A Nurse’s Story: 3 Things That Helped Me Through Burnout

Let’s be real, a nurse’s job doesn’t end in the hospital. After getting off work, you go home and face the piles of household chores and commitments you failed to accomplish before because you were simply too tired. And just like last time, today is no different. The neglected chores stay neglected because you crash on your bed and wake up just in time to rush off to work.

Like many, this has been my daily scenario. And even though I often tried to find the right balance, I just couldn’t find a way to stay on top of things. I always found myself taking on more commitments than I could handle. Co-workers asking to cover their shift. Nurse supervisors asking to report to work. Getting off work late. You know how it is.

And the end result? Burnout.

Burnout is one of worst things that can happen to you as a nurse. Blood, guts, and gore — these things don’t phase us. But, burnout? It’s that one thing that can make you take off your scrubs and never want to wear them again.

In 2013 alone, around half a million nurses left the profession because of high burnout. A separate survey shows 70% of nurses feeling the same way with their existing roles.

It won’t be long before a shortage happens and that can put more nurses at risk of burnout.

Fortunately, however, I didn’t reach that point of no return. I was able to renew my passion and purpose in life.

Here’s how I did it.

1. Breathe

Relax and breathe. This tip may sound too basic, but it actually did wonders for me. It helped me slow down, think more clearly and de-stress.

One of the best techniques I found was the 4-7-8 Exercise or the Relaxing Breath Exercise. It’s a breathing technique that works as a natural tranquilizer for your nervous system. I use it to get to sleep faster, release internal tension or whenever I’m upset. And, frankly, it does work.

In this exercise, you need to have the tip of your tongue touching the ridge of tissue behind your two front teeth. Keep your tongue in such a position throughout the exercise.

Begin by exhaling through your mouth. You should create a whooshing sound as you breathe out. Close your mouth and inhale quietly for 4 counts. Hold your breath for 7 counts before exhaling completely through your mouth for another 8 counts.

How fast you count depends on you, but make sure that you stick to the ratio of 4-7-8. You can count fast or slow but keep the ratio the same. Do a total of four breaths per exercise.

I do this twice a day — before I start my shift and when I’m about to sleep. Lightheadedness is a common experience at first. I suggest you do the first try at home where you can be comfortable and safe, in case you experience any dizziness.

2. Take a break

Even if you don’t feel like taking a break, take it anyway.

Nurses are naturally compassionate beings. We skip meals, hold our bladders for several hours, and sacrifice time for ourselves just to take care of other people. This way of thinking sometimes compromises our ability to think clearly and we become slower at work. It also puts our health at risk.

In the early days, I could handle working for hours without eating or emptying my bladder. I could run from one room to another without the need to sit down and rest my feet. Since we were short staffed, I willingly took more shifts than necessary.

And my body gave in. I began to experience pain in my back, legs and feet. I was more grumpy than usual. I got more sickly and felt fatigued more often, too.

Self-care is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Since you put so much into helping others, it’s only right that you treat your body with the same amount of care. Even if it’s just to use the bathroom, fill your bottle with water or to grab a snack, take a break.

And if you have a bit more time than that, pamper yourself with little things like a body massage, one of those trending Korean face masks, or a DIY hair mask and foot soak.

3. Keep a gratitude journal

This final tip helped me get back on track. When you’re burnt out and experiencing a lot of stress, it’s easy to see everything around you in a negative perspective. Mornings become dreadful. You start to hate your work and you feel like you’re caught up in a roll of really bad luck.

Keeping a gratitude journal can help you go through these things. It might take some time getting used to it but, believe me, its impressive benefits are surely worth it.

To start, you can set aside 15 minutes for journaling. You can do it first thing in the morning or before you get to bed at night. Since shifts can get crazy, I do mine in the morning and I keep my journal next to my bed so I won’t forget.

Write down 5 or more things you are grateful for that day. They don’t necessarily have to be deep. You can write down anything you like as long as you feel grateful for it. You can include things, people and even events.

A gratitude journal can only work if you make the conscious effort to be more grateful. You have to really feel and believe in what you’re writing down. Don’t rush the process and make sure you keep the negative thoughts away.

Summing Up

Burnout is a common experience for a lot of nurses. In my case, I even took a short break from hospital work. As you can imagine, it was even more difficult going back. I managed to cope thanks in large part to the tips I shared and mega doses of determination and perseverance.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of self-blame. My colleagues are adapting, so why can’t I? Cut yourself some slack and be kind to yourself. Burnout is common in Nursing but it doesn’t have to spell the end of your career. Instead of seeing it as something bleak, recognize instead that it’s your body’s mechanism looking out for you telling you that it’s time to slow down, take a break, and breathe.

About the Author:

Rose Cabrera is a nurse journalist for nursing and wellness websites including Complete Home Spa. She became a registered nurse in 2009 and has been writing in her spare time since.

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