Burnout is a reality in nursing, and when a nurse begins to feel like he or she is experiencing burnout, there are many steps that the individual nurse can take in order to arrest the worsening of this often emotionally—and professionally—debilitating condition.
1) Ask for help: If you feel like you may be experiencing burnout as a nurse, it’s important to ask for help in the appropriate places.
Your employer may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which is a confidential program providing short-term counseling for employees, usually at a separate agency that provides such services. In EAP, the nurse experiencing symptoms of burnout can seek the help of a counselor who can guide the nurse in identifying the core issues, activating support systems, and identifying strategies for recovery and self-care.
Your immediate supervisor may be a person to whom you can turn, but this depends on your relationship and the supervisor’s style of leadership. This can be a double-edged sword, so be thoughtful in this regard.
You can also seek psychotherapy or counseling apart from EAP or work-related programs or providers. Career coaches and counselors can also be helpful at times like these.
2. Take a leave of absence: Sometimes a leave of absence (LOA) is the only way to gain some perspective when you’re feeling burnt out. It can be possible to take unpaid leave and seek temporary employment elsewhere, or you may be in the position to use savings or other income to support you financially during your LOA. You may be eligible for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but this may necessitate a note to your employer from a psychotherapist or doctor who is treating you.
3. Ask for decreased responsibilities: If you are not in a position to take a leave of absence and must continue working, there are sometimes ways to decrease your responsibilities or otherwise ease your workload. You might also be able to “job share” with someone willing to work half of your hours for a period of time, or you may be able to, for example, leave bedside care and switch to managerial or clerical tasks temporarily.
4. Practice flawless self-care: Whether you can take a LOA or not, virtually flawless self-care is essential in the face of burnout. This may include seeking out psychotherapy, coaching, your employer’s EAP, or taking care of yourself in other ways. Daily exercise, and a diet free of processed foods, sugar, caffeine and other foods that may increase stress and decrease immune function can be very useful. Good hydration, thoughtful use of dietary supplements, and attention to sleep hygiene are also crucial. You may also want to focus on time with family, your hobbies, travel, leisure time, as well as anything that brings you peace of mind, joy and a sense of well-being.
Burnout is not fun, and you are not the only one who can suffer. Your patients, colleagues, friends and family also notice when you’re not at your best, so do your best to prevent burnout from occurring. You can also be aware of the need to put yourself in a healthy position to recover from it quickly when you realize that burnout has indeed reared its ugly head in your nursing career.