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Clinical Corner: Nurse Burnout and Stress Management

Stress Meditation 1 - Clinical Corner: Nurse Burnout and Stress Management
Recognize Stress Awareness Month by checking in on yourself and finding healthy ways to manage stress and avoid nurse burnout.

By Phil Niles, Clinical Nurse Manager, Medical Solutions

April is Stress Awareness Month, and that’s relevant highly here considering two of the biggest challenges nurses face are chronic stress and burnout. I can tell you from my own experience that unchecked stress leads to physical pain, lack of energy, bitterness, feelings of dread, and becoming mentally checked out of caring for patients. When you burn out, nursing can become a never-ending hamster wheel of dreading everything negative that could happen during your day. These “could happen” scenarios become expected, inevitable truths in your mind each day, even if they do not occur. Pretty bleak, right? 

Healthcare in general is often listed as one of the top most stressful jobs in the United States. A few of the reasons for this trend include workload caused by insufficient staffing and long shifts without breaks. One of the most dangerous effects of this are increased risk for patient harm. Stress makes you tired and confuses your thinking, leading to mistakes and breaks in standard of care.

So, what can be done? Shall we all throw our hands in the air, toss our stethoscopes in the nearest trash can, and go live the hobo life riding the rails? Sure, I exaggerate a bit, but I know a few of you are holding your hands high yelling “Amen!” Obviously, there are steps that need to be taken by health care organizations, which some have done, to decrease the demand on nurses and improve the overall work environment.  Additionally, instead of asking only “What are they doing to help me?” we should ask, “What can I do to help myself?” We need to focus on ourselves and practice mindful self-care. How do we care for ourselves?

STOP and take a deep breath.

It is very common to get caught up in all the things that need to be done and the lack of time to do it. Stopping and taking a deep breath helps clear the frustration that can cripple your ability to think clearly and prioritize care.  After three or four deep breaths ask yourself, “What needs done right now?” You are only one person and cannot be in three places at once, even though it feels like we are asked to do this all the time. Start with the first thing that needs to be done and prioritize from there. Pop your head into the other patient’s rooms and let them know you haven’t forgotten them. This will help your patients feel respected and validated instead of ignored. 

Be vocal and a clear communicator.

Let your Charge know what you have going on and what you can take on to help the team. The only way they know you are feeling overwhelmed is if you communicate. I’m sure many of you have been to assignments where you felt like you could not depend on anyone. Be the positive change of teamwork you want to see! Offer your help when you can and ask for help when you need it. Assuming everyone knows you are extremely busy is the cause of a lot of unnecessary frustration. 

Stay hydrated!

Most nurses are pushing their kidneys into early failure with poor hydration. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, lack of energy, and slower thinking. I can hear it now … “I don’t have time to pee let alone drink any water!” Yes, you do! It is just not a part of your daily work habit — yet. Prioritize yourself for your own health, but also because, in the end, taking care of yourself makes you better able to care for your patients.     

Leave a bad work day at the door and do not assume it will be the same tomorrow.  Easier said than done, I know! It does take work to not let the “black cloud” of a bad day follow you home and shape your mood for the rest of the day and the next. Commit to making time for yourself. Nursing is a very engaged, social profession. Decompression in a quiet space is necessary to let your mind relax. Even if it’s just the drive back home while listening to a podcast, music, or nothing at all! Take an extra spin around the block if you’re coming home to an equally busy household, which many of us are. You’ll thank yourself for the extra five minutes. Your brain needs the downtime!

Take advantage of the resources available to you. 

As a Traveler you may feel alone with no one to call on for support. This is not true! You can always contact your recruiter and some travel companies, such as Medical Solutions, have in-house nurses, such as myself, available to talk with you and truly understand where you’re coming from. This is often an unknown resource to many Travelers. Just talking something out with another nurse does wonders to get it off your shoulders and help you breathe a little easier. 

Stress is a very real and damaging force if not dealt with through healthy channels.  Remember this Stress Awareness Month and all year-round that the only way to provide skilled, compassionate care for your patients is to care for yourself first.

About the Author

Hi, I'm Sarah Wengert, a creative content writer for the amazing Medical Solutions based in Omaha, Nebraska. While I'm not a Travel Nurse, I love to travel and I truly appreciate the hard, important work that nurses do. I'm very happy to represent a company that cares so much about its people. Thanks for reading!

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