Avoiding Burnout And Maintaining A Healthy Work-Life Balance As A Nurse

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There has been a lot of discussion lately about the perils of the modern workplace and how to navigate the increasingly undefined line between work life and home life. In addition to causing stress and making your daily life more frustrating, balancing your professional hours with your time off properly can lead to burnout. This, in turn, impacts your mental health and affects how you operate both at work and outside. 

In this article, we’ll look at burnout, how it is caused and how you can avoid it and develop a healthy work-life balance. 

What is burnout?

Burnout is caused by chronic and unmitigated workplace stress. It is not classified as an illness but is considered akin to stress. It is more accurately considered a syndrome that causes feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion, reduced efficiency and efficacy, an increase of dissatisfaction with one’s job and a cause of stress and resentment. Burnout exists in just about any industry, but some are more prone to worker burnout than others. The healthcare industry is one of the most likely to produce burned-out employees due to the sheer emotional and physical demands jobs in the sector tend to require.

Nurses are some of the workers most affected by burnout. According to the American Hospital Association, a 2020 national survey found that burnout symptoms among nurses affects more than 60% of US nurses. Many of the nurses most affected by these symptoms are newer entrants to the field, with the American Nurses Foundation finding that nearly 70% of nurses under 25 have experienced burnout within the past year. These numbers have risen since the advent of COVID-19, leading to many new workplace stressors, including increased workplace violence. 

Many factors influence burnout in the nursing profession, and all of them contribute to the severity of the condition in different ways. 

What causes burnout among nurses?

Of all the positions in the medical industry, nurses and physicians experience incredible amounts of stress and are among those most likely to develop burnout. There are a few reasons for this. As we briefly touched on above, nursing requires incredible dedication and stamina. With incredibly long shifts that sometimes span days and normally run at least 12 hours, nurses spend a lot of time at work caring for their patients. In addition to long hours, the type of work that nurses perform is infamously complex. 

Nurses must understand not only what their patients’ vitals mean, but also how the medication they’re taking affects them, the demands their specific health issue has on care and potential emergencies to safeguard against. On a social level, they also routinely serve as interference between family and other loved ones and the patient. If they feel that the presence of other people in the patient’s room is hurting them, they will often request that they leave and sometimes face aggressive and hostile people. Caring for the ill and injured is also emotionally difficult, especially if the patient doesn’t make it. All these reasons contribute to nursing taking such a toll on workers. 

Unsurprisingly, it is widely recognized that burnout can hurt health and quality of life. Stress and burnout are closely related and cause many of the same potential issues. From increasing your risk of illness to addressing your mental health, unchallenged burnout can impact your life in several ways.

It is important to note here that your education plays a big role in balancing your professional and home lives and avoiding burnout. Reputable schools with respected programs teach their students the basics of balancing their time at work with their time at home. The first step to avoid burnout is to look for an online nursing program in Indiana delivered by a reputable institution with experience in producing successful nurses, such as Holy Family University. Programs such as this one are dedicated to providing aspiring nurses with the education they need to thrive in the workplace and live happy and healthy lives outside of nursing. This program combines online coursework with a one-week campus residency and in-person clinical placements that can be completed locally to ensure students master both the theoretical and practical aspects of nursing.

Sometimes even working with a great school doesn’t fully prevent burnout. The good news here is that it is not permanent and is preventable with the right precautions. Understanding nurses’ propensity to becoming burned out is half of the battle, and we have some tips to help with the other half. With a bit of self-care and some smart boundaries between work and home life, it is possible to balance being a nurse with your everyday life. 

Tips to balance work with your everyday life

Some tips aim to create and maintain a healthy work-life balance directly, while others focus on improving your workdays. We’re including the latter because sometimes the issue isn’t only that work takes up a lot of time. The way you work and your work’s impact on your mental health also influence how you feel when you are off work. 

Let’s dive into some of the best tips to help you balance a busy career with a fulfilling home life. 

What’s your purpose?

Of all the myriad jobs in the world, nursing and doctoring are often considered callings. Nurses and doctors are thought to be moved to help the ill and infirm rather than simply working for a paycheck. In many ways, that’s an accurate statement. Working long hours and being responsible for someone’s life is difficult if you don’t want to make a difference. Nurses make a big difference in many people’s lives every day, and their work is an important part of society. 

With that said, stepping into a role where you extend life and brighten the days of patients and families alike can be overwhelming. Some nurses feel as if their job takes over their life and starts to define them. Instead of having hobbies and loved ones, some nurses struggle to separate themselves from their job. Naturally, this leads to burnout as the sensation of always being on and ready to help at a moment’s notice takes over. 

This isn’t to say that finding purpose and meaning in your role as a nurse is bad. On the contrary, you must strongly desire to help and feel passionate about your work. However, instead of defining yourself as a nurse first and a person second, try setting clear boundaries between work and home. How do you see yourself? If you have children, for example, do you see yourself as a mom first, or a nurse? If the former, can you spend as much time with your children as you’d like?

