Burnout comes in many forms, but what happens when our nurses are experiencing this emotional and physical overwhelm while they are in their careers?
Nurses are constantly around high levels of stress, from patients who are ill or injured to medical emergencies and busy settings.
So, what role does this type of environment play in a person’s emotional and physical well-being?
Over time, the compounding effects of stress can lead to burnout if you are not able to manage and address your stressors. The nursing profession entails stress from many different areas, but there are ways nurses can decompress both while at work and on off days.
How Are Burnout and Compassion Fatigue Different?
Burnout applies to almost any career. It is the ultimate exhaustion from perpetual stress over time.
Though burnout and compassion fatigue share exhaustion as a characteristic, compassion fatigue is slightly different.
Compassion fatigue is more specific to individuals who work in traumatic experiences or patient care, like the nursing profession, and are exposed to many emotional demands that are a lot of responsibility for one person to handle. This type of fatigue can lead a nurse to feel detached and unable to fully empathize with the situation before them.
Compassion fatigue is a sense of tiredness that results from days spent in emotionally taxing situations.
What Causes Nurse Burnout?
Nurse burnout can vary from case to case, but there are a few common triggers.
Large Volume of Patients
It is no secret that there is a nurse shortage right now.
Some nurses are accepting new contracts, others are traveling to different cities and states for higher pay, and others still are leaving the workforce for their own wellbeing.
However, nurse shortages don’t only result from nurses leaving or moving. One reason for the nurse workforce staffing shortage is due to the baby boomer generation that is aging and, as a result, will need more care for illnesses and injuries. This influx of patients calls for more nurses to keep up with the demand.
It has been documented that if a nurse has more than four patients, they are more likely to experience higher rates of burnout due to the workload. Thus, large volumes of patients and issues with staffing can contribute to nurse burnout.
Long Hours & Overtime
Due to the shortage, some nurses work long hours and even accept overtime either because they feel like they have to or do not want to turn down the money.
Nurses that work ten-plus-hour shifts are more likely to experience higher levels of burnout than those who work eight or nine hours per shift.
Department or Specialty
Nurses, in general, work in high stress environments. Departments such as the ICU or end-of-life care can place even more strain on the body and mind.
A nurse deals with multiple variables for each patient, including trauma, which results in multitasking while also maintaining the logistics of the job itself for patient satisfaction.
Lack of Sleep
The long hours and the emotional exhaustion that nurses go through can create irregular sleep patterns or insomnia, even in a positive work environment.
It may be a challenge to get adequate sleep in between shifts, which can contribute to symptoms of burnout.
Emotional exhaustion can happen quickly if nurses don’t have the time to process difficult situations between shifts.
Dealing with the highs and lows at work can be rewarding, but it is also a lot for the human psyche to manage.
Lack of Support or Resources
The atmosphere and teamwork at work are everything, especially if everyone is in crisis management mode.
If managers and leaders can hold a strong foundation for their staff, that can set the building blocks for a successful department and more job satisfaction.
If healthcare professionals feel unequipped to perform their job due to a lack of resources, this can contribute to workplace stress and burnout by making each job more difficult.
How Can Nurse Empowerment Aid With Burnout?
When nurses feel more empowered in the workplace, it may help ward off burnout by boosting workplace morale and confidence.
Here are just a few ways that nurses can feel more empowered at work.
Since nurses are on the ground floor, it is vital that they have a role in the decision making in their organization. Bedside nurses can even express when a policy needs to change, allowing them to make a difference.
Regardless of the career, when we feel our managers are confident in our abilities to perform job tasks, it helps alleviate doubts or concerns we may have about our capabilities.
This confidence allows an employee to relax a bit more and perform better because they know their leaders believe in them.
Provide Abundance of Resources
Do you have the proper materials and supplies needed during your shift? Are they easy to access?
If you could use some emotional support, are there mental health professionals provided through wor? Are there learning opportunities that make sure you are up to date on the latest technologies?
These areas of the workplace can help ensure you have everything you need to succeed at your job. If you have concerns on these topics, consider speaking to your manager.
Healthy Work Environment
Feeling comfortable in a workplace where basic levels of respect, integrity, and ethics are established is key.
Without these foundational pillars, any organization may have a challenging time successfully retaining employees.
How Can a Nurse Destress?
Some level of stress comes with the job of being a nurse, but there are strategies of decompressing when you need it most.
Take Care of Yourself
Expand your self-care or establish a routine if you do not have one.
What do you do for yourself when you are not working? How do you take care of your body, mind, and spirit?
Meditation, journaling, acupuncture, and any type of exercise are just a few ways that you can create a healthy rhythm of processing your emotions and taking care of yourself.
Ask for Help
There are different forms of assistance available to you. If you need someone to vent to, consider talking to a family member or friend.
If you are struggling with your mental health, seek a therapist for professional guidance. If there is an issue in the workplace, confide in your manager to see how they can help. Whatever may be happening, the people around you can likely help you work through it.
It is healthy to say no.
When you are struggling with burnout, certain tasks can feel like too much to handle. If you don’t have the energy to make plans with that nagging acquaintance, take on an extra side project, or cover an optional shift, communicate that.
Taking care of yourself means setting boundaries, and overextending yourself during times of high stress will only take a further toll on your system.
Revive Your Career Passion
If you are dealing with burnout, try to remember why you became a nurse in the first place.
Why were you so passionate about the medical path, and what visions did you have for the future? See if you can bring that passion back into your shifts to achieve a new sense of purpose.
When burnout strikes, extra support may be needed. If you are struggling to keep your stress in check, even on off days or weekends, ASYSTEM’s Complete Calm System can help. Ingredients like Lion’s Mane, Rhodiola, and Lemon Balm help relieve anxiety, enhance cognitive function and focus, and support your mood so you can feel ready for the day’s tasks.
The Complete Calm System includes both our De-Stress Gummies and Sleep Gummies so you can feel calm during the day, and well-rested after crawling into bed.
Our bodies work hard to repair themselves and process the day while we are asleep, making a good night’s rest crucial to your recovery from burnout. Our Sleep Gummies feature powerful ingredients like Melatonin, L-Theanine, and Chamomile Extract to combat anxiety, support sleep quality, and promote more restful sleep.
Chronic stress not only takes a toll on your energy and mental health, but also on your immune system. If you are a male nurse struggling with burnout, ASYSTEM’s Men's Essentials include clinically-proven adaptogens and nootropics to enhance immunity, support your mood and energy, and reduce stress.
These supplements are conveniently portioned into individual packets, making them perfect for on-the-go days. Simply take one pack every day with food for a boost of key nutrients like Omega 3 Fish Oil, DHEA, and Coenzyme Q10.
We recommend being consistent and committing to three months of use to notice the best results. This allows ample time for you to reflect on the mental and physical benefits.
A shortage of nurses and high rates of burnout can lead to more critical issues, such as a high turnover rate and mistakes in the workplace due to emotional and physical exhaustion.
It is imperative that nurses feel fully supported in the workplace to ensure that they can take care of themselves as they need to.
Nursing can be a rewarding yet extremely demanding career. If you are dealing with nurse burnout, you are not alone, and it won’t be permanent. Practicing self-care, setting healthy boundaries, and asking for help when you need it are all conducive to a healthier experience at work.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Former Olympic Athlete, Founder, B2ten Foundation (coach to multiple Olympic Champions)
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