The Nurses Nag: Burnout Shoutout

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Identify signs of burnout; when nurses are not protected, we all pay the price.

Posted May 14, 2020

“Real heroes are all around us and uncelebrated”

Nursing, a profession often defined by selfless acts – from wet nurses to surgical nurses, caring for the sick, nurses often go unrewarded for their unending support for those in need. They offer an uncompromising position to help patients during times of fear and vulnerability. Especially now.

As COVID – 19 moves through the world, targeting young and old, nurses face hardships that few will forget. If you see a nurse, try to remember what they’ve been through, try to remember that what they’ve had to face is what we can only imagine. Try to envision how many of them have sacrificed family time or haven’t returned home since this pandemic, or have chosen to stay in a separate room, like the garage, out of fear of giving the disease to a loved one.

If you are a nurse, there’s a good possibility of either reaching a phase of burnout yet to be recognized, or you’re already in it. You might know it, even feel it, and yet, you continue to move, to help, to show up and to be, the healer you are. It’s hard not to be affected by some of the symptoms related to burnout.

Signs of Burnout

If you’ve been on the frontline, these are some burnout risks you may face. Knowing the risks and responding to them can help cut them off before they become a greater force to reckon with. Ask yourself: Does any of this seem familiar to you? If so, how?

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Ghandi

Loss of Support – This Pandemic is making everyone take a good hard look at themselves. When we get scared or injured, we make sure we’re safe, then look around to see who or what we can help. We’re at the cusp of a “new ordinary” and as lives become more insulated, it’s harder for nurses to obtain needed support. If you feel under-appreciated or feel as if your normal emotional supporters aren’t around, it’s not because they’re selfish or something has changed about your relationship to them. They may be burned out, too.

Try not to take it personally. Surely, your co-workers and family members are going through the same experience. Burnout is like your fingerprint, no one experiences it in exactly the same way.  You are not alone in an emotional support desert.

Life-Work Imbalance –  If you are on the frontline during this pandemic, then surely there is a life-work imbalance. Though there may be little you can do about it, acknowledging the presence of overwork can be helpful. With little time to take a break, you might feel weepy, exhausted, yet can’t seem to get to sleep or you might even forget what day it is. The imbalance may not take effect until things slow down or become more regulated. At this point, it may be difficult to even know how to re-engage with family or friends. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.

Be mindful of what tires you, and what energizes you.

Loss of Control and Anxiety – The COVID- 19 Pandemic is one giant trigger as anxiety hides in every corner, taking your breath away, making your heart beat hard, and calling you to remain calm as chaos erupts. When in a warzone, a warzone you didn’t choose and were ill-prepared for, there’s little control over each moment. The anxiety may not happen while working, yet it creeps in, during the quiet moments of a night at home, or as you shower, or as you awaken in the middle of a dream. Getting lost in news feeds can be a major source of disquiet, emblematic of a response to anxiety. Long hours create exhaustion, and exhaustion feeds anxiety. These feelings can trigger burnout responses.

Create very specific boundaries around friends and family. Remember what has calmed you in the past.

“Success is the sum of small efforts – repeated day in and day out.” –Robert Collier

Unprotected at Work – You are on the frontline, you need to feel safe, protected, environmentally sound. It seems as if nobody’s listening. From understaffing to lack of PPE’s, it’s as if you are in another kind of pandemic. Systems are not in place. It is unclear when help will arrive, where you can take a break, just to breathe, and it seems no one is listening. Doing your best doesn’t help you feel safe. The lack of safety, emotional and physical safety, can be triggering for so many reasons.

In urgent situations, do your very best knowing you will be able to bring up any complications to a supervisor later, with specific details as a jumping-off point for the conversation.

Stay away from over-generalized media sources just trying to fill space. Avoid talking to anyone who drains you. It’s time to recharge. It’s not selfish to excuse yourself. Each day is filled with you giving away bits of yourself. When you have time off, as hard as it is to settle down or to sleep, it’s time to be selfish, because you’ve been so selfless. Though many call you a hero, you may not feel that way at all, Yet, this is a journey you‘ve been on. It has no words, it has no place to live peacefully within you, not yet, and you need to give time, to heal in your own time. This is a time when you have been forever changed. Moving out of who you were and into someone whose life experience has given a new view in the room. When burnout calms its forces within you, it is as though you gain a new perspective, a new way to be you and a different hunger to create the life you want to live.

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