Nurse burnout is a real and growing problem within the U.S. healthcare system due in part to long hours, increased responsibilities and low pay.
We’ve all heard the statistics that RNs are leaving the profession at an alarming rate largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent ramifications of that, resulting in increased rates of burnout. In fact, The International Council of Nurses warned that there could be a shortage of 13 million nurses by 2030.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, we encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional and/or click here for some mental health resources that might be beneficial to you.
10 Signs You’re Experiencing Nurse Burnout & 5 Solutions That Aren’t Lame
Signs of Burnout: You’re Having Health Problems
Whether or not you’re aware of it – burnout (aka: intense stress) can have incredible negative effects on your body as a whole. And the way burnout rears its ugly head will be different for everyone. Some of these physical symptoms seem obvious: things like migraines, obesity, or back pain.
But did you know burnout can also look like extreme weight loss? Gastrointestinal issues? Trouble sleeping? Getting sick a lot?
If you’re experiencing physical ailments that you weren’t experiencing a few months or even a few weeks ago – it could be time to consider the effect your job is having on your physical well-being and take some steps to get yourself in better health.
Signs of Burnout: Cognitive Difficulties
Keep in mind – throughout this article – that “nurse burnout” easily translates to “stressed the F out.” And stress can affect basically every part of your body – but research has shown that stress has a huge negative impact on the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that allows you to remember things, make decisions, have control over your emotions, and maintain focus.
Do you find yourself misplacing your keys often, or walking into a room and forgetting why? Bursting into tears for no reason? Feeling a surge of anger at the smallest thing, or making really poor decisions? Chances are – you’re in the midst of nurse burnout.
Signs of Burnout: Declining work and personal relationships
Did you used to pop into your hospital with a little pep in your step, were able to easily get along with everyone, and always kept a positive attitude, but now: not so much?
One sign of burnout is declining work and personal relationships. This can take the form of snapping at others, losing your cool, or getting involved in meaningless work politics. It can also look like withdrawal from all interactions, both personal and professional.
Did you used to socialize with your co-workers both on and off the clock: and now barely ever talk to them? Do you find yourself having to say “sorry” more often than not for little unexplained outbursts? Are you hermit’ing away all your free time – refusing to do anything other than eat, work, sleep? Chances are – you’re experiencing burnout.
Signs of Burnout: Taking Work Home
Another sign of burnout is not being able to let go of the job when you leave work. Are you laying in bed at night worried about whether or not you charted correctly, gave the wrong dosage, forgot to check on a patient?
When you can’t stop thinking about your job, even when you’re not at said job: this could be a sign of burnout.
Signs of Burnout: Fatigue
Do you feel tired when you wake up even though you got plenty of sleep? Do you feel like you need large amounts of caffeine to make it through the day? These can also be signs of burnout – because being constantly stressed to the max is exhausting.
Signs of Burnout: Negativity
Do you feel like you used to be a pretty positive person? But now, you find yourself struggling to find the light at the end of any well-lit tunnel?
Do you feel like you’re focused on the negative possibilities rather than the positive? Do you feel like you’re a bit ‘judgy’? Cynical? These too – are all symptoms of burnout.
Signs of Burnout: Not Satisfied
Do you feel a growing lack of satisfaction in not only your job, but in your personal life as well? Do those activities you used to do, that brought you joy, no longer satisfy? Do the people around you that used to fill you up – make you feel depleted, even upon the simplest interaction?
These are all signs of burnout.
Signs of Burnout: Lack of Motivation
When you started your current job (or assignment) do you have big dreams of progressing your career, perhaps getting a MSN or traveling to parts of the country you may have never been. Or was more simple than that – and you just were on a personal mission to make every patient feel as well taken care of as humanly possible. Have those dreams, desires, goals – slowly disappeared over time?
Every job will have a honeymoon phase – but if you’ve done a 180 and have no desire to do anything other than the bare minimum – this could be a sign of burnout.
