Battling Burnout in Nursing
Megan Malugani | Monster Contributing Writer
The odds are high that burnout will strike every healthcare professional at some point. Health workers – as well as teachers, ministers and others in the caring professions – are at increased risk for the stress syndrome because of the intensity of their work and the emotional bonds they form with the people they’re helping, experts say.
“Most people in the healthcare professions carry their jobs home with them,” says Sandy Ewing, an expert in burnout prevention and the owner of Sandy Ewing Communicates, in Preston, Connecticut. “It’s good to really care about your patients. But if you don’t know how to distance yourself at times, it will be a problem.”
Henry Pfifferling, PhD, director of the Center for Professional Well-Being, in Durham, North Carolina, urges healthcare workers to recognize and address their own needs. “Healthcare providers think, ‘I went into this for patients and now there is no time for me. I have nothing left to give,’” he says. Eventually, health professionals who constantly put their patients’ needs above their own will start to burn out.
Are You At Risk for Burnout?
What Is Burnout?
Generally, burnout is caused by a person’s inability to relieve the physical and mental symptoms associated with unrelenting stress, Ewing says. It can show up as poor job performance, an impersonality with patients and lack of motivation. Health problems such as high blood pressure, insomnia, depression or addiction can also be signs of burnout. The degree of burnout and the way the syndrome manifests itself vary widely from person to person. “First-degree burnout” may include nothing more than a negativity about the workplace, while “third-degree burnout” could be so bad that a health professional has no interest in ever going back to work in the field, Pfifferling says. Another way to define burnout is “emotional exhaustion,” he says.
Generally, burnout is a progressive phenomenon, signaled by subtle changes in mood, Pfifferling says. People who are on the verge of burnout take a long time regaining their energy and positive attitude about their work. For example, if it takes a week rather than a weekend away from the workplace to restore your energy, you may be burning out. A health professional’s burnout level can also be measured at the beginning and end of each day, Pfifferling says. If you’ve always awoken in the morning looking forward to the day and now you don’t, burnout may be the cause. And at the end of the day, “only recollecting the negative parts of the day is a serious sign,” Pfifferling adds.