Beating burnout – the importance of self-care when you’re nursing

Nursing can be an incredibly rewarding profession – but it’s not without its stresses and strains. The simple demands of nursing jobs – being on your feet for hours at a time, continuously being aware of, and serving the needs of others, shift-work, overtime requirements, demanding caseloads, witnessing trauma – these can take a mental and physical toll.

Burnout amongst nurses is not uncommon. Burnout is different from regular stress, it is characterised by symptoms similar to depression, including physical and emotional fatigue, loss of motivation, detachment, reduced productivity, and low self-esteem. And, alarmingly, it is on the rise in Australia.

A 2016 national survey of 3,000 nurses and midwives found that 71% felt they often had more work than they could do well and 67% of respondents reported their nursing jobs required them to work very fast, at least several times a day.

67% reported that they had to work “very hard” several times a day. Key factors in this workload included inadequate staff levels, excessive administrative tasks and an inappropriate skill mix.

With the endless demands placed on nurses, and it’s vital that nurses maintain healthy and supported in order to cope and continue to thrive in the profession.

Five tips for self-care

Self-care looks different for everyone so it’s important that you choose strategies that you can realistically work into your schedule and your life. Here are five simple things you can do to ward of physical drain and mental stress on a daily basis, at work and at home.

  1. Take a deep breath. During a busy shift it can almost seem like an impossible task to take time out, but deep breathing is something you can do anywhere, anytime, and it will be immediately beneficial. When you’re feeling tired, stressed or overwhelmed take half a dozen long, slow breaths – you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes to your headspace and your energy levels. Deep breathing releases tension and improves blood flow and circulation. Breathing also relaxes the brain and promotes clarity. If you have a moment, stretch your body too.
  1. Laughter is the best medicine. It’s been proven that a good belly laugh does wonders for health, and it will have an impact on your patients too. Laughter lowers stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
  1. Create downtime rituals that work for you. A long walk in the bush? Yoga? Reading? Netflix? Travel? Whatever it is that brings you pleasure, make a solid commitment to it when you’re not working. Selfishly doing something you enjoy will replenish you. There’s an old adage that “all work and no play” can indeed make us dull. We all need to be able to release the worries of the day and allow ourselves healthy distance from our work.
  1. Make your own health a priority. While on the jobs, nurses are always busy. Make sure that while on shift you are responding to your own body’s demands for hydration and food. Outside of work, do everything you can to stay healthy. Sure, it’s tempting at the end of a long shift to retire to the couch with a bagful of junk food or to down a few beers. But these are not healthy habits to get into long-term. To perform at your best, you need to be eating well, sleeping well and taking regular exercise to stay on top of your game.
  1. Conduct a regular self-diagnosis. Check in with yourself from time to time and really conduct a thorough assessment of life and work. Have you got balance? Are you continuously exhausted? Have you witnessed something traumatic in the line of duty that’s impacted you? We’re only human. And although it seems like the demands of the nursing job sometimes requires superpowers, it’s only natural that you’ll reach your limit eventually and continually caring for others will begin to feel like a burden, instead of the career you’ve worked hard for.

Self-care isn’t rocket science. But it is something that we can neglect in the busyness of our everyday lives and then over time, the effects begin to take their toll.

Burnout can affect anybody

If you think you may be suffering from nursing burnout, don’t ignore the problem. Be honest with yourself and consider whether your dissatisfaction stems from a specific workplace. Do you need a new challenge? Are you tired of bedside care? Once you figure out the reasons for how you feel, you can make some changes. There are organisations that can connect you with professional help – counselling and other services, if you need it.

Consider your options.  One great aspect of the nursing profession is there are lots of different things you can do with a nursing license. While specialties may require additional education, certifications, or training, it can be rewarding to make a change, or even just take some ‘time-out’ and do something different with your qualifications. Another option is just to step back and consider a casual nursing position that will help you stay in the profession, but achieve more time out giving you better work/life balance.

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