Signs of Burnout: Decreasing Performance
Chances are, if you are experiencing burnout, it’s likely because you’re a high performer – who’s always gone above and beyond the call of duty. Work extra hours? Check. Take on another patient or two? Check. Call your floor supervisor to check-in on your days off? Double Check.
It can be the case that high performers will burn at a level that is not sustainable, making high performers more susceptible to burnout.
If you’re a high performer – it’s also very likely that no one will notice if you start to slack a little – so these are the questions you will need to ask yourself. Am I performing at the same level I was a month ago? 6 months ago? A year ago? Was that performance level realistic – and should I reasonably be able to maintain it? If the answer is yes and yes – chances are – you’re experiencing burnout.
Signs of Burnout: Declining or Non-existent Self-Care
Because burnout will affect so many aspects of who you are as a human being, such as lowering your confidence or decreasing your motivation – burnout can also show up as a total absence of self-care.
This can look like eating fast-food every night, spending your days off on the couch with nothing other than a remote control, not giving yourself any “me” time (away from your familial responsibilities), drinking 1, 2, 3 (or more) glasses of wine every single night, or abusing prescription and nonprescription drugs?
All signs of burnout.
Five “Not Lame” things you can do to combat Nurse Burnout
We’ve all heard of all the “great” things we can do to combat stress (aka: burnout) but quite honestly – many of them seem lame and not realistic for a working nurse who has responsibilities outside their job.
Here are some realistic things you can do to invite a little “self-care” into your life:
Yep. You read that right. Turn off your phone, get off social media, turn off the TV and disconnect from all technology for specific periods of time.
Allowing yourself to be available and accessible to anyone and everyone at all hours of the day will do the opposite of recharge you. And right now – you need to be recharged. Just like little hiccups on your computer or mobile device are often solved by a reboot – so too – can your body be recharged with a little reboot.
Designate certain hours during the week where you go offline completely. You can even go so far as to let close friends and family know that you’ll be offline and will get back to them at a later time.
Remember the days of voicemail? We weren’t always available 24/7 – and we don’t have to be. Whether it be 7pm-9pm every night – or just short blocks of time on your days off – schedule it in your calendar if you have too – these moments offline will do wonders for your physical and mental health.
Yes. Easier said than done – and no – it can’t be forced – but yes – it can be scheduled.
Find something that makes you feel like you’re breathing for the first time – and do that on a regular basis.
Maybe it’s 30 minutes a day (or every other day) where you read a book, or take a hot bath, take a long walk around your neighborhood, listen to some classical music, meditate, or just lay on your bed sprawled out and stare at the ceiling with no distractions.
Thirty minutes a day – could keep the doctor away.
Just Say No to Sleep Aids
As a nurse you’re probably aware of the power of the brain, the power of sleep, and the relation between the two. While you sleep your brain is busy removing harmful toxins, going through that day’s memories, saving them, deleting them – and any sort of sedation messes up this process and has consequential effects on the quality of your sleep and your ability to rejuvenate.
Sedation can take the form of over-the-counter sleep pills, prescriptions, even alcohol. If you’re serious about getting out of the burnout-out-cycle – it may be time to remove sleep aids from your routine.
Just Say No to Extra Hours
The money might be tempting – who doesn’t want time and a half for working a few hours more – but the consequences are dire. If you’re experiencing burnout, the last thing you want to do is increase the number of hours you’re putting in on the floors. And if you’re a travel nurse – it might actually be a good idea to put a long break in between contracts so that you have time to recharge.
Most travel nurses take between 2 to 4 weeks off between contracts. If this is something you haven’t done yet – it might be time to start!
Take a Step Back
If none of these options work – it might be time to consider your profession as a whole and take a break. If you’re a travel nurse – that’s as easy as not signing that next contract – and taking “me time” for as long as you need. If you’re a staff nurse – consider asking your nurse supervisor for an extended leave of absence. A break might be just the ticket to getting back into the swing of things. Because what’s more important? Your health or your job? Your sanity or your job? Your wellbeing or your job.
Also: if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we highly encourage you to reach out to a mental health professional and/or click here for some mental health resources that might be beneficial to you.
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