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Avoiding Burnout as a Nurse: Mental Health Among Canada’s Nurses

It’s no secret that nurses are on the absolute front lines of humanity. Like most healthcare workers, going to work often means going to battle. Patient care is one thing, but many nurses risk facing high levels of stress, tremendous amounts of pressure, and downright exhaustion.

In this case, recent research shows that 1 in 3 Canadian nurses has depression, and 1 in 4 has anxiety. Additionally, as many as 33% of nurses reported having thoughts related to suicide, 8% attempted during their lifetime. The covid 19 pandemic has exacerbated this stress phenomenon.

With so many mental health consequences attached to the nursing profession, it’s important to understand the symptoms of nursing burnout.

What Are The Common Nurse Burnout Symptoms?

Burnout refers to a state of mental and physical exhaustion characterized by persistent stress. It can happen in any career, although it tends to be highly prevalent in helping professions.

Common symptoms of burnout include:

  • feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
  • anger and pessimism about your job, coworkers, or workplace.
  • excess fatigue.
  • frequent physical symptoms (headaches, stomach problems)
  • fluctuations in sleep or appetite.
  • lack of motivation for work.
  • feeling detached or withdrawn from others.
  • self-medicating to numb emotions.
  • relationship problems with your spouse, children, or friends.
  • procrastinating or avoid tasks at work altogether.
  • skipping work, coming in late, or leaving early frequently.

In other words, symptoms of burnout aren’t just about disliking your job. It represents a cluster of worsening symptoms in response to stress and fatigue.

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What Causes Nursing Burnout?

Experts agree that there isn’t a single cause for burnout. Instead, many risk factors may increase the likelihood of such work-related stress.

Being Overworked

It’s common for nurses to work 12-hour shifts. But shift work can have downsides, particularly if you’re working graveyard hours or taking on excess overtime.

For example, it’s not uncommon for nurses to frequently work 24-hour shifts. These long hours can undoubtedly affect your mental and physical energy. Furthermore, if you have an inconsistent schedule, you may feel even more fatigue and job stress.

Lack of Support

Employees need to feel supported and motivated in the workplace. If your organization doesn’t offer this basic validation, you may feel a general sense of apathy or disdain for your job.

Many nurses struggle to feel supported in their work. Toxic work environments can exacerbate feelings of resentment and anger. When going to work feels lonely, this feeling can affect everything from your job performance to your overall workplace satisfaction.

Personal Stress

Burnout syndrome isn’t always just a product of workplace stress. It can emerge when you’re also straddling personal issues at home. We all have an emotional bandwidth, and it can be hard to separate your own stress when you’re on the job.

That said, symptoms of burnout can also exacerbate one’s overall sense of happiness and peace. Feeling perpetually overwhelmed is one of the telltale signs of burnout.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue is a type of vicarious trauma similar to burnout. It refers to the shift from enthusiasm about helping others to feelings of dread or resentment. Compassion fatigue typically manifests from a combination of career stress, coupled with a lack of support.

The mental health side effects can be devastating. People need to feel balanced in their jobs and lives. Over time, declining patient acuity can compromise this balance.

This dynamic can trigger more work stress, and the symptoms can compromise patient safety, nurse stress levels, and the morale of functioning work environments.

How Do You Fix Nursing Burnout?

The initial signs of burnout aren’t always obvious. Often, healthcare workers don’t realize they’re struggling with emotional exhaustion until they’ve been experiencing burnout for several months or years.

Self-Care

Self-care can be one of the best remedies for mitigating career stress. Self-care refers to setting boundaries and honouring your physical and mental health. All health care workers should prioritize this basic need to avoid exhaustion and burnout.

Self-care can include:

  • setting limits around work-related phone calls, email, or travel nursing demands.
  • working realistic shifts (i.e. managing those 12-hour shifts appropriately).
  • recognizing symptoms of exhaustion and prioritizing sleep.
  • managing mental health symptoms (seeking professional support).
  • reaching out to employee assistance programs or the nurses association for additional guidance.
  • avoiding working shifts when overly fatigued.
  • building healthy connections with other nursing staff.
  • understanding personal limits related to patient satisfaction.
  • setting healthy boundaries with patients.

Final Thoughts on Signs of Burnout and Work Stress Among the Nursing Workforce

Covid-19 has increased our response in how we understand the symptoms of burnout. However, any registered nurse will tell you that it’s normal to experience high levels of stress on the job. At times, a curt email can trigger enormous stress, and this stress has occurred long before the pandemic.

Patient care is critical, but a nurse’s work environment and mental health also matter. Experts agree- burnout is a serious issue. If you are a struggling nurse, reach out to your employee assistance programs, touch base with your nurse’s association, and ask for help- you deserve to have healthy support systems in place.

Your career shouldn’t be making you feel worse. Understanding the risk factors and recognizing the side effects of burnout are critical for all healthcare workers.

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