Self-Care for Nurses: 5 Musts to Avoid Burnout
March 7, 2014
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Nurses are among America's most trusted professionals, and anybody who has relied on their care knows why. To gain that trust, nurses put a huge emotional investment into their work. If you're a nurse or planning to be one and you don't practice good self-care for nurses, you can reach a point at which the compassion driving your skills diminishes. That emotional detachment can affect your personal life and destroy your career. Here's how to battle that burnout.
Even the strongest nurse who puts too much devotion into her work faces the risk of "compassion fatigue." Its clinical name is secondary traumatic stress (STS), but most professionals call it "burnout."
Relying on cases studies, an essay published in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing describes burnout and its symptoms, and suggests how you can recognize, treat and deal with it. According to the essay's authors, compassion fatigue can enters all aspects of a nurse's life. It frequently results from emotions generated by personal event or patients. For example, a nurse working in an oncology unit whose mother died from breast cancer is prone to find her work more stressful. If left unchecked, burnout can manifest itself in three major ways:
- Your work — dreading the workday, exhibiting a lack of empathy toward patients and families, passing the day devoid of personal joy and using an increased number of sick days.
- Your physical health — from digestive issues, fatigue and sleep problems, to muscle tension, headaches and chest problems, including tachycardia and palpitations.
- Your mental health — watch for mood swings, lack of concentration, poor judgment and memory problems. It can also manifest itself as anxiety and depression, and even anger.
Self-care for Nurses — Five Defensive Strategies
Compassion fatigue is neither inevitable nor impossible to address. However, the longer it goes on, the more entrenched it becomes. That is why it is important to remain alert to it and addressing it aggressively and early. You can do this by:
- Recognizing you have a problem. Others may recognize burnout before you do. A good nurse remains honest with herself and keeps an open mind to helpful critique.
- Being open to help. Burnout is a well-recognized problem among nurses, so don't feel alone or ashamed. Reach out for help by talking to your coworkers and supervisors. Your employer may offer access to professional counseling services.
- Keeping work and home life separate. One of the principal causes of compassion fatigue is losing sight of the boundaries between personal and work life. When you go to work, compartmentalize personal issues and keep them separate from your professional world. When the day is done, pull a blank screen down over the events of the workday. This is especially challenging for nurses facing difficult personal stresses. You and your family deserves at least as much of your attention as you give your patients, but that is impossible if you can't separate the two worlds.
- Attend counseling. Through counseling you can rediscover the sense of dedication and compassion that led you into nursing in the first place. To gain a fresh career perspective, it might be beneficial to move into a different area of nursing.
- Being proactive. If you've gone through this process before, you can recognize this experience next time. Stay attuned to its early signs. Burnout is far easier to address when caught early.
Good self-care for nurses includes eating well, getting enough sleep, avoiding harmful substances and staying physically active. You may be on your feet all day at work, but the rest of your body needs a different kind of workout. Maintaining strong mental and spiritual health (if appropriate) is also essential. Whether it is meditation, yoga or prayer, set aside a part of the day to find a calming moment that belongs only to you.
You are America's most trusted professional and your service is both vital and appreciated. Give yourself a break and a pat on the back.
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