Burnout can happen in any workplace environment and to employees in any industry, as no job is evergreen and without stress. But in nursing and healthcare, burnout can cause extreme consequences and harm both nurses and patients alike. Because nurses tend to work in such high-stress environments, they are often required to take care of themselves mentally and physically to avoid developing burnout.
In this article, we take a deeper look at what nurse burnout is, what causes it, the danger it can pose, how to recognize if it is happening to you, and how to avoid it.
Table of Contents
What Is Nurse Burnout?
Nurse burnout is a syndrome that is characterized by exhaustion due to mental, physical, and emotional stress that goes on over time, making it difficult for nurses to carry on working. With long hours, the pressures of having to think on their feet, while caring for sick people in difficult situations are compounding factors that can lead to feeling cynical, hopeless, and exhausted.
It is common for most to experience hard days at work or even weeks. Nurse burnout is another level of burnout, as it involves being in a constant state of distress that takes a toll on those who are affected. Nurses with burnout feel overextended, which often leads to them responding to their work with detachment and feeling a level of hopelessness and lacking efficiency. This loss of confidence and motivation can affect a nurse’s ability to feel good about their professional life as well as their personal.
Symptoms Of Nurse Burnout
Nurses experiencing burnout will start to dread their job out of feeling fatigued, overextended, and underappreciated. Over time, these stressors can result in different physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.
- Difficulty sleeping
- More prone to illnesses
- Anxiety and racing heart
- Body aches and pains
- Constant fatigue
- Increase or loss of appetite
- Feeling helpless
- Dissatisfaction with life and career
- Feeling detached
- Apathetic towards others
- Increased absences from work
- Isolation and socially withdrawn
- Poor decision-making
- Substance abuse
Typical Causes Of Nurse Burnout
According to the World Health Organization, burnouts are an occupational phenomenon. But this is not only specific to the nursing sector. Professionals in any industry can suffer from exhaustion which is mainly due to unrealistic work expectations and multiple stressors from work. People in the medical profession often face a much higher risk of burnout due to the high-stress work environment they deal with daily.
From having too many responsibilities, experiencing bullying or harassment from patients and doctors, a lack of benefits, to general anxieties over if they are doing the right things for patients; there are several contributing factors to what can cause nurse burnout.
Long Hours and Heavy Workloads
Having to deal with extremely high-stress situations daily makes it extremely difficult for nurses to effectively care for patients, leaving them exhausted and more likely to make mistakes that can be dangerous, or even fatal. Research has consistently shown that longer nurse hours are directly related to less satisfied patients, which has a negative impact on nurses and how they feel about themselves and the work they do.
Heavy workloads accompanied by long hours are detrimental to nurses being able to keep a work-life balance that prevents them from resting thoroughly and taking time for themselves.
Lack of Sleep
In any industry, chronic insomnia can lead to burnout. This is common among nursing professionals that work really long hours and with atypical work schedules. Sleep deprivation impairs the performance of carrying out tasks that require attention to detail. With sleep deprivation, members of the nursing staff are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiovascular disease. With a lack of restful sleep, nurses are endangering their own safety as well as their patients.
Some medical specialties are by nature more stressful than others, like intensive care or telemetry nurses that treat acute patient conditions. Nurses in these specialties regularly deal with patients who have traumatic injuries, ethical dilemmas, and higher mortality rates, and are all linked with high-stress levels that increase the risk of experiencing burnout.
Lack of Support
Without a good team effort, burnout is much more likely for nurses. Collaboration is always important in many professions, but in nursing, it can end up saving lives. Poor support, lack of communication, and even bullying from coworkers, all make for an unpleasant work environment that can lead to devastating medical errors.
The Importance Of Preventing Nurse Burnout
While it is important to manage existing nurse burnout, the goal for all nurse leaders and healthcare organizations is to prevent it altogether. Distressed nurses who are experiencing burnout struggle to work efficiently on their own, with teams, and are less frequent to mentor other nurses. When nurses feel cynical or inefficient, they may show a lack of sensitivity or compassion towards their patients. Nurses with burnout may fail to personalize care which can make patients feel as though they are indifferent and uncaring.
The dangers of nurse burnout are:
- Safety incidents
- Poor nurse retention
- Dissatisfied patients
- Lower quality care
- Overwhelmed nurses
- Hospital mortalities
How Can You Prevent Nurse Burnout?
It is possible to prevent nurse burnout before it happens and should be treated immediately when it has surfaced. In case you work in medical institutions, the best way of preventing nurse burnout is by protecting employees and their patients. Nurse leaders and managers are able to prevent burnout, as well as nurses themselves by taking several therapeutic and preventative measures for their own self-care.
Nurse supervisors should always work towards creating a humane schedule that their staff can work for, with shift lengths being 9 hours at maximum. If you are a nurse, make sure your employers are treating you and your fellow nurses well. Do not allow yourself to be worked overtime, rather try negotiating a schedule that will allow you to live a balanced life that allows you the time for yourself and your loved ones.
Through support groups and work buddy systems, you can find multiple options to vent your frustrations. Also, discuss conflicts or challenges as they happen. When both you and your fellow coworkers feel heard and validated in your struggles, this improves teamwork and your overall view of your workplace. If you have begun to feel hopeless, depressed, or experiencing other burnout symptoms, it’s important to seek out help from a therapist to help you learn healthy coping mechanisms.
If you are feeling the effects of burnout because of the stress from your specialty, in particular, consider a change. Your nursing degree enables you to switch to a specialty that can be a much better fit that allows you to have more freedom in your practice, or maybe mentor another generation of nurses. It’s vital for you, your fellow nurses, and patients to combat burnout, and to keep a safe, healthy, and productive work environment with healthy communication and collaboration.
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