Nursing is a challenging profession. On one hand, it's rewarding. Nurses find joy and fulfillment in their ability to impact a client’s life. On the other, it can be difficult to find time during the workday to connect with clients on a level that creates a meaningful connection.
I hear it all of the time from nurses who work in hospitals and other facilities across the country: I just don’t have time to really do the things I want to do with/for my client. The busyness of being a nurse has gotten in the way of me actually being able to deliver the type of nursing care that I hope to provide.
It creates an uncomfortable feeling. Wanting to provide great care but not having the time to do so. Wanting to be a good nurse but going home feeling as though we could have done more. Worrying that we didn’t quite get to make that impact or create that meaningful connection. Fearing that our sense of rushing from client to client throughout our day may be doing more harm than good.
When we go to work and feel overwhelmed by the very nature of our job, it creates stress. It’s not the good stress that can actually motivate us to reach goals, but the added stress that turns into pure exhaustion. It's the go, go, go nature of nursing that leaves us feeling overwhelmed. These are signs and symptoms of nurse burnout or compassion fatigue.
Good news! There is hope. The very first thing we can celebrate is the fact that we are aware that this dichotomy exists. That most, if not every, nurse may experience burnout. That it’s okay — even common.
Now, I’m not normalizing burnout to the extent that I am saying that it is okay to have it happen. No way! I’m just letting you know that if you have felt this way — or are currently feeling this way — you’re not alone.
So, what can be done about this nurse burnout stress we feel? How can we pause, reconnect with the joy of nursing, and ultimately love our jobs again?
Here are three tips to help avoid nurse burnout:
Create a boundary ritual. I have been contacted on several occasions by nurses who feel overwhelmed by work. They reach out to me, asking how to separate work from home life. I actually can respond to them speaking from experience. I used to think about work on my off days and wake up in the middle of the night worrying about my job. This has to stop. No nurse should be thinking about work when not at work. Nursing is a 24/7 operation; that is why we have our teams. So, if you find yourself thinking about your job outside of work hours, you need a boundary ritual. This is something that you do each day when the workday is done to signify that work is over and non-work time is beginning. For me, it is taking off my work badge. For others, it may mean removing their shoes, changing clothes, taking a shower, or going for a walk. Find something that you can do to separate work from home.
Reconnect with your “why.” Nurses give all the time. Even after work, we come home to give to family and friends. All this giving can become taxing. How can you give from an empty cup? We have this natural tendency to care for others most of the time, but it is important for us to remember why. Why did we go into nursing in the first place? Why do we want to help other people? Why did we choose the specialty that we are in? The nursing profession has become so computer-heavy that it can be hard to find the time to sit down and be with our client. To get meaningful value and fulfillment from the work that we do, we need to reconnect somehow with the reasons we started in the first place.
Make time for life outside of work. What calendar do you have in your pocket right now? Most people would respond, “My work calendar.” If work is the only thing that you have on the calendar, then work is likely one of the only things that will get done. To truly balance work with life, take it a step further and plan on your calendar to have a life. If you put personal time and activities on the calendar, they are much more likely to get done.
You may have heard the expression, "Healer, heal thyself." It refers to the common tendency for professional caregivers to put clients first and themselves last. But in order to be truly effective, to be our best — especially over a long haul — we have to "put on our oxygen masks" first. By prioritizing our own self-care and healthy boundaries, we nurses keep ourselves primed and ready to help others in need.