First aid for nurses – how to avoid burnout

We recently celebrated International Nurses Day on 12 May – so what better time to applaud all nurses for their dedication and compassion? Tafta resident, 88 year old Sarojini Govender, was a nurse at Greys Hospital in Pietermaritzburg for 35 years. She is proud of her legacy of serving humanity, and the high level of care she diligently provided. Listen to her story.

As anyone who follows this career path knows, nursing is a demanding profession. You need compassion, empathy, attention to detail and dedication to patient care. Being responsible for patients’ wellbeing itself is stressful. There’s no margin for error when you’re in charge of administering medication, or monitoring symptoms that can quickly escalate into an emergency.

Physical and emotional demands

Then there are the physical demands. Nurses must be able to lift or support patients, and deal with unpleasant situations – all whilst maintaining a calm, professional demeanour.

For nurses working the night shift, the challenges can be even greater. Disrupted sleep patterns and the solitude of night time hours can contribute to stress and the risk of burnout.

It’s important to manage stress, and get help before feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope spiral into burnout. Here are our 6 stress-busting tips, especially for nurses.

1. Prioritise Self-Care

Nurses spend their days taking care of others, providing emotional support as well as physical care. It’s sometimes difficult to ‘switch off’. Yet it’s crucial to make time for yourself amid your demanding schedule. You need to get enough sleep, eat proper meals, and find time to exercise. During a shift, try to take short breaks to stretch, breathe deeply or enjoy a healthy snack or cup of tea to rejuvenate your body and mind.

2. Build a support system

Cultivate a strong support system both within and outside of the workplace. Connecting with colleagues who understand the unique challenges of nursing can provide a sense of camaraderie and reinforce job satisfaction. It’s also important to maintain relationships with friends and family members, and join in activities away from the work environment, in order to achieve a satisfying work/life balance.

3. Use Stress Reduction Techniques

Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation are all effective methods for calming the mind and reducing tension. Going for a walk before or after a shift, or spending time relaxing with a good book are other useful ways to unwind and relax.

4. Set Boundaries

It’s essential for nurses to establish clear boundaries to prevent burnout. This may involve learning to say no to additional shifts or responsibilities. Setting realistic expectations for yourself and communicating openly with supervisors about workload concerns, helps create a healthier work environment. It’s also essential if you are to give the best of yourself to your patients.

5. Seek Professional Help

If you feel that stress or overwork are beginning to impact on your overall well-being, consider seeking professional help. Some healthcare organisations offer confidential counselling, or ‘care for the carer’ support services. Discussing your feelings and concerns with a therapist or counsellor can offer valuable insights and help you develop coping strategies for managing stress more effectively.

6. Practice Gratitude:

Despite the challenges of nursing, there are often moments of profound meaning and connection that can be sources of inspiration and motivation. Taking the time to reflect on these moments can reinforce job satisfaction and increase your ability to push through stressful situations.

Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish. It’s essential if you are to continue providing the best possible care for your patients.