Nurses come first with Elite Specialty Staffing. As such, we encourage our nurses to always practice self-care and do everything they possibly can to stay well and avoid burnout. This is a story from Samantha, a nurse we got the pleasure to work with and she shared her experience with nursing burnout:
Samantha’s Nursing Burn Out Story
I needed out. I needed it all to go away. After two years of working “in the trenches” I was falling apart. I couldn’t sleep, not without the TV on in the background, and only after watching it long enough that it numbed my mind to shut everything else out and close my eyes. I was emotional, not with patients, but after a long stressful shift, I felt overwhelmed and was testy with everyone else. I wanted out desperately, I knew this job was eating me inside and out, and yet, with school loans, rent and all the other costs that come with daily living, I couldn’t quit.
Finally, a relationship in my personal life blew up, and I took myself to therapy. I thought I was going to therapy about the relationship, but it turns out, I talked less about the relationship and more about my work. My work was haunting me, literally. I had lost a lot of weight because the anxiety that was my life made my throat close up and my tummy rebel. That relationship was bound to fall apart, I was a mess. But isn’t it nuts, that an educated person like me, that knows everything that ticks the boxes in mental/emotional assessments for my patients, a person who recommends therapy on a pretty frequent basis to everyone else, isn’t it nuts that I didn’t take myself to therapy before having a relationship crisis?
Why do we do that? Wait until something really blows up before we are willing to try to get the help that by all indications (and the indications were there) I needed long before? As nurses, we talk a lot about preventative care, preventative medicine, and yet we get so caught up in work as work, and the business of our personal lives, we don’t read the signs along the highway until, often, after we’ve crashed and are struggling to get free of the wreckage.
I am lucky. That relationship crisis hurt me. But it paved the way for me to actually take the steps to start taking care of me. And for that I am grateful. I am lucky that my burnout didn’t blow up at work. I should have gone to therapy sooner. But finally, I went.
Nursing Burnout Takes its Toll
I checked with my insurance company for a list of approved therapists in my coverage area and got to work. It didn’t take long, maybe a few sessions, before my therapist honed in on the real issue, that the relationship crisis was only a symptom. A painful symptom for sure, but only a symptom of the real problem. My work life was making it impossible for me to “be okay”. I was haunted. I was experiencing the common phenomenon of nursing burnout.
My therapist and I talked about my feelings of inadequacy, those feelings that come from our work when we see “repeats”. You know repeats. Those patients who come in over and over again. Also known as “frequent flyers”. You check them out, patch them up, do a physical and emotional health assessment, then you make recommendations on what they can do at home to take better care. You talk about the importance of taking their medications as prescribed, the importance of preventative care, the importance of going to their medical appointments, or their therapy appointments.
No matter how beautifully executed your teaching sessions were, whether it’s due to straight-up non-compliance or a very aggressive chronic disease, these patients seem to come right back to the hospital no matter what.
Nursing Careers Cause a Degree of Stress
There are other stressful events too, such as when patients come in, and you know something is off, you know there’s something they aren’t telling you. Or the patients you take care of, knowing they won’t get better or can’t get better. Thinking about and caring for those patients who die. Yes, there is death in our work too.
I went to my therapist regularly for a few months. She helped me work through my feelings of inadequacy and guilt. She sat and listened, while I cried about situations I wished that I had handled differently. But what she did that helped me the most, was go back to those situations, and re-frame them.
Learning From the Past and Moving into the Future
We talked through what are my responsibilities specifically and then what happened specifically, all of which I was able to do once I had unburdened myself of the guilt of wishing I had done something differently. What I found is that most of the time, I could conclude that I did the best I could at the time with the skills, training, and responsibilities I had in those moments. Did I learn from them? Sure, but what was keeping me up at nights, was the after-knowledge I had tainting the frame through which I was looking back at different scenarios in my past.
I am not going to a therapist currently, but she really helped me see that in not taking care of myself, things snowballed until they felt absolutely unbearable, and I don’t want to wait for that feeling again. Since that first time of going to a therapist, I have gone two other times. By times, I don’t mean sessions. I mean that two other times in my life I have been able to recognize that I was being weighed down and needed help.
There is no shame in seeking therapy to help with the emotions and burdens we nurses can carry. We recommend therapy to our patients often (all the time depending on your specialty). Why can we see its potential benefits for our patients, but not for us?
A Nurse’s Job is Never Done
Our work is so important! We got into this field because it’s interesting, it’s challenging, and (usually) because we care. Nursing shortages are high and workloads sometimes seem unbearable, but we don’t have to work ourselves to the brink and then leave the field behind forever because we have nothing left to give. We can get help, take care, and find a way to keep going. – Samantha Kay, RN
We are so happy to have this insight into nursing burnout and story from a travel nurse working in the field.
If you are having trouble sleeping, having trouble in your personal relationships, having trouble at work, or just feeling plain wrung-out like the dishrag in your kitchen sink: please get help. Don’t wait until a crisis happens in your personal life, or worse a crisis happens in your professional life. You can get help. A therapist has no gain by making you stay in a situation that is unhealthy for you. Get help, and maybe stay in the field. Get help, and maybe find another way to work in the field that is healthy for you. Get help, and maybe leave the field. Maybe you can even write about it like Samantha did.