Understanding and Navigating Burnout

Burnout: a state of mental and physical exhaustion that steals the enjoyment from a person's career, friendships, hobbies, family interactions, and day-to-day activities.

This serious condition continues to plague the medical community, having attacked scores of healthcare professionals. It's important to note exactly what burnout is—and possibly even more critical to establish what it is not. 


Burnout is not

  • Ordinary fatigue
  • A bad day or even a string of bad days
  • A challenging week on the job
  • The result of a few rough nights or a couple of extra shifts
  • A struggle to establish a satisfying life/work balance

Burnout presents a much more serious situation, one that compounds over time and presents with symptoms such as— 

  • A sour, pessimistic outlook
  • Mental and psychological illnesses like anxiety, depression, and hopelessness
  • Debilitating exhaustion and extreme listlessness
  • Resentment for and dread toward one's job
  • The inability to function

Burnout can lead to serious physical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. It can be challenging to pinpoint, and it will not go away on its own. However, if symptoms are allowed to escalate to a chronic state of dissatisfaction and exhaustion coupled with physical, mental, or psychological maladies. In that case, a crisis point may be just around the corner. 


Although nurses are at high risk of being afflicted by burnout, it's not inevitable that every nurse will face this specific challenge. But for those who do, ignoring the early symptoms can result in a nurse exiting the profession altogether. 


Family, friends, and co-workers may be the first to spot the early signs before the nurse recognizes that something is truly amiss. Why? Because it's easy to rationalize irritability, sleeplessness, or depression as just a part of life. But the key to halting burnout is recognizing and addressing the symptoms before the situation escalates into a crisis. And that's where the loved one's care, concern, and insistence can make a huge difference. 


An even better approach is for nurses to get serious about monitoring burnout. For instance, being intentional about—


Making sleep a priority

Even "normal" life finds many adults getting less than the optimal amount of sleep. For nurses working more and longer shifts, adequate sleep can be a real struggle. Not only does being sleep deprived open the door to burnout, but it can also result in medical mistakes, impact relationships, and have negative health consequences. The solution: make bedtime non-negotiable, not dependent on if and when the to-do list is complete. 


Investing in self-care practices

The first step is to adopt an attitude that your physical, emotional, and mental well-being must be cared for and protected. And that means scheduling time for exercise. Doing something enjoyable every day such as taking a walk, reading a book, telephoning a friend, taking a nap. Giving yourself permission to stay home when sick or emotionally/mentally spent. Placing boundaries that protect and separate work from time with family.


Seeking professional help 

While nurses are quick to suggest therapy for their patients, they may not be as quick to see the need in their own lives. Being a medical professional can make it difficult to admit you need help. The key is refusing to believe that the need for assistance labels you as weak or a failure. 


Taking the time for selfcare can help prevent burnout and other health issues that can accompany it.


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