Nurse Burnout: How To Keep Your Nursing Job And Your Sanity

Studies show, in as little as four years, many once bright and enthusiastic nurses feel burned out--and ready to call it quits. In fact, the American Nurses Association found that nurses under 30 years old are more likely to feel agitated about their job and less likely to do anything about it. That's why it's important for first year nurses to recognize the signs of burnout and know how to stop it, long before thoughts of quitting materialize.

What Is Nursing Burnout?

Here are the three main burnout symptoms:
  • Exhaustion
  • Depersonalization of your work
  • Lack of sense of personal accomplishment

Other burnout symptoms include irritability, chronic fatigue, anger, depression, insomnia, or even drug and alcohol abuse. Less severe symptoms include calling in sick, showing up late, or otherwise lacking motivation.

One of the biggest culprits behind nurse burnout is inadequate staffing. With hospitals tightening budgets and a looming national nursing shortage, long shifts and forced overtime are often the norm. New nurses may feel overwhelmed, especially without enough experienced nurses to serve as mentors.

Avoiding Burnout: Tips For Your First Nursing Job

Despite the challenges, it's still possible to love your nursing job and stay sane. The following strategies can prevent you from burning out early:
  • Connect with people in the same boat: Find other nurses experiencing the same feelings. If you aren't paired with a mentor, ask for one. A good venting session can work wonders.
  • Treat yourself like your #1 patient: You need to be in prime condition to keep up! So eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise. Listen to your body, and get professional help if you need it.
  • Set boundaries and delegate: Know your limits, and feel comfortable saying "no." Whatever you can't handle, delegate to others--forget believing you have to do everything yourself.
  • Have a life outside your job: When you're working 12-hour shifts, you need an outlet that has nothing to do with nursing. Prioritize spending time with friends and family, or engaging in a hobby you love.
  • Speak up: If you're overwhelmed, get help! Talk to your nurse manager about the number of patients you have. Ask the unit educator about developing better time management skills. If you need a break, say so.
  • Remember why you became a nurse: On any given day, you might save a life, help a new mother, or ease a child's suffering. Keep journal of your positive experiences, and remember you are making a difference in people's lives.
Many hospitals are working to create stronger residency training programs and mentor support systems for new nurses. As of 2009, 15 states and the District of Columbia had legislation or regulations to address nurse staffing. So, if you feel burned out, don't give up. You can find the support you need.

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