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How to avoid becoming a ‘burned out’ nurse

After nearly 26 years as an RN, I can tell you a few things about ‘burnout’. As nurses, we are constantly faced with life and death situations that can dangerously raise our stress level, and leave us feeling tired, discouraged, unhappy, and in some cases, unhealthy. Whether a nurse works in a large metropolitan hospital, a small outlying clinic, or a doctor’s office, each day is a mixture of highs and lows, and many leave after a 12, 13 or 14 hour day wondering ‘did I do enough for my patients today?’. Many days even bring thoughts of ‘do I really want to do this for the rest of my career?’. Add to it the constant pressure to do more with less help that is the trend in these money conscious days, and it is no wonder nurses suffer from ‘burnout’. Over the years, I have discovered some tools for avoiding stress that have worked for me (I have worked in a very intense cardiovascular step down unit for over 10 years), and would like to share them.

The first, and I believe most important, tool to avoid burnout is : Know your limits and stick to them. There is so much to do for each patient in a day, and if you have 5 or more patients, it is physically and practically impossible to do everything that needs to be done. Remind yourself that nursing is a team effort, there will be another nurse to share care of the patient with you (if you work shifts). Prioritize, make a list at work, and try and stick as closely to the list as possible. While I completely understand that this does not take into consideration all the little glitches in a normal work day, it at least gives you a guideline for the things you wish to accomplish. Y

Number two on my list is to: ‘leave it at the time clock’. When I worked night shift, I can’t tell you how many late night phone calls I got from coworkers concerned that something wasn’t done. I made some of those calls myself. If it is extremely urgent or a possible dangerous omission, then by all means call. But chances are, your colleague has already discovered it and taken care of it. Do not go home and try to think of things you didn’t do. If you have to think about it, it is probably something that could wait anyway.

Number three on the list: enjoy your family and home time, and do not take your work home with you. Sometimes it might be that you need to talk to your spouse or significant other about your day, but most of the time, as I can guarantee from personal experience, they do not want to hear about how many IV’s you had to start, how many times someone threw up on you, or any other details that make up a typical nurses work day. Have a meal, relax and enjoy your life outside the crush of work.

And lastly on the list: have some ‘you’ time. Have a latte, read a book, meditate or pray, take a long bubble bath, have a glass of wine. Anything you enjoy to relieve the stress of the day. And on your days off, do what ever you like without thinking like a nurse!

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