If you’ve ever said, “I hate being a nurse,” there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Nursing is the career that many of us have romanticized it to be. It’s a struggle to adapt as a new nurse and the last few years at the bedside have significantly reduced the quality of life for many nurses. It’s highly possible that nursing is still a great fit for you, but you are suffering from nurse burnout.
If you’re working in one of the many stressful nursing jobs, use these tips to help prevent or move past nursing burnout so that you can get back to enjoying your job and helping patients.
No job is stress-free, but some fields are naturally more stressful than others. Nursing is, by its very nature, taxing mentally, emotionally, and physically because caring for the different needs of patients is highly demanding work.
How To Recover From Nursing Burnout
Many people say “I hate my job” from time to time, so it’s no surprise to hear nurses occasionally say “I hate being a nurse.” Once a nurse reaches that point of pure mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, they have officially hit nurse burnout.
Today we’re covering nursing burnout: how to recognize it, its potential hazards, and how to handle it if you experience it so that you can move away from “I hate being a nurse” and back to loving the work of helping people.
Nurse Burnout: Signs and Symptoms
While nursing is a demanding and stressful field, prolonged stress can lead to hitting a professional wall. Unfortunately, experiencing nursing burnout is becoming more common in the field. You can learn more about nurse burnout in this video.
However there’s good news! By learning to recognize the signs and symptoms and knowing how to address them, you can work through periods of burnout and get to the other side of them.
Signs To Recognize of Nursing Burnout
Emotional Exhaustion – the demanding nature of the field naturally leads to fatigue. However, the exhaustion that leads to burnout is defined by always being tired and never feeling “caught up” on rest.
Apathy – stress leads to hyper engagement, but prolonged periods of stress leads to detachment, disengagement, and dulled emotions.
Depersonalization – feelings of exhaustion can cause you to lose your compassion skills and begin to see patients not as individuals but rather a collection of body parts that need attending to.
Insensitive or Short Tempered – nurses are some of the most compassionate people in the community. If you find that you’re more impatient, the little things get under your skin, or you’re being insensitive, it’s time to take a look at your stress levels.
Why Is Burnout In Nurses A Problem?
When nurses get to the point where they hate being a nurse, it doesn’t just stop there. Unfortunately, it affects the level of care they provide to their patients and also impacts their employers. Here are just a few dangers of nursing burnout:
- Higher turnover – naturally when people feel burned out, they may leave the job or the field. When that happens in nursing, it adds another level of stress to an already overworked field.
- Lower level of care – studies show that the symptoms of apathy and exhaustion can cause nurses to make mistakes that lead to higher rates of patient discomfort, infection, and even death.
- Lower patient satisfaction – patients know when they don’t receive high-quality care, and they will make different choices in the future about where they choose to get medical care, affecting employers.
How to Handle Nursing Burnout If You Experience It
If you recognize that you’re experiencing any of these symptoms I’ve highlighted, try using this process to help you work through your emotions and handle your stress. It will help you move past “I hate being a nurse.”
Just like flight attendants (another stressful job!) say to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others, you need to prioritize yourself and your own self-care. Nursing is by its very nature a field of taking care of others, which makes self-care and reflection even more important.
I have personally found this process to be extremely helpful for preventing burnout or working through it if you’re already there:
Schedule a date with yourself
Schedule a date with yourself to take some time by yourself that’s free from distraction so that you can focus inward.
Ask yourself “Why do I hate this?” Try to get as specific as possible as you work to identify what makes you loathe going to work.
Identify Exactly What You’re Feeling with Nursing Burnout
It’s essential to know exactly what emotions you’re experiencing so that you can decide the best way to move forward. Have you been feeling:
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- Don’t have a purpose
- Feel taken advantage of
- Fearful of making a mistake and anxiety is at an all time high
- Feel like you’re working so fast you don’t get any joy
- A specific person is triggering negative emotions or anxiety
Your goal is to go from this vague feeling of “I hate this” to identifying the specific reasons why you’re unhappy.
Write these words down! Don’t just think about them; write them down because it’ll help as you move forward.
Walk Away And Take A Break
Next, take a walk or a break away from this work to get a little mental space from your feelings, especially if talking about this brings up some intense thoughts and emotions.
This will allow you to take a step back and look at your list with some detachment and clarity as you reflect on the words you wrote down and the feelings you’re processing.
Now, come back to your list and look at your list of emotions and reasons. What specific actionable steps can you think of that would help address them?
Don’t get caught up on what sounds scary, intimidating, or something you wouldn’t do. None of that matters here. This part is just about brainstorming and writing down what you would do in an ideal world to tackle those issues.
Take Another Mental Break
Another mental break would be good here. Take some time to reflect, journal, meditate, etc. I also find that physical activity (ex: taking a walk) helps to release some of the emotions I experience and put the focus on solutions.
Make A Plan Of Action
Now, come back to your list and pick the easiest one to remedy. Achieving a “win” by snagging the lowest hanging fruit first will help boost your morale and result in the best net gain for you as well.
For example, take that CNA who always speaks to you in a condescending way that drives you nuts. Maybe you make it a personal mission to learn how to be more assertive just with her. You can make a goal that each time you work with her to push back when she tries to get you to do her bed baths.
Or maybe you create extra stress by always saying yes to switching shifts or picking up extra shifts. One idea is to make a commitment to yourself to say “no” to ALL requests for 1 month.
Changing how you respond to these triggers may seem scary or even more stressful at first. But once you do it and see how helpful and healing it is, you’ll want to keep doing it! And each time you do, you’ll feel better and better.
Manage Stress Levels
Believe it or not, learning how to keep your stress levels down is part of practicing self-care. Learn and regularly practice relaxation methods such as meditation, breathing techniques, journaling, and movement such as yoga that incorporates many of these things together with exercise.
Use your vacation time! Schedule breaks for yourself through the year so you can get a change of scenery, clear your head, and truly relax.
If these things don’t do enough to help reduce your stress and feelings of burnout, consider changing specialties or work environments.
Get Outside Help
By knowing the signs and symptoms of burnout, you can reach out for help when you notice them in your life. Finding a counselor can help provide a needed outlet for feelings and assistance with problem solving.
If you’d like more specific guidance in how you can craft your dream career, Crafting Your Dream Career is my absolute favorite resource to walk you through the entire process!