Nursing is a high-stress job. There are no two ways about it. However, despite the stressful nature of the job, there are plenty of ways to reduce stress in other areas of your life and maintain a successful work-life balance. In doing so, you can prevent yourself from burning out, even when the going gets tough. And it has been especially tough this year.
To reduce burnout, it is imperative that you properly care for your mind and body. Remember, stress negatively affects both. This is a list of twenty-two strategies for nurses to reduce the risk of burnout. Try one or all of these strategies to find the combination that works for you.
This might seem like an obvious and simple first step, but sometimes figuring out what is indeed causing you stress can be a stressor in and out itself. Most people have multiple things weighing on them at any one time, so you might end up making a list instead of having one thing in particular that is stressful. Spending the time to make that distinction is worth it.
When you have a better idea of what is stressing you out, you can identify possible steps you can take or even solutions. For example, if someone in your life is getting on your nerves, you can decide whether you should spend less time with them. Alternatively, you could try talking to them about the issue and see if it can be resolved.
Either way, knowing is half of the battle. Even if the things stressing you out don’t have easy solutions, it can be helpful to pinpoint their origins. Try talking it over with your support system. They might have some ideas that never occurred to you.
Never underestimate the power of the breath! If you have ever watched martial arts movies or practiced them yourself, you know that how you breathe dramatically affects your body. Taking some deep breaths can help you physically push out the stress and only takes a few moments before you feel ready to take on the next task.
Even if you aren’t currently feeling stressed, it’s essential to take some time every few hours to re-center yourself and take a few deep breaths. The extra oxygen also focuses your brain and keeps you awake and alert. It might not be as effective as a shot of espresso, but it’s something you can do anywhere, at any time to increase concentration.
If you find yourself yawning in the middle of a shift, knowing you still have a few more hours to go, try some breathing exercises to get your body back on track.
When you get stressed out, people tend to hunch over and clench their muscles. After hours on end, that can get tiring for your body. Taking the time to stretch out doesn’t have to be something you spend hours on; it can be accomplished in about ten minutes. You can also use that time to clear your mind and focus on the stretch of your muscles.
If you are Yoga-inclined, many hospital breakrooms have areas where you can move the couch out of the way and do a few positions. Remember, even the positions that have you laying down aren’t so bad considering how nice and relaxed your muscles will feel afterward. It might feel a little silly at first, but there could be other nurses who would be happy to join you.
And, if any of your coworkers tease you, just remind them that you are staying healthy. Feel free to tease them in return. A bit of teasing never hurt anyone and could relieve some stress. After all, they will end up with hunchbacks if they never stretch!
A significant cause of burnout in any field is to put every part of yourself into your job. It just isn’t healthy! Nursing is a demanding industry, and you want to give it your all, but you have to keep part of yourself just for you. Keep up with your hobbies, pick up one of your old ones again, or find a new one. It’s essential to have some outlets for stress, and hobbies are fantastic.
Whatever strikes your fancy, nowadays you can learn just about anything on the internet. Anything can be a hobby, and we have some ideas throughout this list, but if you are looking for some other suggestions, consider these:
- Putting together puzzles
- Riding your bike
- Making videos of your pets or children doing silly things
- Building your own computer
You have probably heard that staring at a screen for too long can stress out your brain because of the blue light. While many devices now have specific modes that you can toggle that blue light off, sometimes it’s nice to just relax with a book, comic, or magazine in a cozy blanket. There is something about the feeling of pages in your fingers that simply can’t be replaced.
There is no right thing to read to wind down—some people like murder mysteries, some like Calvin and Hobbes, and others like magical realism. Whatever you choose, as long as it isn’t medical journals, see if an hour or two of reading can bring down your stress levels.
Reminding yourself that reading doesn’t have to be work-related and taking in a story is a calming way to remember that you are human and everything doesn’t need to revolve around your patients.
You are probably used to chugging down a hot cup of coffee in the nurse’s lounge every few hours when you work the night shift, and there has been a significant accident on the highway nearby, but this suggestion is something a little different. When you are on your break, take a few minutes actually to be on hiatus. Don’t just rush through it to get back to work.
It might feel like you have to be everywhere at once, and sometimes there are genuine emergencies, but you have coworkers for a reason. Taking a few minutes every few hours to quietly sit by yourself and taste what you are drinking is not the end of the world. No doctor will criticize you for taking a couple of moments to get your head back in the game.
So take that time! Maybe try drinking tea or bringing your own coffee in a thermos if you don’t like what’s in the lounge.
Whether you are a cat person or a dog person, or neither, animals are fantastic stress relievers. Many people enjoy keeping pets for that very reason. Allergies might prevent you from having a large mammal in the house, but hamsters, snakes, lizards, and birds are all possibilities. Especially if you live alone, it’s nice to have another living being there.
