Travel nurse tired and burned out

8 Ways to Avoid Nurse Burnout

If you’ve ever felt depleted and completely exhausted by your nursing job—physically, emotionally, and mentally—you’re not alone. 

Nurse burnout is a pervasive problem.  It’s costly on a personal level for the individual nurse and on a broader level for healthcare organizations that face increased expenses and other fallout associated with nurse burnout.

These negative consequences may include higher nurse turnover, lower morale and a greater potential for patient harm and/or dissatisfaction, according to a 2012 study in Health Affairs.

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When Nurses Care Too Much

Those who choose the nursing profession because they are driven by a desire to help others may be even more predisposed to nurse burnout. A 2014 study at the University of Akron found that nurses who are primarily motivated by altruism are more likely to become burned out by their work.

“Being motivated only by the desire to care comes at a cost—one that does not appear to affect those who are motivated by their intrinsic enjoyment of nursing tasks or the salary and benefits that can be associated with performing this critically important job,” said Janette Dill, PhD, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Akron, who co-authored the study.

Nurses who are especially driven by the urge to help others may not be able to maintain a healthy distance between themselves and the demands of their nursing jobs.  Unfortunately, neglecting their own health can ultimately deplete the very emotional resources that help them care for patients.  

It’s important for every nurse to practice self-care—for their own sake as well as to preserve their ability to continue doing their job, said Lois Howland, a professor of nursing at the University of California-San Diego.   

So here are some ways to take care of yourself and lower your chances of getting burned out at your nursing job.

Eight Ways To Avoid Nurse Burnout:

1. Pay Attention To What and How You Are Feeling

Howland suggested working on noticing your negative thoughts and looking for ways to find a positive angle. This is a hallmark of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which helps create a greater awareness of the present, understand your typical reactions to stressors and develop healthier ways of responding.

2. Determine, or Remember, What You Enjoy About Practicing Nursing

Focus on finding ways to remain open and curious. “The more we can bring curiosity, there is a freshness that is available to us in the present moment,” said Howland.

3. Practice Deep-breathing Techniques

Before you open the door to a patient’s room, stop and take 5 –10 slow, deep breaths.  This will help you re-center and ground yourself, Howland noted.

4. Take Short Breaks

If you’re the type to just keep on working, you may need to reevaluate this approach and find a way to give yourself some time off. 

“When you go on coffee break, go on coffee break,” said Howland. “Enjoy the coffee instead of perseverating over a difficult patient.”

5. Take a Longer Break

Letting that vacation time accrue? Time to use some of it. Getting physically away may help you put some emotional distance between yourself and your work, allowing you to recharge.

6. Practice an Activity You Enjoy That Requires Your Attention

Focusing on something besides your nursing job gets your mind off of the negative aspects of your day and allows your mind to rest. 

Whether you prefer reading, sewing or an athletic pursuit, the important thing is to choose something in which you can immerse yourself for a little while. “I like to encourage people to spend a little time thinking about what it is they like to do and give themselves permission to do it once in a while,” Howland said.

7. Try Yoga

A team of UCLA researchers found that a short daily practice of yoga helped caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients reduce their stress levels, in a 2012 study. This ancient practice combines simple movements with breathing techniques that can help you calm and refocus yourself. 

8. Consider a Change

If you still value being a nurse but need a change of venue, you might consider making a permanent job change or getting out to experience new places and work environments as a travel nurse. Travel nursing gives you the chance to put your skills to use in different nursing jobs, facilities and locations of your choosing, usually for 4 –13 weeks at a time.

Want a break from nursing as usual? Get started with AMN Healthcare.

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