Preventing Nursing Burnout

by Howard Gerber on April 11, 2013

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It can happen to the best of nurses, and even to nurses who once loved their jobs. You may not even recognize the signs at first, but it can take its toll, leave you drained and even compromise your ability to do your job well. The problem is burnout. Career burnout can happen in any field, but people in medical careers are especially at risk.

Why Burnout Happens

Nurses may experience burnout for a variety of reasons. Caring for people who are ill and suffering is demanding in several ways. Nurses care for sick patients and deal with life or death issues on a daily basis. Usually people who go into nursing are very compassionate. While compassion is a positive trait for a nurse, it can be difficult to watch patients and family members deal with tragedies and pain.

Staffing may play a big role in whether a nurse develops burnout. Think about the last shift you worked. If staffing was good, you had time to devote to each patient and do your job well. If you were short staffed, you might have felt like you were rushing through tasks and not performing your job as well as you wanted.

Although emotional issues often lead to burnout, physical demands can also be difficult. Nurses don’t always work an eight hour day. Many hospitals require 12 hour shifts. Nurses may also have to work overnight shifts or rotate between day and night shifts, which is draining.

Recognizing Symptoms

Symptoms of burnout may sneak up on you, and you may not even realize what is happening at first. Although not everyone will experience all symptoms, typical signs of burnout include the following:

  • Fatigue: One common sign of burnout is always being tired or feeling like you never have any energy.
  • Lack of compassion: Although you may once have had a lot of compassion for your patients, you may start to be more insensitive or may have become cynical.
  • You dread going to work: Everyone has days when they don’t feel like heading into to work, but if you are starting to dread going to work on a regular basis, it may be a sign of burnout.
  • Depression: Feeling depressed, even if you can’t pinpoint why, may also be a symptom of burnout.

Prevention

There are several things you can do in order to reduce your chances of becoming burned out during your nursing career. One the biggest things you can do is learn ways to reduce stress. Whether you enjoy exercising, reading, massages or going to the movies, finding activities, which are fun and decrease stress is essential.

It is also important to talk about how you feel. If you are starting to feel stressed or underappreciated at the job, talk about it with your manager, co-workers or a friend. Sometimes just venting and getting it out there can help. If feelings persist consider professional help, such as a counselor. Some hospitals also have employee assistance programs to help their staff cope with difficulties both on and off the job. 

Lastly, it is critical to take care of yourself. Living a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in reducing stress and career burnout. Eat healthy, get exercise, spend time with friends, and get enough rest.

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