You can establish and reinforce a healthy work-life balance by taking a closer look at what you want out of life and the role you want your work to play. If you find that your work is the most important thing in your life now, that’s great! There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s equally possible that your job has been impacting the rest of your responsibilities and goals, and deciding where to draw boundaries can help you regain control. 

Set future goals

High-stress jobs that demand a lot of emotional effort, time, and physical ability can be overwhelming. We mentioned this briefly above, but it’s worth mentioning again as it really shouldn’t be underestimated. In addition to impacting life outside of work, nursing can sometimes become a bit of a slog. When you are working long shifts back-to-back, you might shuffling through your days and then using your time off to rest and recharge. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with this; if this approach works for you, then keep doing what you’re doing! However, some people find that this routine quickly drops them into a rut, easily leading them to lose sight of the important things. This is where goals come in. While understanding the role you want work to play in your life is important, so is having something to work towards outside of it. 

Think about where you are and how you can improve your situation. Whether you’d like to vacation to the Caribbean or are saving for a house, break down your goal into clear milestones and track them throughout the week. These milestones help ground you when you are overwhelmed by work and remind you that you have exciting things coming. 

Ask for help

As it is such an on-the-go profession, nursing can be isolating to newer entrants. They tend to get caught up in the whirlwind of duties and find themselves struggling to meet responsibilities and struggling a bit under the weight of their duties. The good news is that nursing is a notoriously united profession and chances are good that your team members can help. They might not be able to cover patients entirely, but it’s possible they can help cover the gaps so that your patients receive excellent care while you adjust to the industry. 

Note that asking for help is completely acceptable and will likely net you some pointers about managing your time and approaching your work to maximize the hours you spend on the clock. Older nurses are a treasure trove of information, so don’t hesitate to ask them for advice or insight. Remember that you’re in this together, and mastering your work life can make the rest of your life even more enjoyable. 

Take breaks

Nurses can benefit from taking a break or two throughout the day. This might seem impossible, especially if you’re currently swamped in the middle of your shift but note that even just a few minutes can help recenter your mind and refresh your mental processes. If you take a couple of minutes now and then to catch your breath, you boost your productivity and maintain conscious control over your shift. 

Whether you have a quick moment to step inside a quiet room and take a breath or can scrape together enough time to sit down and have a meal, don’t hesitate to take some time to yourself whenever possible. Doing this helps minimize frustrations and stress, reducing overall dissatisfaction and improving mood. This, in turn, positively impacts your life outside of work. 

Say no

Part of the reason balancing work with your everyday life is important, regardless of the profession, is that there always seems to be something to do. Unfortunately, this only becomes truer the busier we are. You can rest assured that at the end of an incredibly long shift when all you want to do is sleep and focus on self-care for the next two days, someone will need help or want your time. 

Part of maintaining a healthy balance of work and personal life is taking advantage of the time you have outside of work to take care of yourself and the things that matter to you. Before you commit any of this time to someone else, take stock of yourself and your plans. If you have two days to spend with your child before you return to work, do you really want to agree to spend one of those days helping someone else? For many people, the answer is no, but they agree anyway because they feel obligated. This ultimately results in frustration when your time off work is over, and you don’t feel like you spent enough time on the things that matter to you most. 

It’s okay to say no to invitations and requests. You have the right to spend your time off work the way you want to spend it. Note that this is true regardless of your other plans. If you want to spend your time off work sleeping, eating and watching your favorite movie — and you don’t have a child or spouse to worry about — that’s great! You can turn down a request for help or an invitation to a social engagement to spend time at home instead. That’s completely valid. 

Work becomes less frustrating when you feel as though you’ve spent enough time on the things that matter to you. You will resent your work hours less when you enjoy your time off-shift. 

Make friends who understand

While your loved ones will likely be as supportive of your work and scheduling issues as possible, they won’t fully understand your challenges. This is where building relationships with people in similar circumstances can help. Don’t avoid your fellow nurses! Spend time getting to know the people you work with and, hopefully, building relationships that make your life a bit easier. 

Having friends who understand makes it easier to vent about stressors without overwhelming the people who have waited for your attention while you’ve been working long shifts. This doesn’t mean that you can’t confide in your loved ones, of course, but having someone in your life who fully understands the work you do and the impact it has upon your personal life is a valuable resource. 

If you don’t have anyone to vent to just yet, don’t worry; there are plenty of online options. Social media platforms such as Reddit are good outlets for frustration and have the added benefit of keeping your job and your experiences anonymous. The method of communication here is less important than the communication itself. 

Work-life balance is key

Maintaining a strong work-life balance is key to a healthy and productive nursing career. Being able to set boundaries between the job and home life, finding your purpose, setting goals and not being afraid to rely on others allow you to achieve this balance. Ensuring you take breaks, giving yourself the space and time to decompress and relax, and sometimes even saying no are all ways to reduce the stresses overwhelming you.

If you want to become a nurse, keep our tips for a healthy work-life balance in mind! Even if you have a different professional path to pursue, our advice can help you thrive and avoid burnout.

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