Did you know the number one career path known to cause burnout is medicine? Yes – and this includes nurses. Being a hero on the front lines is noble and sounds glamorous, but this work is NOT for the faint of heart! In fact, according to Forbes, 33% of nurses in the US are burned out due to high workloads and ever-increasing demands. 34% of emergency department staff are burnt out as well. That is a lot of clinical folks that aren’t enjoying or looking forward to their workdays anymore. Whether this is you right now, or you just want to make sure you don’t join the ranks of the burned out, keep reading for some insight and tips.
What Does it Mean to be Burned Out?
Nursing burnout (or any field) is characterized by more than just having a bad day, or even a bad week. It is defined as “emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.” Burnout bleeds over into other areas of nurse’s lives besides work hours. It impacts personal lives, relationships, leads to mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and contributes to physical health problems as well.
Burnout is serious stuff. It doesn’t just go away, either. Nurses sometimes find that a change of scenery is the key – a new position, a new shift, etc. Some even change specialties all together or go back to school. Studies also show that over half a million registered nurses have already left the profession, nationwide. Many of them cited factors such as high workloads, staff shortages, and emotional exhaustion as contributors to their decision to leave.
Do you think you might be teetering on the edge of burnout? Take this quiz from mindtools to help focus your thoughts and assess yourself.
I Don’t Have Time for Self-Care!
Ok, first of all – self-care is not like shaving your legs. You can wear pants for a while until you have time to take care of it. It WILL catch up with you sooner or later. So, what is self-care? And why aren’t nurses any good at it? Because they don’t have time. At least, that is the most frequently used excuse!
Nurses care. A lot. For other people. This doesn’t make us particularly good at putting ourselves first. It is a quite common trait of nurses and other medical professionals everywhere. We can counsel patients on diet, backed up by all sorts of information, but then not eat all day and pick up fast food on the way home. (I’m talking to you!)
Self-care looks a little different for everyone, although the core principles are the same. It is a set of activities, practices, or habits that you do regularly to help decrease stress levels and positively impact your health. ALL areas of your health. Remember those care plans? Vaguely? Do one on yourself.
In 2012, a survey of nurses revealed that 71% of them experienced musculoskeletal pain, and another 18% of them experienced depression. Furthermore – all that effort that they put into the job, while neglecting themselves, can really backfire. In this crazy time of COVID, you can bet these numbers have not improved.
This same study showed that nurses who aren’t caring for themselves have higher patient falls, medication errors, and lower quality of care scores.
Neglecting yourself hurts not only you, but your patients – this is not something that is ever easy to hear!
Since we are on the subject, stress also contributes to chronic disease. You know the science – the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol build up in your system and can lead to diabetes, hypertension, lowered immune function, and chronic fatigue.
Take a look at nursing social media groups or forums and you will see countless stories of staffing nightmares, high acuity patients, and the needs go on. It is easy to get caught up in negativity, and I would bet that is NOT the reason you went into nursing! I’m sure You had an idea of what you wanted to accomplish, and you genuinely wanted to help people. But all is not lost – you CAN regain some control of your reactions, your attitude, and find those positive moments.
Resilience and Nursing
Resilience, a topic that has been researched even more lately. What makes some people seemingly impervious to stress, and others on the verge of a breakdown? What makes some people thrive on busy-ness, and others have a meltdown? What makes some people stick with it, while others leave? Resilience. Ok – but how do you get it?
Resilience is the ability to adapt to your surroundings. To persevere and come out better for it, with personal growth to boot. Guess what one of the key parts of resilience is? Self-care!
Psychologists list key areas to build resilience and foster wellness, such as:
- Prioritize relationships – family, friends, people that get you.
- Joining a group – civic group, church, knitting circle – whatever captures your interest!
- Take care of your body – sleep, hydration, nutrition.
- Practice mindfulness – journaling, yoga, meditation, prayer. Restore your hope and positive outlook.
- Avoid negative outlets – alcohol, drugs, fast food – whatever your vice is, it is just a band aid.
- Help others – you may think you have this one down but try a new way other than the sick. Spend time with an elder or a child or pick up trash at the beach. Whatever is new and gives you purpose.
- Be proactive – set yourself up for success by being prepared for obstacles and difficulties. Think through them ahead of time by asking yourself “what will happen, if…..”
- Move towards your goals – write them down! Hang them on the wall! Even a small step is progress.
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Try something new. Get out of your comfort zone.
