You already know that nursing is a stressful occupation. It's easily understandable, too. You work long hours taking care of other people, dealing with extreme physical demands, lack of sleep and other stresses, yet you get little appreciation for your work. It's no wonder that 60 percent of nurses say their stress affects them physically. But how can you tell if it's just typical stress or if it's something more?
Nurse burnout is a very real problem, and it's important that you recognize the signs so you can address the issue. Otherwise, your job performance may suffer and your patients may not experience your normal level of care. Plus, if you leave burnout unchecked, your own personal life and health could suffer, too. If you feel like you have any of the following symptoms of burnout, you may need to limit your workload or make some changes to ease your stress.
1. You're Always Tired
Nurses are often tired. It's inevitable when you work 12-hour shifts and often go without sleep. However, there's a difference between normal fatigue and absolute exhaustion. If you struggle to wake up, find yourself dozing off at abnormal times (such as when you're driving or at work) or just can't seem to "catch up" on sleep, then you may be experiencing burnout.
2. You Dread Going to Work
Nursing is often a thankless job, so it's normal to feel unappreciated sometimes. You may even dislike your job occasionally, particularly after an especially difficult day or a traumatic event (like the death of a patient). But if you absolutely dread going to work each day, wishing you were anywhere else, you're likely just burned out.
3. You're Insensitive
Most people become nurses because they love helping other people. Nurses are usually the most compassionate, caring people in any community. If you once experienced an emotional connection with each of your patients but recently find yourself insensitive or distant, it's time to evaluate your own stress levels. Insensitivity and feelings of detachment are two common signs of burnout.
4. You Have Overwhelming Anxiety
It's normal to experience some anxiety in any profession, but especially as a nurse. You're worried about your job. You're worried about your patients. You're worried that you might make a mistake (or already made one). What's not normal is a constant anxiety that's practically crippling. Oftentimes this manifests itself when you can't adapt to small changes without feeling overwhelmed. You may also notice that you have trouble sleeping or even eating because you're constantly thinking about work.
5. You're Sick
Yes, nurse burnout can literally make you sick. Common symptoms include a low immune system, gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain and heart palpitations. If you're catching every virus that comes your way, regularly experience diarrhea or constipation, have unexplained aches and pains, or recently developed heart issues, the cause could simply be burnout.
If you're experiencing any of these issues alone, you should try to relieve some stress before the symptoms get worse.
However, if you already have multiple signs of burnout, you may need to take more drastic measures – and, yes, there are ways to relieve burnout without quitting your job. If you're still not sure whether you're experiencing burnout or normal job-related stress, you can assess yourself with our Well-Being Index, which should give you all the answers you need.