You don’t need to own an animal if you can’t care for one either; cat cafes have recently come to America. You can go there, pick up a yummy muffin, and spend an hour petting or playing with a bunch of friendly cats. Then, if you happen to bond with one, in particular, you can adopt them and bring them home to be your forever friend.
If cats aren’t your style, there are plenty of animal shelters that host events at places like PetCo, where the adoptable animals are brought out to be socialized with people. You can enjoy the fun of playing around without the responsibility of caring for them all the time.
Humans are social creatures. No matter how much you want to be an independent person, the fact of the matter is that you will always need a support system of some kind. It doesn’t have to be huge, but having people in your corner is always appreciated. Sometimes you need to just phone a friend and rant for an hour about something stupid you saw.
Whether it is your friends or family, knowing that someone will be there for you when times get bad is essential to living a full and happy life. Don’t underestimate their input either. When you struggle to develop a solution to a looming problem, reach out to your support system. It can be hard to be objective when it comes to monitoring your stress so ask your friends.
If they are any kind of a friend at all, they will volunteer the information without you even needing to ask.
If you are having an incredibly stressful day, take some time in your schedule to wind down. Even if it means putting something off until tomorrow, it is worth it, in the long run, to stay sane and not burn out. Plenty of people have a favorite movie that they memorized all of the lines to and can recite from memory. It can be reassuring to watch something like that again.
Alternatively, if you have been looking forward to watching a new film, pencil in a two-hour slot to have a date with yourself. It sounds silly, but scheduling the time for the movie will make you more likely to do it and not just blow it off at the last minute to be more productive. Your mind and body are just as important as your job, so give yourself time.
This might be the most challenging strategy on the list, and it takes many nurses years to master it properly. You have to realize that you are only human; you can’t do everything yourself. Inevitably, you will be asked to do more than you can handle and you have to learn how to say no. The person asking you might get mad or frustrated, but it’s better to say no upfront.
If you accept everything and then can’t do it all, people will be much more disappointed and angry than if you calmly tell them you can’t do it at the outset. Otherwise, they will be counting on you to do all of the work on time. Instead of always asking for forgiveness, saying no is more mature and will ultimately lead to less annoyance.
If you are still working on the strategy above, remember that you are not alone. Preventing burnout before it starts is the best strategy, and knowing that you can delegate certain tasks or just ask for help is a massive weight off of a nurse’s shoulders. The hospital has plenty of residents, doctors, nurse practitioners, and countless other people who can help.
Even if you aren’t able to delegate tasks, people are often willing to lend a helping hand. Just keep that in mind the next time someone asks you to help them out!
This might seem like a no-brainer and not an option for many nurses out there, but sometimes it can be beneficial to ly out your everyday tasks for a single day or shift and analyze them. Do you need to be doing everything on that list? Could any of it be delegated, as we discussed above? Alternatively, are there are any extraneous tasks that don’t need to be performed as often?
Sometimes, just making a list can be helpful mentally, even if you cannot eliminate any of your workload. Having something concrete to check off or cross off can make your brain realize what you have just accomplished. It’s easy to take your work for granted when you do it day in and day out, but taking the time to cross something off a list can give you a boost.
In addition to the optimism, it can help you feel like time has passed. Lots of people end up spending time staring at their watch or the clock on the wall just waiting for their shift to be over. When you are busy checking items off of your list, you feel a sense of accomplishment and can see that you have done almost everything you need to for the day.
Sometimes there is no other way to avoid burnout than to step back from your job for a while. No one can work every day without feeling tired. That’s why people take vacations. You don’t have to go anywhere exotic either; you can just drive a few hours away to see somewhere new, spend the day with your kids, or curl up for a Netflix binge and chill.
You get paid time off for a reason; there’s nothing noble about never taking a day of vacation. Some nurses make the mistake of trying to be an overachiever and never take a day or week to themselves, but that only increases your chance of burnout. You might impress your boss, but the cost to your sanity, in the long run, isn’t worth it.
It can be challenging to find enough hours in the day for your commute, your shift, and any other responsibilities you have in life. On top of everything else, finding some time to work out can be a real pain. If you can, though, your body will thank you. Even if you only spend fifteen minutes jogging or doing squats in the bathroom while you’re waiting for the water to warm up, it matters.
When your heart goes faster, your body releases endorphins, making you feel more awake and excited. Not only will exercise make you happier but when your body is healthy and in shape, it’s easier to stay focused on your work. You will be ready for whatever challenges life throws at you.
