Everyone experiences stress at some stage in their life, but intense stress experienced regularly for a long period of time can cause emotional exhaustion and probably total disengagement from life and society. In a nutshell: burnout. Due to the nature of the nursing profession which is inherently stressful, burnout manifests itself and many nurses experience this feeling of burnout because of the rigor and intensity of their work and lifestyle. Nursing burnout is a reality but it doesn’t have to take over your life.

What exactly is nursing burnout?
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National Nurses United classifies burnout as physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Stress tends to be characterized by ‘over-engagement’; burnout on the other side is characterized by disengagement. It can make you feel numb and emotionless and ultimately detached from the world. You lack the motivation you used to have, and you feel hopeless because you are unable to function at your normal level. Some days, it is just too much effort to face the day. If burnout is having this effect on the nurses, it will no doubt impact on the level of care that the patient is receiving. It stands to reason that a hospital with high burnout rates amongst staff tends to have lower patient satisfaction, and this then impacts on the overall performance ratings of the hospital. It has even been linked to a higher infection rate in patients as found by a study from the American Journal of Infection Control.

Why do nurses burnout?

Instead of one main cause of burnout, there are many contributing factors. Here are a few of the usual contributors:

  1. Long Shifts

Long shifts remain a source of fatigue for nurses. Nurses are always in demand, and when there are staff shortages, they are expected to step in and compensate for this. Then there is the small matter of overtime, and leaving a little later than the actual shift ends. This is because hand-overs are not always cut and dried.

Nurses have the option of working for longer periods of time per day, but for fewer days in the week. These 12-hour shifts can take their toll and result in greater fatigue and an increased chance of error.

  1. Nurses always put others before themselves.

Nurses are known for their selflessness. In the pursuit of caring for others, nurses forget to take care of themselves. This passion to care for others with less focus on themselves makes them susceptible to stress and burnout.

A routine of caring for patients, raising a family and working long, frenetic hours, nurses often neglect their own needs. Fatigue escalates, and the result is burnout.

  1. A busy, high-stress environment

The last 15 years have seen so many technological advancements, and the responsibilities of nurses have certainly increased over the past 15 because of this. Like with any profession, nurses often feel overwhelmed by new technology and documentation requirements. Most hospitals are short staffed, and this puts added pressure on those nurses who are there. All this makes for hectic days, and possibly even a sense of being out of control extensive workload has the potential to cause nurses to feel overwhelmed and at a loss of control.

  1. Dealing with sickness & death

Nurses are dealing with sick people every day and emotions run high, especially when a patient is there for an extended time. Nurses grow attached to their patients, but the reality is that not all of the patients recover. Nurses are faced with death more than the ordinary person, and they mostly do not have the time to decompress before they face the same, all over again.

How can you avoid nursing burnout?

Nursing burnout may affect some nurses, but it doesn’t have to be every nurse’s inevitable destiny. If you are aware of your own wellbeing and energy levels, you will know when to apply the brakes. There are some strategies that you can put in place to prevent burnout from robbing you of fuel.

  1. Set boundaries

Learn to say no. This is essential if you are to look at your own wellness and avoid nursing burnout. Set yourself firm perimeters for your work and social commitments, and stick with them. One of the first pitfalls is overextending yourself.

  1. Process your emotions

Debriefing is a valuable ‘out’ especially after a difficult day at work. There will be one of your friends who is a good listener. It is not even about getting advice, it is more to just vent and share some of the emotional load. Try also to leave work-stuff at work. Where it belongs. Taking emotional baggage home will interrupt your home routine and wreak havoc with your much-needed sleep patterns. For tougher stuff, consider talking it out with a therapist or loved one, suggests Nurse Together.

  1. Put yourself first

You owe it to yourself to make time every day for yourself. If you want to function at your best level, your mental health must be a priority. Relax, listen to music, take a walk. But do something that you enjoy. And get a good night’s rest. Sleep-deprivation is a common factor which contributes to burnout.

  1. Manage your stress

If you are feeling stressed, don’t ignore it. It won’t go away on its own. Rather, put measures in place to change the situation that is causing you stress. Control your outlook by staying away from those situations which add to your stress. Stay positive and be deliberate in your actions.

  1. There is comfort in creativity.

In your free time, it is sometimes good to keep your hands busy. Re-kindle an old hobby. Try your hand at painting, or write your own blog. There are some hospitals that are already implementing creative arts programs to boost staff morale and keep nursing burnout at bay.

Protect your passion

Don’t just accept that burnout is something that happens to nurses. It doesn’t have to be your fate. It is about being mindful of yourself and your own needs and not just the needs of the patient. Burnout can be prevented. Use these strategies to preserve your passion for nursing and maintain your wellbeing.
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