Despite what some nursing leaders will tell you, nurse burnout is real. In fact, all we have to do is take the word “nurse” out of the statement and call it what it is… burnout. We need to stop putting a band-aid on nurse burnout, acting like it doesn’t really exist.
This next post is another in the series on nursing burnout.
In February, 2017 I wrote an article called “The Way We Think About Nurse Burnout is Broken“. Since this topic was so large, over the months since the initial post, I have been bringing an article each month to the blog here related to the reasons burnout is broken.
One of the bullet points in that initial article read:
“We put a Band-Aid on it. Burnout is actually the consequence of multiple other factors. If a nurse thinks that by simply taking a short break from work is going to fix their burnout, they are sadly mistaken. The underlying causes need to be identified and addressed before the burnout will ever go away.”
A Real Life Burnout Story
I have interviewed dozens of nurses on the Your Next Shift nursing career podcast. Several guests have answered the “failure / lesson learned” question in a very similar way. When asked, they tell me…
Elizabeth, I left a job because I was unhappy and experiencing burnout. And sadly, in a very short time (one interview guest said it was as short as 3 days!) I was just as miserable in my new job as I was in my old one.
The guests of the Your Next Shift podcast each speak to a common theme.
Here is a specific example.
A nurse working in the critical care area started to feel nurse burnout. She decided to make a change and move to procedural nursing. In just a few weeks time, she was just as unhappy (if not more so) in her new job. The nurse went back to her old unit in critical care, asking for her previous job back. Happily, she was able to get her old job. But this experience taught her that just changing practice areas was not fixing her burnout issues.
We Cannot Simply Put a Band-Aid on Burnout
I think back to when I was working inpatient psych. I would go away on vacation and hope that I would feel better, upon returning to work.
It would take me two days of the vacation just to de-stress from the job. Then I would enjoy about 2-3 days of the break. However, as my vacation ended and it was time to get back to work, I spent the final two days of my break dreading the experiencing of returning to my job.
Why is that?
Burnout is a multifaceted dilemma. It requires a variety of strategies that become routine habits. And the cause is not unidirectional. Meaning, you cannot say that just ONE thing caused your burnout to occur.
Burnout affects us on many levels:
- Physically: we become tired, run down. The job gets hard and our body suffers. We have little time to spend on self-care and so we feel cranky, tired, or depressed.
- Mentally: we experience a disconnect. The reason we go to work- the patients and their families- become more of a number than a person. We start to feel cynical, maybe even speak sarcastically about work.
- Spiritual: there is no more joy in the job. Our meaning is lost. We are not sure why we are even going into work. It is hard to feel excited by the thought of heading into another shift.
All of these can be felt in some combination that is uniquely your burnout experience. And trust me, you are not alone.
When I realized that I was experiencing burnout, my main issue was feeling and asking… “What’s the use?”
I would say or think things like:
- What’s the point? Nothing I do is even making a difference.
- Who cares? No one listens to me or my ideas anyway.
- I am so frustrated. I can’t stand another day!
- Why even go to work? I just don’t fit in there anymore.
So, it sounds quite bleak, right? It does not have to be.
I have gone through this. On more than one occasion, honestly, and come out the other side.
The very first step is awareness.
Recognize what you are feeling and be gentle. Know that it is OK, even normal. There is nothing wrong with you and now that you are aware that you are experiencing nurse burnout- choose to take action.
Burnout does have a highest and good use, as I talk about in my book “Stop Nurse Burnout“. It can propel you into action. By experiencing burnout and deciding you want something different, you can find a new nursing career that fulfills you. Going through a challenge such as nurse burnout can motivate you to make changes that allow you to love your nursing career again.
Don’t Mask the Burnout
Finally, don’t avoid or cover up your burnout. If burnout is what you are experiencing, do not attempt to hide it or pretend it is not there.
Masking burnout with alcohol, drugs, sleep, or shopping will not help you. It will only make things worse.
You need to realize that burnout is what you are experiencing and then take action to seek help. It will not just go away on its own.
Since burnout originates from a variety of sources, you are going to have to put multiple strategies into place to cope with and ultimately rid yourself of this experience. And then… maintain the strategies so that burnout does not sneak back up on you.
I am here and happy to help, if that is a resource that you are interested in. And there are dozens of others out there. Nurses and other professionals across the country are doing great work to stop nurse burnout. Reach out to someone and let them help you!
Let’s hear from you! Have you ever experienced nurse burnout? What did you do to prevent, avoid, or end it? What can you share with our readers to help them put a stop to nursing burnout?
About the Author: Keynote speaker and virtual conference host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week program, The Art of Nursing, Elizabeth supports nursing organizations in celebrating and recognizing their staff in a meaningful way. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.