- Embrace healthy thoughts – keep things in perspective. No mountains out of molehills allowed here.
- Accept change – even if it hurts! Learn to look forward to new experiences and minimize judgement.
- Maintain a hopeful outlook – Avoid negative people like the plague! Nobody needs that. Don’t be tempted to join in.
- Learn from the past – what worked or didn’t work? What habits have you gotten away from that you would like to do?
Maybe I Do have Time – So, How do I Start?
How do you protect your nursing mojo, motivate yourself, and give yourself a break during these trying times? It’s not easy, but it IS possible! Create your own brand of resilience, positivity, and nursing superpower by keeping yourself in tip-top shape. Taking into account the tips for resilience above, let’s examine the key areas of self-care and how we can relate them specifically to nursing.
This does not mean re-living your day over and over in your head. It means exercising your brain in positive ways.
- Find a CEU that captures your interest.
- Go to a museum or nature center.
- Listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Even if it is on the way to and from work.
- Use those paid seminar days and go to a conference – out of town.
We know you walk miles up and down the halls – but these steps aren’t all the activity you need. You also need strength training to protect your back and legs, and proper nutrition, and sleep…….sleep…….
- Find a class you enjoy – Zumba, martial arts, yoga – there are many options.
- Schedule a massage or spa day
- Take a nap! The dishes will wait.
- Order groceries delivered or to pickup (Save time), and pack healthy choices in that nurse bag. You won’t be as tempted by the cafeteria burger and fries.
- Find family exercises – biking, hiking, or just hanging out doing yard work.
This one is so hard. Nothing really prepares you for this aspect of the job. The COVID pandemic and other disasters have especially taught us that. Talk about them, don’t try to be tough and hold everything in. It’s ok to be sad, mad, heartbroken.
- Humor – it seems contradictory, but discrete (and often inappropriate) humor has been a nursing coping mechanism for many years. Use it judiciously.
- Remember to smile at people in the hallways.
- Step outside into the fresh air for a moment and breathe.
- Listen to music that uplifts you on your off time.
- Watch nostalgic shows that remind you of good times. Golden Girls anyone?
- Plan a vacation. You will get to take it someday!
Religion, nature, meditation, poetry – whatever your definition of spirituality is, do not neglect it as part of your daily life.
- Unplug – it’s hard to be spiritual with notifications rolling in. Make space in your mind.
- Keep a journal – whether you focus on gratitude, a Bible devotional study, or just writing down your feelings, this is a very therapeutic activity.
- Declutter your space and create a place of retreat. Your bedroom, sofa, whatever you need to clear your mind.
Sometimes the last thing you want at the end of the day is to be around more people. Scheduling time to be with YOUR people when you are recharged and ready to connect is important.
- Schedule a lunch date every month with a friend
- Remember coworkers’ birthdays and bring a treat or a card.
- Take a road trip for your weekend off with your family or friends. See some new places.
- Plan a date night with your significant other – or better yet, let him/her plan it!
Take time to remember the “you” that you were before nursing. Don’t neglect the things that are uniquely you, honoring your quirks and personality.
- Get your hair and nails (or toenails) done.
- Wear the funky shoes, socks, earrings, or hairstyle!
- Add adventure to your life – whatever that looks like. New hobby, new foods, meeting new people.
Most nurses don’t like to go to the doctor. There, we said it. Do it! Take your own advice.
- Preventative care – do not neglect your mammograms, prostate checks, colonoscopies, etc. You know they save lives – yours’ is important, too!
- Know your health numbers – B/P, BMI, and lab values. And not stuff you checked at work – your doctor needs to know as well.
- Tobacco Cessation – you have been witness to the effects of smoking in your patients. If you do nothing else, tackle this one. Your family will thank you!
- Buy good shoes and compression socks. Varicose veins are real – and painful. It may not be on your radar at 25, but at 40 it will be. Protect your future self.
- Take care of your back. If you get an injury, report it, and see a provider. Lift properly, use the equipment provided. We all thought we were super nurses back in the day – turns out, we aren’t exempt from injury!
Time to Plan!
Grab your favorite coffee or drink and a notebook – and make a plan! Put some thought into each of these categories, the priorities in your life, and how you can better balance the parts of your life through self-care. It is not enough to simply select some activities – go one step further and mark it on your calendar, make the reservation, order the healthy food, or book the exercise class.
The world needs healthy, strong nurses and you deserve to be cared for and happy. You can do it!