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Nurses & burnout

There are times when nurses and other medical personnel feel totally exhausted. Working in a high stress, high trauma environment then having to meet the demands of home and family can leave a person feeling burned out. Studies have shown that career-related depression exists in people-helping professions such as nursing and teaching.

Burnout doesn't necessarily mean it is time for a new career. It can be a sign that nurses don't know how to take care of themselves. Professionals in people-helping professions are most often focused outwardly. They are making sure others are taken care of and often there is no time left for self-care. By learning how to reduce their number of stressors, nurses can minimize burnout and rediscover their passion for nursing.

Determine what's causing your burnout. If it really is your career, then you may want to consider a change. However, if it's other parts of your life, then you should eliminate those stressors instead.

Look at what's negotiable. We can't add hours to the day but we can better utilize the hours there are. Many people say they are so tired after work all they want to do is go to bed or watch TV. It is at those times when it is important to resist those feelings. Physical activity, doing something fun or spending quality time with loved one will make a person feel better. Making a list of things you enjoy can be helpful. Often when we feel burned out we also have difficulty thinking of alternatives to sitting on the couch. Can things be reprioritized so that the extra expense of hiring someone to come in and clean house, for example, will free up some time? Knowing someone is coming every other week to clean frees the mind from much of the anticipated stress of thinking about cleaning.

Would it help to not deal with traffic by riding the bus to work? This would also provide additional time out to read or relax. If you find that you are very popular with friends and family when they need something then it may be time to practice saying the word "no". Those of us who are in people-helping professions often hear the word "yes" spilling off the tongue before there was a chance to think about it. If you don't put yourself first, no one else will.

Think positively. Nurses should focus on the positive things they are able to do for patients, rather than what they aren't able to do. It is important to be able to acknowledge at the end of each workday the things you did well. Challenge co-workers to be able to be supportive of each other. Create opportunities for social outlets outside of work but be sure to avoid spending time talking about work. Learn techniques for clearing your mind and releasing stress. Yoga is a great way to achieve this.

Make sure you work in the right environment. Burnout tends to be minimized in work areas where nurses experience a sense of teamwork, have supportive managers and open communication and don't blame each other.

Monitor your stress; don't practice denial. Don't keep telling yourself things will get better. Actively monitor stress levels and ways to decrease stress. Don't self-medicate with alcohol, ice cream or the Internet. Seek outside support if you don't feel you can accurately determine your stress level.

Develop strong support systems: Be sure to nurture friendships that are healthy outlets. Have quality time with your spouse, partner or significant other. Faith communities are often strong support for individuals. If you work in an area where the mortality rate is high, don't expect yourself to swallow your emotions and move on. Debrief with co-workers or call EAP for a formal debriefing.

Find ways to decompress: Create "me" time for yourself each day. It should be time to catch your breath, relax and regenerate. Take up a hobby or plan time to do your hobby. Physical exercise is very beneficial. Find pleasure in small things.

Pace yourself for the long run. Don't throw yourself 120 percent into your job. Instead, if possible:

  • Take periodic breaks and spread your breaks throughout the day.
  • Get off the unit during break.
  • If you can't get off the unit during break, at least take a mental break. Don't talk about work on break, and don't just sit and eat while you chart.
  • Have a stash of quality, nutritious snack food available and avoid unhealthy snacking.
  • Lock yourself in the bathroom, splash water on your face and breathe deeply for 2 minutes.

Maintain a healthy work/life balance. Some nurses mistakenly base their self-worth on their job performance. In a state of burnout, people think of themselves as indispensable and feel guilty if not "there" for everyone else.

Nurses should schedule enough time for play and realize their jobs are a way to pay bills, not become their life. The more balance that is present in your life the better you will be in the long run and the longer you will be able to practice your profession. Being at-risk: Studies have found that individuals with certain personality traits have a greater risk of burnout.

People are most at risk for burnout if they:

  • Don't know how to say "no" to demands on their time and energy.
  • Assume added responsibility when they are already working at capacity.
  • Consistently sacrifice their personal lives for work.
  • Lack control in their positions.
  • Regularly suppress their emotions.
  • Don't discuss their problems or feelings.
  • Routinely criticize themselves.
  • Have not learned how to manage stress effectively.