Tips for Combatting Nurse Burnout

I remember learning about lots of things in nursing school. Care plans. Nursing assessment. Prioritization. Pharmacology. ADLs. Even the proper way to make a bed (military corners, anyone?)

Probably the most important lesson that I didn’t heed was preventing nurse burnout. After all, I went into nursing to help people. Burnout? That wouldn’t happen to me!

I began my nursing career as an LPN working night shift on a telemetry unit; I spent five years working on this unit while I obtained my RN and then gained further experience. I worked another year on the same unit on day shift.

After six years on the telemetry unit, often as the code nurse and charge nurse, I began to note changes in myself. I was rundown—sick much of the time, snapping at my boyfriend, friends, and family, and my migraines were out of control. I was no longer happy—I even questioned my decision to become a nurse.

I reached a turning point when I had tonsillitis several times and had to have a tonsillectomy. I’m not sure if I could blame it on my job and my stress level, but I knew that it was time for a change.

Because that “burnout” that my nursing instructors had talked about? I finally figured out it is a real thing—and it is not pretty.

My fellow nurses, let me share you what I’ve learned about nursing burnout.

Managing Burnout While Working

Is it possible to manage burnout while working? Yes—to an extent.

Several years ago, I would have said this is a crazy notion. However, I know more now, and I practice extensive self-care when I’m feeling burned out.

If you’re feeling burned out while working, it can be difficult to keep your cool and provide your best care to your patients. Here’s my best tips for managing:

  • Take your breaks. Yes, I realize that this is not always possible. The guy in 42 is having chest pain, while the lady in 47 is in respiratory distress – all while you’re trying to deal with difficult family members. Oh, and your coworker needs help cleaning up a code brown! But if you can take your breaks—and leave your unit for 30 minutes!—you will feel so much better about the care you are providing.
  • Eat healthy food. I know it is so much easier to order takeout with your coworkers, or pick up French fries and cookies in the cafeteria. But when you’re already feeling stressed, cranky, and burned out, these foods are doing you no favors! Fuel yourself with healthier options (I don’t need to give you a lesson on healthy foods—we’re all medical professionals, right?) and you’re bound to feel better.
  • Ask for help—and delegate. Part of our problem is our perception that we must do it all, and do it alone. This is completely false. If you’re struggling to keep up with your work, ask for help from your coworkers. Delegate tasks to others if you are able to (we learn about delegation in nursing school for a reason!) And – return the favor! When your coworkers ask for help and you’re in the position to help, lend a helping hand!

Managing Burnout in General

However, most of the “healing” of nursing burnout will occur outside of work. Remember how I used the term “self-care”? Performing radical self-care when you’re not at work will help your performance when you are at work.

So if you’re feeling stressed, angry, annoyed, and anxious daily at work—and after work—it’s time to begin to feel better! Here’s my best tips, from an RN who’s been there:

  • Get moving. How many times do we tell our patients to get active? Do we follow our own advice? Many of us do not get enough exercise. We use our busy jobs as an excuse—after all, we’re on our feet for eight to twelve (or more!) hours per day, caring for our patients. Who has time to exercise. Guess what? You do! Your mental health depends on it! If you already have an exercise routine, perhaps it is time to switch it up. I do a lot of yoga (and love it so much that I even became a certified instructor!) and I walk several days each week.
  • Schedule some pampering. What sounds relaxing to you? Maybe a massage, a manicure and pedicure, a long-overdue haircut, a facial…or all of the above! Pick up your phone and make an appointment. Invest in yourself and enjoy that appointment. Even better if you make it a standing date with yourself!
  • Meditate. I know meditation has become quite the buzzword these days, and for good reason—it makes you feel amazing. Meditation can be difficult—after all, the goal of meditation is to quiet the mind. There are many apps that can help. One of my favorites is Insight Timer because it is completely free and it is available for Android and iOS. This app (or any app with guided meditations) will guide you through the basics of meditation. Pop in your headphones and you can even do a guided meditation at work on your lunchbreak!
  • Talk. Talk to anyone—a favorite coworker, your significant other, your best friend, a family member, a therapist. It doesn’t matter who. Just talk. And talk some more. Get your feelings out.
  • Write. Of course I’d suggest journaling because I’m a writer, but journaling is a powerful tool. For me, I use journaling to air all my negative feelings. But I also write down what I am grateful for each day, which helps me remember why I went into nursing in the first place—very empowering on tough days.

And if all of this advice fails and you are still feeling stuck, stressed, and burned out? You are not stuck. The beautiful thing about nursing is that there are so many different options—you have the choice to try something new. Since I fell flat on my face, on a unit that felt so right at first, I have been in two different jobs. I now work in diabetes education and I think I have found my niche—but even in a job I love, I sometimes feel burned out at times, and have to employ my own advice!

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