Coping with Burnout

2020 was supposed to be the year of the nurse (whatever that means). And maybe you could argue it was. We were on the news and all over the media. People praising us for our heroism. However, many of us had our retirement contributions and yearly bonuses taken away. And we were expected to do it all with no resources. Isn’t that every year for a nurse?

Perhaps this article poses more of a question and a conversation starter. I’ve only been a nurse for five years, and I feel burnt out. I have been left wondering, is it solely because of the pandemic? Am I the only one who feels beat down by patients’ heightened anxieties and by the system itself?

When I graduated from nursing school, I had so much energy! Ready for each day of work and able and willing to do it all. Five years later, I’m tired, worn down, drained. All the adjectives I can muster to describe how I’ve watched myself change over these years. What happened? Where did my energy and joy for nursing go? Is this just what the system does to nurses? How do I find my place in nursing? Over the last year, I’ve made three changes that I found extremely helpful.

Step one, I took an outpatient job. It was an excellent move for me. I don’t have to work nights, which means I have way more energy than I ever did before, weekends and holidays off. Overall my quality of life has improved drastically. I’m not suggesting every nurse run to an outpatient job, but I would suggest allowing yourself to fight for something you want to do. Not to settle for a position where you are unhappy. As nurses, we put other people ahead of ourselves and power through unhealthy work environments when we don’t need to. Allow yourself to find your place in nursing.

The second step, talk to someone! I spent years not talking about the things that I saw and experienced at the bedside. This ate at me from the inside. I would go home from work and stay quiet, my head spinning from the day. Reliving every moment, making sure I didn’t make a mistake or making sure that I learned from a mistake. I couldn’t stop. I’d lose sleep and couldn’t connect with my family because there was so much I didn’t and couldn’t share. Over time I realized that there was no way I could continue without being able to open up to other coworkers and be honest about trauma. I lived under this idea for so long that I was the only one experiencing this until I brought it up to other nurses. It turns out I wasn’t alone. I would start to engage in conversation after a difficult day, hoping that we could all heal. Over time it began to help. It allowed me to leave work at work so that I could be more present at home.

Lastly, find a hobby. I don’t mean to say that sarcastically. Between work and family, I needed to find an additional outlet. For me, it’s working out. It gets my anxiety out and allows me to function more efficiently. It’s my “brain break.” Some people enjoy yoga (available on NurseCon); others enjoy gardening, building things, knitting. Whatever helps you to exit from your work brain and gives back to yourself. Do not apologize for putting yourself first! The better you care for yourself, the better you can care for others.

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