What Causes Nurse Burnout, and How Do You Prevent It?

Professional burnout is not limited to nursing, but it cannot be denied that nurses experience this burnout on a particularly painful level. With a job as demanding physically, emotionally, and spiritually as nursing, it’s impossible not to experience at least some level of burnout, whether that’s after months, years, or decades in the field.

The very nature of the job requires that nurses care a lot. Sometimes too much. If a nurse becomes overwhelmed by their desire to help each and every patient, they can experience the painful effects that burnout can have – fatigue, body pain, and poor health in general.

If you are just starting out in nursing and want to prevent burnout, or if you’re on the way to experiencing it already, keep reading for some great tips on how to avoid or stop nurse burnout.

Take Account of Your Feelings

It can be easy to get caught up in the work as a nurse. You have patients and paperwork to attend to, immunizations to give and IVs to fill. It’s likely that you aren’t really taking any time to take stock of what is going on emotionally. This is to be expected because the workday is long and excruciatingly busy. And when you go home, you probably opt for a quick meal, a glass of wine, a shower, and bed.

We know that nursing is busy and overwhelming and that you are constantly worried about patients, coworkers, and bosses. However, you occasionally need to worry about yourself as well. In a growing trend, mindfulness has become a mainstream way of looking at the world and it can offer a lot of benefits to nurses. Each day make sure you take time to yourself, where you can be alone in a quiet space, and pay attention to how your body and mind feel. It’ll be easy to identify the physical elements – throbbing feet, sore knees, headache – but practice on paying attention to your feelings. Are you stressed? Anxious? Neutral? By taking account of your emotions each day, you can then begin to make connections between those and what caused them. This will, in turn, make you more ready to tackle those feelings as they arise and know what to say “no” to at work.

Remember the Positive

After a long day at the hospital where you’ve dealt with difficult patients and even more difficult coworkers, it can be hard to remember why you got into nursing in the first place. In those moments of being overwhelmed, remembering the positive can seem truly impossible. However, if you can isolate the reasons you got into nursing, you’ll better be able to focus on that and make the best of your day. For example, if you got into nursing because you love learning about health and the human body, make sure to learn a little bit each day, whether at work or in your own studies at home. If you love meeting and talking with different people, make that the focus of your shift and try to enjoy being with your patients.

Take a Break

It is really simple to get caught up in the work of the day. In a field where tasks never stop coming, you may find that you don’t have a moment to yourself. While you may feel productive and useful, this is not sustainable. You should be taking short, regular breaks during your shift, no exceptions. A five-minute walk outside will do you good with fresh air, and even though it might feel selfish, no one is going to miss you for that short amount of time. Plus, you’re going to feel refreshed and jump right back into work. The same goes for a coffee or snack break. When you go on break, really take that time to yourself to relax and let your mind wander away from the paperwork that’s waiting for you. This is also a good time to practice some mindfulness and take account of your feelings.

You should also consider taking a longer break. Instead of hoarding your vacation days, use them up! That’s what they’re there for! Take the time to get away from the job – physically and mentally. Go to a place that you enjoy and bring along an activity you like doing – reading, knitting, playing soccer, whatever it is, make sure it’s something that will get you a bit out of your own head for a while. You’ll then be able to return to work refreshed and with a clear head.

Stay Healthy

The effects of burnout will hit you harder if you aren’t taking care of your own health. As a nurse, it’s easy to put everyone else’s health as a higher priority than your own, but remember that you can’t help anyone if you are unwell. Instead, try to take care of yourself physically. This means making sure you are eating healthily and getting enough water every day. We know this is tough because there isn’t a lot of free time in the day, and whatever time you do have you don’t want to be spending slaving over the stove every evening. If you want to avoid burnout, try these following health tips:

  • Meal prep – prepare a few meals on your day off that you can take to work with you to ensure that you’re getting nutrients you need.
  • Avoid fast food and vending machines – these foods may be there for you in a crunch, but they’ll do nothing to prevent you from getting tired.
  • Stay hydrated – avoid sodas and energy drinks and instead opt for water or unsweetened coffee or tea.
  • Exercise – make time each day for 30 minutes of exercise. Being on your feet all day at work is tiring, but it doesn’t count as exercise! Get the heart rate up after work with hot yoga, cycling, or a brisk walk.

Get a Hobby

Nursing is a job that can consume your mind. You’re constantly thinking about patients and paperwork and how your new boss is a jerk. Take time to yourself each day to do an activity that requires your attention. This will prevent your thoughts from wandering back to work, which can lead to definite burnout. Reading, woodcarving, painting figurines, gaming – it doesn’t matter what the activity is, just as long as it gets you out of your own head for a bit and away from work.

Published on