Nursing is a gratifying profession. However, helping people through some of their best (like labor and delivery) and most difficult times of life comes with a downside: work-related stress. Add to this 12-hour shifts, night shifts, call-ins, overtime, weekend work and working short-staffed and you have a recipe for nurse burnout.
Fortunately, burnout is preventable simply by realizing you may be at higher risk as a nurse.
What Is Nurse Burnout?
Nurse Journal defines nurse burnout as "a physical, mental, and emotional state caused by chronic overwork and a sustained lack of job fulfillment and support." While burnout can happen in any profession, researchers for the National Center for Biotechnology Institute explain, "nursing stands out as one of the most exhausting professions owing to different circumstances in professional practice … The nurse is expected to perform patient care with patience and empathy, all in a highly stressful environment, with few resources and an excessive workload, thereby requiring nurses to find a balance between these factors that interfere in their working life."
What Are Signs of Nurse Burnout?
Although burnout and depression are different, they share similar signs, and burnout can increase a person's risk for developing depression. Some common signs of burnout include:
- Extreme irritability
- Significant resistance to change
- Arriving late for work
- Leaving work early
- Calling in sick
Each nurse may experience burnout a little differently, but these are the most common signs.
How Can Nurses Prevent Burnout?
Tara Sacco, MS, RN, CCRN, a clinical nurse specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York conducted a survey with other researchers focused on 221 nurses from nine critical care units. They assessed levels of "compassion satisfaction," secondary traumatic stress and nurse burnout in critical care nurses.
Sacco states there are several ways the individual nurse can prevent burnout.
- Recognize the Signs
It is important to know and recognize the signs of burnout in yourself as well as your colleagues. Being vigilant for burnout symptoms in yourself and others you work with is crucial to preventing severe burnout and mental health effects before they happen.
Sacco says, "We need to know what our own signs are, the subtle signs of 'I'm getting a little burned out,' or 'That last case really affected me,' so we can stop it before it gets too bad."
- Seek Employee Assistance Programs
Reaching out to others for help is often the last resort for many people. However, employee assistance programs exist for a reason in workplaces: to help protect the employees' mental health and assist those having personal or professional difficulties.
While confronting mental health issues and taking the initiative for self-care is difficult, supporting yourself and others seeking help is a crucial step to combat burnout.
- Take Time for Self-Care
Vicki Good, MSN, RN, system director for patient safety with CoxHealth states that nurses can take care of themselves by learning mindfulness or meditation techniques and doing "simple things" like taking breaks rather than skipping them.
Critical care nurse John Shepard explains that learning to practice mindfulness helps a person recognize when they are "lost in thought." This helps someone realize and acknowledge the emotions they are feeling and then compartmentalize those thoughts and emotions for the moment to focus on the patient they are caring for or the self-care activity they are engaging in.
- Help Create a Better Work Environment
Nurses can help create a more positive work environment for themselves and their colleagues. Begin by making a list of what is working well and what needs improvement. Consult colleagues to get their input and ideas. Then approach your nurse manager about an appropriate time and place to discuss these observations and ideas for improving the workplace.
To prevent burnout as a nurse, you need to recognize the signs in yourself and your coworkers. Helping each other recognize a problem before it becomes severe is an important first step, followed by seeking help early and practicing self-care. The last step is working together to make the workplace better for everyone.
Learn more about the St. Thomas University Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing online program.
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