If you have more time, you can go for a walk to clear your head and get your steps in while you’re at it. You don’t need a gym to work out; there are tons of exercises you can do in a break room or your living room.
This may be difficult to do, depending on your schedule, but try to get between six and eight hours of sleep every night at a minimum. While it is true that some people can get by on less, not getting enough sleep at night is a surefire way to burn out. Nursing is a stressful job, and you need to be focused because people depend on you, so get some sleep.
Sleep is your body’s way of regenerating after the day, as well as to process your memories. If you don’t get enough sleep regularly, it’s not only your attitude that will suffer. You may find that you don’t have as much manual dexterity, have trouble remembering things, and can’t think straight. None of that helps when you’re running around a hospital.
Enjoying the occasional treat or dessert is fine, but whenever possible, you should choose the healthy option. Too much sugar and carbs at one time can lead to a crash later, just like with caffeine. But, while it’s easy to find a cup of coffee or chocolate bar in the nurse’s lounge, it isn’t the best option.
Eating healthy foods can help you maintain concentration and deal with stress better. You’re in the medical field, so you know just how much better your body does when you treat it right.
Video games may not be for everyone, but they are a great way to escape from reality for a while. Get lost in a good narrative or shoot the endless waves of zombies. Either way, it’s time you didn’t spend worrying about life or nursing, so it’s time well spent for your brain.
After a long day at work cleaning up after people and tending to their care, the last thing you probably want to do when you get home is some manual labor. That is understandable. On your days off, however, you might consider fixing up your house, doing a deep clean of your living space, working in a garden, or something similar.
Why? Because when your body is exerting itself, you can get into a rhythm, and your brain slowly empties. You don’t have time to be stressed out when you’re focusing on reaching the cobwebs in high corners or digging a hole for your new succulent. If it helps, you can listen to music to find the right routine. Not to mention the pride you will feel afterward at a job well done.
This might sound childish, but arts and crafts are a fun way to create and let your imagination run wild. You don’t need to be a crafty person to have fun with arts and crafts. The reason that kids love it is that they learn manual dexterity skills, but there is no age limit for using your creativity. Plus, when you create something from scratch, you feel a sense of pride.
Additionally, by having a finished product at the end, no matter how messy or strange it looks, your brain sees that your effort has a tangible reward. In nursing, you see how much your work contributes by watching patients get healthier or recover from an illness. However, at the end of the day, a patient goes home, and you probably never see them again.
With arts and crafts, the project is there in your home. You can hang it on the wall or put it on a shelf, but whenever you need to be reminded that you did something, it’s there.
Sometimes, the best way to get out of your head is to change things up. As humans, we tend to form routines and then go about them unthinkingly. That’s fine when you need to save time, but, like an animal in the zoo, we can become bored when everything is always the same. It may be subconscious boredom, but it can lead to dissatisfaction and burnout.
One easy way to keep yourself from getting stuck in a rut is to change things up subtly. You don’t need to go very far out of your way, but if you walk, drive, or bike to work, consider trying a different route. If you can find another way to get to work that doesn’t add a ton of time to your commute, try varying your route every so often, just to keep things interesting.
When you do something differently, you have to pay attention, and who knows? You might find a new place that you end up liking!
It is easy to feel like your entire life revolves around your career. In nursing, when you are under a lot of pressure and individual events at work can really weigh on you long after they’re over, it is crucial to remember that you are a person outside of being a nurse. When things get you down, it can be nice to allow yourself something special.
Maybe you swing by for something tasty after a shift, or you pick up an extra bag of chips at the grocery store. Perhaps you finally order the expensive new phone you have been lusting after since it came out. Whatever you like, make sure that you budget some money every month to treat yourself once in a while.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or super expensive. If you’re getting yourself a treat to relieve stress, you don’t want to stress yourself out more by spending more money than you can afford!
For immediate stress relief, take a few minutes when things have slowed down during the shift or when you are on break, and pull up some funny videos. Your coworkers may want to get in on some video action, too, so don’t be surprised if you end up making some friends this way. Taking a few minutes to laugh is a beautiful way to prevent burnout.
Most of the strategies on this list are things to do outside of work, but this is an at-work way to keep your energy up during taxing shifts without wasting too much time. There are tons of silly cat (or any other animal) videos all over the internet, so there will never be a shortage of new material to enjoy. No one is ever too old to poke fun at the latest TikTok meme.
Whatever kind of short videos you like, giving yourself a few minutes to de-stress will go a long way.
However, you choose to do it; the primary strategy for reducing burnout is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Whether you pick up a new hobby, start an exercise routine, adopt a pet, or just take a much-needed vacation, remember that you can’t devote your entire life to caring for other people unless you start caring for yourself first.
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