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Are you burned out? Nursing up in flames.

So 2020 was a nightmare, but most of us thought 2021 would get a little better.

People were allowed back in hospitals. Elective surgeries started back up, people weren’t too scared to visit the ER for their strokes, heart attacks, and toe pain.

Furloughs ended, but the damage was done. In many hospitals, nurses went back to business with a whole lot more business and way fewer nurses and support staff members. But, unfortunately, the pandemic didn’t stop in 2021; it ramped up, bringing with it the mask and vaccine debate that pitted many nurses and the public against each other.

So life got more challenging. If you’ve been a nurse long enough, you know that most staffing issues are cyclical. It gets worse before it gets better, and that’s exactly what happened next. Nurses left for greener pastures, and when they found the grass wasn’t greener, they left for the kind of green that pays off student loans, buys cars, and gives flexibility.

Usually, about 3% of the nursing workforce is made of travelers, but in 2021 the country hit 8%. Unfortunately, those numbers are still climbing, which means there are too many open staff positions within hospitals. In Texas alone, there are more than 23,000 nursing jobs open.

There aren’t nurses filling the positions, which means the burden of caring for patients at these facilities falls to the staff that hasn’t left. Yet.

Burnout is real.

The 2020 pandemic may have been COVID but the most significant issue we will see over the next few years is burnout. This is caused by a combination of things, often inherent to nursing. Long shifts, high-risk specialties, and staffing issues all contribute to burnout. Combine that with an influx of very sick patients, and the outcome is explosive.

According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout symptoms include:

  • Fatigue (even when you are getting enough sleep)
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Trouble going to work or difficulty concentrating
  • New or increased use of drugs/alcohol to cope
  • Poor attitude or destructive behaviors
  • Absenteeism or tardiness
  • Compassion fatigue

If you look around your unit, you can probably see one or two nurses with multiple symptoms of burnout. But, if you look closely enough, you may even see some in yourself.

Your hospital can’t fix the burnout problem for you. Chances are they are offering huge sign-on bonuses to attract new staff and maybe even lowering their standards to get some help in the door. The problem with burnout is that it’s personal. Working conditions matter, but they won’t magically change overnight.

You can take action at the early signs of burnout. Self-care is more than warm baths and drinks with friends after work. Set some boundaries for yourself. How many shifts do you feel safe (and sane!) working? Even if your work wives need help, if four is the most you can do, don’t pick up more than that. It isn’t your job to single-handedly keep your unit afloat.

Set up a healthy routine. This is going to look different for everyone. Plan your meals. Get a workout in. If you aren’t ready for a giant leap, try a 10-minute yoga routine after your shift. If you need some ideas or don’t know your down-dog from a cobra, check out this great (free!) resource.

Sometimes just the act of washing your face can reset your mood. Healthy often comes down to happiness, so climb a mountain on your day off or wrap up in a blanket and binge your favorite show.

Happy and healthy isn’t the same as anyone else on your unit or even in your life.

Get off of social media. Your Insta page isn’t helping your burnout. In fact, people who use social media have higher levels of anxiety and often symptoms of depression and burnout. This results from unrealistic expectations from highly filtered snapshots of other people. Of course, it isn’t real, but it sure does make us feel like we aren’t living our best lives.

If this all still feels like too much- it may be time to talk to a therapist. There are a variety of free options for people out there who are experiencing burnout, just like you. You are not alone, and it is totally normal to experience burnout following something as catastrophic as these last couple of years have been. It isn’t a weakness to struggle, and asking for help doesn’t make you less of a nurse.

There is no perfect solution to this problem. Some people burn out of their hospital and search for travel opportunities; some people burn out and leave healthcare altogether. Some people stay put and stay angry that everyone left them behind. However, happy people learn to leave work at work and thrive using a combination of self-care, boundaries, and passion.

You can’t stop the fire, but you can keep those flames from burning you. Find what works and tell us how you learned to cope!

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Author

Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?

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