Today's nurses work in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. Demands are high, and stressors are abundant. Each day, nurses must balance the needs of multiple patients, coordinate with ancillary staff, receive new orders from doctors, field questions from family members, and deliver medications on time.
This combination of mental, emotional and physical stressors makes nurses — especially new graduates — susceptible to burnout. If unaddressed, new grad nurse burnout can adversely affect your career, health and patient outcomes.
We'll talk about how to identify burnout in the nursing profession and how to address it, which will help ensure that you're a happy, healthy nurse with a long career ahead of you. Being in tune with yourself and learning about nursing stress management can help.
Warning signs of nursing burnout
Everyone reacts differently to stress, and burnout can manifest in a multitude of ways. Here are some common symptoms of nurse burnout:
- Feeling irritable. We all have triggers, but if you are getting irritated more often and over situations that didn't always bother you, this can be an early sign of burnout.
- Frequently calling in sick. If you find yourself calling in sick more often and using sick days to avoid work, you may need to address the underlying issue.
- Compassion fatigue. Many nurses enter the field because of a desire to care for others. If you find yourself becoming less empathetic and creating distance between you and your patients, you might be experiencing compassion fatigue, which is a major warning sign of nurse burnout.
- Regularly experiencing exhaustion. It's normal to be tired after a 12-hour shift. However, fatigue that is not relieved by a good night's sleep or a day off is not normal. Not being able to muster the energy to exercise or socialize with friends and family can be a sign of burnout.
- Loss of enjoyment of work. Do you dread coming to work? Are you just going through the motions while you're there? A lack of enthusiasm for your job is one of the first signs of burnout.
Note: This list is not complete of burnout symptoms, and it's critical to recognize your warning signs.
How to overcome nurse burnout
The most effective way to deal with nurse burnout is prevention. By recognizing the early signs and symptoms of stress, and promptly addressing them, you can avert a full-fledged case of burnout. Here are a few suggestions for how to prevent and overcome nurse burnout:
- Take a breath. Often in a stressful situation, we neglect to stop, take a breath and collect ourselves. If we take the time, we can find the solution to many problems at work. Stopping to regroup can help.
- Make eating well a priority. Food is medicine. What you put in your body is of paramount importance. While working a 12-hour shift, you need real fuel, not just coffee and sugar. Too often, nurses eat processed, pre-made meals that are high in fat and sugar. With a little planning, you can make your nutritious meals at home and give yourself balanced, healthy food to nourish and energize you.
If you're pressed for time, consider cooking in bulk and freezing portioned meals that you can reheat at work. A healthy meal will keep you satiated, focused and feeling strong during your shift. Along with eating well, stay hydrated. Keep a reusable water bottle on hand to help you drink the daily recommended 64 ounces of water.
- Carve out time for exercise. Find an activity you enjoy, because exercise that is fun doesn't feel like a chore. For some, yoga is physically demanding while also being restorative. Maybe you like to dance or go hiking or surfing. Exercise that you truly enjoy can relieve stress, help you sleep, make you happier and increase your energy levels.
- Get plenty of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven hours of sleep for proper physical and cognitive function. Having a regular bedtime routine can help you unwind at the end of a long day at work and get a good night's sleep. My post-shift routine is as follows: make dinner, walk the dog, take a shower and then read in bed.
If you aren't getting the recommended seven hours of sleep, a 15-20 minute power nap before work can be rejuvenating and reset your system.
- Form strong coworker relationships. Connecting with your coworkers forms trust, and nurses who trust their coworkers feel more supported at work. When you have strong bonds with coworkers, you can call on them for help in stressful situations. As a travel nurse in the float pool, I always take the time to introduce myself to the charge nurse at the beginning of the shift. This simple act of being friendly and introducing myself aligns me with a knowledgeable ally for the day.
When to reconsider your role
If implementing these suggestions does not resolve your nurse burnout symptoms, you may want to consider changing specialties. Fortunately, nursing offers ample opportunities for lateral movement.
If you are working with adult patients, perhaps pediatric nursing would be a better fit. Working in an Intensive Care Unit or the Emergency Department might present a patient population more suited to your nursing style. If being a bedside nurse is no longer desirable, consider nursing informatics. Changing your work environment can reinvigorate your appreciation of nursing.
Additionally, pursuing a higher level of nursing education might reignite your passion for the profession. Working toward a master of science or a doctorate in nursing can instill a sense of purpose for a nurse who is battling burnout.
If you choose the educational path or you decide to pursue a new position, our Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder can assist you in designing a standout application. Our builders make pulling your application materials together stress-free, with pre-written phrases and expert advice, along with a step-by-step wizard to walk you through the process.