The Importance of Taking Breaks from Your Nursing Job

"But I don't have time to take a break!" could serve as a common denominator-woe for nurses across the country. In most nursing positions, the pace of the workday falls between fast and warp speed, which can be physically and mentally demanding. And then there's the emotional strain - you're dealing with life and death scenarios, remember? The fear of getting behind or negatively impacting a patient's care, forgetting a task/responsibility, or being perceived as "slacking" can coerce a nurse into skipping breaks, ultimately leading to more long-term effects. 

Nurses often put their needs at the very bottom of the list -- it's in their nature to think of others first. And because everyone knows that, it's easy to believe that it's normal for nurses to do all and be all. They power through long shifts, working thankless overtime. They fill in and go the extra mile to get the job done. After all, nurses have superpowers, right?

Well, yes and no. Nurses do tend to be incredibly compassionate, dedicated, and hardworking. But they do not possess superhuman powers that protect them from stress and exhaustion or the physical, mental, and emotional manifestations of stress and exhaustion that can easily transform in burnout.

The bottom line is that breaks are vital for everyone. Even brief periods away from the demands of the job -- any job -- allow for rest and restoration. Breaks reduce stress levels, improve focus, increase physical stamina, stabilize emotions, and improve a person's overall feeling of well-being. In addition, they lessen the chance that a fast-paced, sometimes chaotic work scenario will burst into a full-blown case of burnout.

While breaks during a shift offer a chance to regroup and boost energy levels, vacations allow for the kind of refreshment that empowers nurses to return to work with a restored mind, body, and sense of purpose.

Chances are that most healthcare professionals can name multiple nurses who've accumulated a hefty number of PTO days. So if these committed healthcare caregivers feel they don't have time for workday breaks, how will they justify using their paid time off for a real vacation?

What's the key to convincing nurses to schedule extended time away from the workplace? For starters, remind them that a myriad of unfavorable signs and symptoms nearly always accompany the dreaded duo of exhaustion and high levels of stress, including --

  • loss of motivation
  • plummeting morale
  • increased resentment for the demands of the job 
  • depression
  • an increasing struggle to manage work/life balance
  • a compromised immune system
  • worsening of chronic health conditions
  • severe mental health crisis

Both mealtimes and the regular mid-morning, afternoon or evening breaks make challenge, chaotic days more productive and less defeating. Vacations refresh, restore and invigorate nurses so they can get back into the routine of their A game.

Nurses who give themselves permission to step away from their caregiving duties will be better able to assist the rest of the team and provide the ultimate care to their patients when they return.

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