5 Tips For Avoiding Nurse Burnout

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC - 03/22/19

Nurse burnout can rear its ugly head for any number of reasons in the course of a nurse’s career. Aside from identifying the signs of burnout, the most important thing for a nurse to know is how to avoid burnout from ever taking hold.

What Causes Nurse Burnout? 

Bullying, harassment, and intimidation in the workplace are common causes of nurse burnout. A negative workplace culture takes its toll, as can lack of professional support and poor management. When nurses don’t feel cared about by peers or leaders, they can feel adrift, at risk, isolated, and at risk of burnout.

Since nursing is an intimate form of service, nurses can feel emotionally aligned with patients and their families in ways that don’t always serve either party. Nurses are likely candidates for wanting to “fix” other people, and this can lead to burnout when others’ lives are more difficult to control than imagined. Better for a nurse to maintain good professional boundaries and a healthy emotional distance than to lean in too far. These lessons are often learned the hard way.

High nurse-patient ratios, long hours, low pay, poor benefits, and other work-related issues are also common causes of burnout. These and other factors all contribute to unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Finally, poor self-care is an enormous issue to consider in relation to burnout. Inadequate sleep, nutrition, hydration, and rest are all too common, and the use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol, or other addictions are also powerful components leading to burnout.

5 Tips for Avoiding Burnout

There are countless of tips for avoiding burnout. Here are five simple yet effective strategies.

  1. Self-care: If a nurse would like to avoid burning out, self-care is the place to begin. Good sleep hygiene is essential, especially for nurses who work night shift. Regular exercise assists with physical fitness, mental acuity, and stress management. And as mentioned above, nutrition and hydration are key to good health and stable mental and physical well-being. Other forms of self-care include time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies and personal interests, vacation and leisure time, maintaining favorite spiritual practices, and striking a balance between one’s personal life and work responsibilities.
  2. Avoiding negative workplace cultures: Negative workplace cultures rife with bullying, top-down hierarchical management, lack of support, and gossip are places to avoid. Even the most well-paying position with excellent benefits can lead to burnout if the environment within which the nurse works is unfriendly and unsupportive. Sometimes the only way to avoid burning out in a negative environment is to leave that workplace behind.
  3. Seeking support: Seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that support can come in many forms, including counseling and psychotherapy, guidance from a faith leader, and the love and compassion of family and friends. Research shows that individuals with a robust social sphere have a higher level of personal satisfaction and happiness. Nurses are indeed caregivers, but seeking out care for the self is a crucial way to avoid burnout, dissatisfaction, and stress.
  4. Career development: A nurse can feel quite professionally stuck without a sense that one’s career is actually moving forward. Seeking out opportunities to learn skills and acquire new knowledge engages one’s intellectual curiosity, sharpens the mind, and creates openness to novel ways of looking at the world. Networking with like-minded professionals, pursuing a certification, working with a career coach, returning to school, or choosing a nurse mentor are all methods of career development that can contribute to a sense of professional satisfaction and the feeling that one’s career is anything but stagnant.
  5. Develop and maintain personal interests: When work becomes the sole focus of a nurse’s life, burnout is almost a certainty. A busy, hard-working nurse needs a balanced life wherein his or her interests outside of work are developed and maintained. Creative pursuits, hobbies, and personal interests are essential to well-being and a sense that one’s life is satisfyingly multidimensional. In the end, all work and no play can make the nurse miserable, lonely, and bereft of a balanced and joyful life.

It's Always Individual

While the signs and symptoms of burnout are relatively universal, the strategies for preventing and overcoming burnout are quite individual. While one nurse may thrive in psychotherapy, another nurse may find her personal balance in a painting class or on the dance floor.

There are no cookie-cutter answers to burnout, but assiduous and conscientious self-reflection and self-awareness can lead each nurse to the place where he or she can strike the right balance between work and home.

Burnout can lead to stress-based illness, deep unhappiness, and attrition from the nursing profession, thus being aware of the potential for burnout can help the nurse to avoid such a scenario and maintain a life and career that co-exist in harmony and balance.