Even the most resilient of people experience stress at different points of their lives. At times things may become so stressful that you become completely drained as well as physically and mentally exhausted. This is otherwise known as ‘burnout’- a term I’ve discovered during study is often associated with nursing (but can happen as a result of anything that adds extra pressure on us during our every day lives). But what causes ‘burnout’? And how can we prevent it? Let’s have a coffee ‘n’ catch up…
Burnout: A state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. (Helpguide.com (2019))
As previously mentioned, ‘burnout’ is often associated with nursing. During my studies we had lecture after lecture in regards to this- informing us of the pressures to ensure we entered the world of work with our eyes wide open, as well as educating us with appropriate methods of avoiding or overcoming this measure of extreme fatigue. Despite being guilty of eye-rolling and muttered expressions of “this again?!”- I can now thoroughly understand it’s importance.
As an RMN each day, without a shadow of a doubt, is either physically demanding, emotionally demanding, or both. The pressures of timing, under-staffing and cost on the health care system is constantly portrayed in the media and undeniable when working within this environment. In an attempt not to sound too cliché – not only do we have added economic demands but also the huge expectation to potentially save someones life or sway it in a more positive direction, help someones loved one and give someone hope. Emotionally- being a nurse can take it’s toll. Due to the nature of the illnesses we work with, it is very rare that a day goes by when people haven’t been verbally hostile toward us. We listen to others problems and work with them in an attempt to relieve the pressure on them by placing the struggle on our own shoulders. Now the problem is ours, we’re expected as professionals to think of a solution- and families often want this here and now (which isn’t always possible). We see traumatic things that others would only see in their nightmares. We know that historic trauma is a major factor in regards to the potential for future struggles- yet in adrenaline-fuelled situations we ensure peoples safety seeing things that would usually leave people mortified. But who looks out for us? ‘Don’t take work home with you’ is drilled into our minds but this is a lot easier said than done. I can guarantee that nurses, including myself and my colleagues, have been lying in bed at some point with our minds racing- thinking of the well-being of those struggling who we’ve made a strong therapeutic relationship with and hoping for the safety of those on the ward (and let’s remember that overthinking can be the beginning of a spiral of anxiety too!).
Not only are we likely to worry about the safety of those in our care- but also the safety of staff. Despite our best efforts to prevent such behaviours, a tiny percentage of people in our care can be violent and threatening towards staff and others on the ward. We get injured by doing all in our power to keep others safe.
Now, believe it or not, it’s not all doom and gloom. We do all of these things because we care- and the rewards by far outweigh the risks. Seeing someone laugh genuinely, hearing the words “thank you” and observing people succeed is exactly the reason why we do our job. Helping others creates the greatest sense of pride- but it’s just as important to take care of ourselves too.
Let’s avoid burnout!
If you experience something challenging- be it big or small- ensure to debrief with the rest of the team. Talk about what happened. How does everyone feel? What went well? What could be done better next time? Make sure that everyone is involved and if a point is raised- talk about it. Let the emotion out because it is so much better to get it out- and who better to talk to than other mental health nurses? Right?
Remember that your health is important too. No matter how much is on your to-do list throughout the day, remember to prioritise your essential needs as well (we can’t pour from an empty cup!). Don’t go all day without using the toilet or getting a drink. Take 5 minutes at an appropriate time if you begin to feel overwhelmed. Be organised and plan the shift to make it flow as smoothly as possible. Do all you can to make a positive shift. We are often involved in challenging situations, but our job is enjoyable too. We get to see people recover. As nurses “free time” doesn’t exist, but once in a while make an effort to get involved in the fun stuff too. Join in the group activities. Laugh. Smile. Enjoy yourself. Take note of all the positive things that are happening all around you.
And if you find that you are “stuck in a rut” and nothing seems to be working- why not get involved in different training? Learn something new. There are so many aspects of mental health nursing that we can implement in to our day-to-day role. Still stuck- a quick google search shows how many opportunities there are for those with a nursing degree. You deserve to be happy too. Don’t be scared of change. This goes for many careers- there are always ways to progress, you just have to look for the opportunity.
Are you a nurse? Have you experienced burnout? How did you overcome it?
Are you in another job and have felt a similar way at times? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time,