Nursing is one of the most rewarding and respected professions, but the busy, fast-paced nature of daily work can take its toll on nurses if they don’t prioritize self-care and their own physical and mental well-being. Burnout is defined as a “state of emotional exhaustion” where workers feel overwhelmed, fatigued, distant and unmotivated.
A study by the tech platform, Florence, found that around a third of UK healthcare workers admit to feeling burnout every week. But the good news is that growing awareness of both mental health and the general strain of working in challenging medical environments has put the onus on improving conditions for nurses. This is taking on greater precedence amid a shortage of skills in the industry.
While governments and employers are now investing in health-related programs to provide the help and support nurses need, there are also a few tips you can follow to eliminate burnout and prevent it from reoccurring as often.
Table of Contents
Notice signs of burnout
The effects of burnout are always worse if you leave it to linger and don’t take proactive measures to prevent it from happening. Key to this is recognizing the first signs of burnout which typically manifest in feelings of being tired, overworked, and underappreciated. If you are waking up and not looking forward to the day due to stress about the challenges ahead, then it’s time to try and take a step back and focus on your own health.
Registered nurse, Tina Gerardi, believes burnout often occurs when a nurse is faced with a barrage of ” high-stress situations and long shifts.” If this has happened to you recently, you should try to talk to nurse supervisors, leaders, and educators at the facility where you work to see if they can change your shifts or offer any other form of support to prevent the early signs of emotional fatigue from snowballing into a prolonged slump.
Improve sleep quality
Sleep deprivation is linked to a heightened stress response and cognitive and memory deficits, which can make it that much more difficult to approach the day with energy and enthusiasm. It might be challenging if you have a busy workload, but prioritizing an eight-hour sleep cycle each day can do wonders for your mood and mental health. That’s because it flushes out the toxins in your brain and repairs cells in your body which will leave you feeling awake and refreshed.
Eat healthy foods
Maybe another obvious recommendation, but eating healthy meals with complex carbs and “good” unsaturated fats will help you to shake off lethargy and give you the energy to complete important tasks. As a nurse, you are probably well acquainted with what constitutes a healthy diet but an abundance of vegetables and “brain food”, especially for breakfast and lunch will set you up for the day. It’s important to remain hydrated, too, so try to take a large reusable bottle of water to work so you can keep refreshed. In contrast, fast food, and meals with lots of ultra-processed ingredients can exacerbate existing issues.
Set clear work and life boundaries
Nursing can be emotionally exhausting at times, so you may benefit from setting clear boundaries between your work and personal life, so the former doesn’t start impacting the latter. This mental compartmentation allows you to focus on your family and friends and other interests, passions, and hobbies in your life. It is also key to practicing “mindfulness”, which is a mental state where you simply acknowledge and accept your thoughts and exist in the moment rather than being overly reactive or stressed.
Develop strong relationships
You can also put effort into improving your relationships at work, so you have a support system readily available as and when you need to reduce the likelihood of burnout. Having a couple of colleagues or a manager to talk with about events that have happened during the week will unload your mental burden and make you feel better and more positive about the future. Gerardi also believes nurses should have a close relative they can talk to outside of work if required. These strong interpersonal relationships at work and home can help nurses to better deal with stressful situations.
Get some medium-intensity exercise
Nurses are typically rushed off their feet, so they should regularly reach the recommended goal of 10,000 steps per day, but moderate-intensity exercise is key to long-term physical health. A study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal found those riding a bike for 40 minutes five times each week had lower body fat and blood pressure. Doctors recommend trying to get at least two and a half hours of this sort of exercise per week. If you haven’t got a bike, you could go for a brisk walk, jog or swim, take dance lessons or go hiking or rollerblading.
Physical activity is great for tiring the brain out, so you don’t worry or stress as much about work problems. It can also make you feel better about yourself and give you an energy boost for the day ahead.
Keep up with nursing trends
Focusing on your own personal and professional growth can help you to consider the bigger picture and not get wrapped up in the day-to-day grind of work. Part of this process is keeping up with the latest nursing trends in the healthcare industry. The online RN to Master of Science in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree program offered by Spring Arbor University provides a curriculum that directly addresses these trends. For example, there is a growing awareness of how burnout can affect nurses, which has been cited as the new “epidemic” in a recent academic study. Courses, like the RN to MSN-FNP, now recognize that burnout can hinder job performance and compromise patient safety, so it’s in their best interests to reduce and eliminate it where possible through their education programs.
If you want to shake burnout off and advance your career again, you will be pleased to hear that nurse educators and eldercare specialists are currently in high demand. Registered nurses can return to study at an online university and earn a master’s degree in a subject like Adult-Gerontology to gain the skills to apply for these advanced roles in healthcare. The aging population in the US – around 50m people are aged 65 and over, means there is a growing demand for nurses who can provide the guidance and support elderly patients need.
Seek out therapy and assistance
Nurses are probably well aware of the benefits of counseling services for those struggling through tough periods in their lives. They should also not hesitate to seek out regular therapy and assistance to combat burnout and get back to peak physical and mental fitness. These services are likely to be available through the facility and institution a nurse works for. Registered nurse, Rita Trofino, advises nurses to get in touch with the human resources department to see if there are any assistance programs available for employees.
Write a journal, minimize social media usage
Writing your thoughts down each day is a great way to destress and get everything you are feeling out into the open instead of stewing on it and overthinking certain issues. Seeing a clear list of your worries and issues can help you tackle them head-on and make the changes you need to feel happy, energetic, and fulfilled at work. You could also try to limit your social media usage, as heavy users have a habit of comparing their lives with others and feeling bad about their current lot instead of focusing on things they should be grateful for.
Isolate yourself from negative people
Positive thoughts, vibes, and influences can get a person out of a rut. Conversely, being around people that are generally negative or critical of you can be exhausting over time so try to take a break from any colleagues or acquaintances that are getting you down. Instead, seek out people who are more upbeat and positive. This could be someone you know or an online influencer who publishes blogs and videos. You can also switch your mindset by focusing on positive words and feelings, even if it is hard to begin with.
Consider a sabbatical
If you are in a position to do so, it might be time to ask yourself whether you need to advance your career or try something different to shake you out of your current malaise. Registered nurses could, for example, earn qualifications to become nurse educators, which would allow them to enter different work environments like colleges and universities. Merely taking a month’s leave might be enough to recharge your batteries or book a vacation abroad. What is certain is that as an integral part of the healthcare industry, nurses should be prioritizing self-care to eliminate burnout so they can be happy at home and at work and capable of providing the care patients need.