a few minutes or hours in nature helps us slow down the world a bit and take a look around. I'll bet there may be a few places that you used to go and enjoy spending time in that you haven't seen for a while. Could you schedule a date on your calendar to revisit one? Take a friend or loved one who has never been there and make a new memory. Sometimes in all the stress swirling around us, we forget to notice some things that have been missing for a while. Reconnecting with nature or a favorite place helps us fortify ourselves against burnout and as stated above, helps stop it in its tracks.
OK, so what did we miss? If you were talking to a nurse who was looking for answers on how to deal with stress what would you tell them? What are some other ways to cope with and shift nurse burnout?