If there has been one word — other than "COVID-19" — that healthcare workers are all too familiar with these days, "burnout" would be high on the list. The pressures of the pandemic have heightened a problem within the healthcare industry that was already rampant among nurses.
In fact, the statistics are concerning. A study done by Kronos Incorporated captured the responses of 257 registered nurses working in U.S. hospitals. Well-Being Index reported on the results:
- 98% reported their work is mentally and physically demanding
- 85% said their jobs make them fatigued overall
- 63% noted that their work has resulted in nurse burnout
- 44% reported being worried that their tiredness will cause their patient care to suffer
- 41% considered changing hospitals in 2017 due to burnout
If that was not bad enough news, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) reports that at least 50% of caretakers across medical fields report "serious symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and low sense of professional accomplishment."
Strategies for Reducing Burnout
This is an issue that is not going away anytime soon. So, nurses and other healthcare workers must enlist strategies to help them combat the causes of burnout and find tactics that will ease any symptoms that arise.
Here are five approaches for nurses to consider, as supported by three experts featured in a recent NurseJournal article: Tina Gerardi, MS, RN, CAE, and Executive Director of the Tennessee Nurses Association (TNA); LaCresha Sims, a productivity and mindset coach and former nurse; and Rita Trofino, RN and Associate Dean of the School of Health Sciences at St. Francis University.
1) Develop strong interpersonal relationships
Creating a positive work environment relies heavily on the individuals that nurses work with every day. However, it's also important for nurses to establish strong interpersonal relationships with people outside work.
Sharing one's frustrations or emotional distress with a family member or friend can be highly valuable. Sometimes, people just need to "talk it out" before they find relief. Typically, this results in nurses feeling more confident and prepared to do their work as a nurse.
2) Set clear boundaries between work and personal life
This may be easier said than done, especially because the work nurses do is so deeply invested in caring for patients. It's easy to get tangled in patient outcomes if boundaries aren't established. Gerardi urges nurses to be very mindful when leaving their shift: that is the time to leave work at work. Your loved ones deserve your time and presence — and, honestly, you do too.
3) Make sleep a priority
With long workdays or overnight shifts, sleep may seem like a good idea until you start looking at your "to do" list. However, sleep is essential for staving off burnout. You need proper rest to sufficiently regenerate your body and mind. Getting enough sleep — ideally eight uninterrupted hours — can improve alertness, concentration, stamina, mood and motivation. Alternatively, lack of sleep may result in professional and personal danger (like making mistakes with a patient or falling asleep at the wheel).
4) Focus on self-care
Along with sleep, self-care practices like eating healthfully and exercising help keep burnout at bay. The phrase "you are what you eat" has merit. If you're constantly snacking on processed "junk" food in the vending machine, your body and brain cannot function optimally — leading to more stress and fatigue.
Plus, while you may not have time to fit in an hour on the treadmill, a walk around the block to clear your head and get some fresh air may be just what you need to interrupt the distressful thoughts racing through your mind.
5) Enlist professional resources
Nurses: you don't have to navigate burnout alone. Many healthcare organizations offer therapeutic or counseling services as part of one's employment package. If these services are not available, Trofino encourages nurses to talk to their human resources department for help. There are even independent, affordable online options for counseling that nurses might want to check out on their own (like Better Help and Talk Space).
Preventing Burnout Is Within Your Power
When in the throes of a stressful situation — or, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, repeated and compounding stress — it might seem impossible to escape. But you do have the capacity to mitigate burnout with the skills and knowledge you've perfected with an advanced degree in nursing and the right support systems. Don't let burnout get the best of you.
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