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Nurse Burnout: Causes, Symptoms and Tips To Overcome It

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At this point in the pandemic timeline, most everyone has experienced a little bit of professional or emotional exhaustion. If you work in healthcare or as a registered nurse, that exhaustion is most likely more than a little. Perhaps it’s the worst you’ve ever experienced.

More often than not, you may find yourself worn down, not sleeping well, or feeling irritable at minor things in your work environment. If it’s severe enough, this general weariness could verge on burnout and affect how you administer critical care. Sure, you love what you do, but even nurses need downtime. 

If you’re worried about burnout or want to know how to prevent burnout, read on as we discuss the leading causes and how to recognize them. We’ve also included a few tips on keeping yourself resilient to burnout.

What does having nurse burnout mean?

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In the healthcare system, nurse burnout is sometimes called “compassion fatigue.” It can manifest as exhaustion in all areas of your life: job dissatisfaction, an unregulated sense of constant frustration, reduced well-being and a lack of motivation to help others in need.

This chronic physical, mental and emotional exhaustion can cause severe issues in a healthcare setting, whether it’s in the emergency department of a hospital or not. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your patients. In a high-stress environment like nursing, this puts other lives at risk. As a nurse, that’s the last thing you want.

Unfortunately, according to statistics, there are no signs of burnout slowing, thanks to the stressful environment created by COVID-19. That goes for new nurses and veteran nurses alike.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to avoid burnout—all levels of burnout—at all costs. Why? First of all, for your own health: burnout often translates into stress, which can severely impact your physical and mental well-being. But also, for the welfare of others: if enough nurses succumb to burnout and quit their job, this can cause a staffing shortage. In a system already stretched to the max by the coronavirus, this puts more strain on healthcare workers. And let’s face it, the last thing we need right now is a nursing shortage.

What causes nurse burnout?

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Stress in nursing can sometimes be caused by something specific. More often than not, however, if you experience burnout, it’s a combination of several factors spread out over an extended period.  

Not enough sleep

A lack of sleep can result due to long hours or a disrupted sleep schedule caused by irregular shifts. When you suffer sleep deprivation for months on end, it can have a severe and detrimental effect on your health and decision-making process, decreasing your ability to focus on intensive care activities.

Working too many hours

Even if you love your job (and we believe nurses do), you need a healthy work-life balance. You require time to destress or spend time with your family and friends so that you can avoid burnout syndrome. Long hours can lead to this, as they erode personal boundaries.

A high-stress environment

Everyone has a baseline level of stress that they can tolerate. On top of that, healthcare workers like yourself are trained to deal with stressful situations regularly. That said, everyone has their breaking point. If it continues for long enough, operating in a constantly stressful environment can eventually bring you face-to-face with burnout.

Lack of assistance

Workplace communication is essential. Without it, you can feel like your supervisors and coworkers are not hearing your concerns as a care nurse. This can sometimes translate into a lack of assistance or teamwork from upper management, supervisors or coworkers. 

Cue the frustration that follows, along with a higher turnover rate.

A toxic workplace

You would hope that healthcare professionals would know not to bully their peers in a workplace environment. Unfortunately, workplace bullying can happen in a healthcare setting among nursing staff, too. These toxic dynamics can wreak havoc on a person’s mental or physical health and significantly affect their sense of self-esteem.

General frustration

Sometimes it’s not one big thing. Instead, several minor issues add up over time to create a general sense of anger and frustration.

A staff shortage

Staff shortages lead to longer working hours, which in turn leads to less sleep, which leads to a tense workplace environment that’s less resilient to outside stressors. The result is a reduced quality of patient care and your personal health suffers, too.

Symptoms of nurse burnout

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If you’ve ever felt the effects of nurse burnout before, you’ll know all too well it doesn’t feel like chronic exhaustion. Getting a full night’s sleep does nothing; your mood fluctuates for the worse, or your brain feels like it’s in a fog.

While you may not be able to put a name on it at first, there are some common symptoms of burnout. Those symptoms can act as a warning sign for when you’re stretching yourself too thin. 

Feeling exhausted

No matter how much you sleep or how much coffee you drink, you feel lethargic and sluggish.

Anxiety and depression

Working in a stressful situation can cause emotional turmoil, but with anxiety and depression, that turmoil escalates. It can be tied to something specific, like the job itself, or it may be a more general sense of malaise that prevents you from finding joy.

Illness

Sometimes, burnout can manifest itself as a physical illness.

Lack of excitement regarding work

Did you enjoy nursing at one time, and now you couldn’t care less about it? Do you suddenly not care what happens to your patients? This can be a sign of burnout.

Feeling emotionally drained

Find yourself emotionally exhausted and unable to muster the energy to connect with others, or lacking in empathy? This could be yet another red flag that burnout is beginning to affect you.

Loss of appetite

Prolonged stress can sometimes cause changes in eating behaviors or a loss of appetite.

Powerful tips to overcome or prevent nurse burnout

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Of course, dealing with acute burnout is a long, multi-step process. If you’re a nurse, we know you know this; to say “do this one step” wouldn’t take the complexity of your situation into account. We’d also be remiss by not admitting upfront that the situation sometimes needs to change. Unfortunately, the problem can’t always be changed immediately. 

However, if you’re trying to manage the early stages of burnout or want to practice mindfulness and recognize that you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some tips to keep things manageable.

Set boundaries, especially between your work and home life

Be firm in preventing your work from following you home once you’re finally off the clock. Allow yourself that safe space to mentally and physically recharge, whether it’s by yourself or with your family.

Sleep well, and enough

Sometimes, finding enough sleep can be difficult. By going to sleep at a particular time each night, that sleep schedule will turn into a routine. 

Take care of your physical and mental health

This means diving into the low-stress self-care routines, whenever and wherever you can. Yoga, stretching exercises, relaxing walks, you name it; even just curling up in a super soft blanket to watch some TV. Engage in activities that allow you to shut off your brain from work and enjoy yourself.

It can also mean buying the supplies you need to keep your health in better shape at work too, such as an extra comfortable set of women’s scrubs or men’s scrubs that will make your extra long shift a bit more bearable. 

Take some time off work

The ability to take time off work will vary depending on the staffing situation at your workplace. Sometimes, however, when burnout is terrible, a break is just what the doctor ordered to lower your stress levels. 

Evaluate other nursing specialties

If you see no sign of your level of job satisfaction improving, it may be time to look for other employment options. Remember, you need to take care of yourself to take care of your patients.For some more ideas on how to treat yourself to some much-needed rest and relaxation, check out our list of nurses’ gifts. A Jaanuu gift card is never a bad idea, either.

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