Dealing with Burnout
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
How to care for yourself during burnout
Burnout is something that I know far too well. I had my first experience with burnout when I was working in a hospital where they forced overtime, barely provided any breaks and forced nurses to work in places they were not trained for. This provided a tremendous amount of stress to go work I felt resentful, as I would work so hard and would only get treated like crap in return. I felt continuously powerless and overwhelmed. There were also extreme patient loads that ranged from ten to sixteen acute patients in the emergency room. Working in this type of environment was not only dangerous for my licenses, but also for people's health and my mental health. At the same time that I was experiencing extreme stress at work, I was also training to become a sprint cyclist for the Olympics.
I would have to sometimes rotate eight to ten shifts in a row from days, evenings and nights, without ever having many days off afterwards. Mostly, I was working nights. Since my main goal was to train for the Olympics, I would work a night, train or race all day, sleep a couple of hours and go to work. As you can imagine, this lifestyle for a year was not conducive to my health. I eventually became unable to sleep more than two hours straight, was extremely tired and constantly stressed. I lost interest in doing anything that I used to love, due to extreme fatigue. I left the job, quit cycling and took two months off to downhill ski. It took nearly over a year to get my energy back and myself back.
I however started to feel similar symptoms a few years later when I was yet again working in a similar environment. While I was treated much better than the prior job, they started to refuse letting us take vacation time, I was forced to work overtime again, I had occasions where my physical safety was at risk and I was not always properly trained for the job. I worked hard on keeping up my self care, by exercising, sleeping, eating well and meditating, but the feeling of overwhelm, stress, anxiety and inadequacy at work never went away. Having gone through burnout before, I recognized the symptoms early on and took the necessary steps to prevent digging myself deeper in the hole. Recognizing your symptoms can help stop the progression of burnout. Here are a few of them:
- Exhaustion most of the time
- Constant feeling of overwhelm
- Have less patience than you used to
- Feeling of hopelessness about your life or work
- Physical symptoms such as sleeplessness, short of breath, chest pain, palpitations...
- Everyday is a bad day
- Feeling unappreciated or undervalued
The best thing that I have ever done to reverse burnout was to take a break. Either take a vacation, take a leave of absence or a sick leave. Continuing to push through burnout only dug me deeper into the hole. I usually take the time off to reflect on a lot of things. Time off is a great time to reflect on your values, as your work might be out of line with your values. On the second burnout, I decided to hire a therapist to help me figure out the root cause of burnout. It is often deeper than just feeling tired and needing a break. For me, I have noticed that I start to burnout when I am put in unsafe and high stress situations. I have discovered that I want to work in places where I am respected and valued for my work with a collaborative working environment. I like to work in places that allows balance between work and self care, providing adequate breaks and reasonable working hours. Knowing your values can help you chose a working environment that is right for you to either make the necessary changes or set boundaries to your current situation.
In times of burnout, I have come to realize that it is important to also take the time to provide the best self care possible by drinking lots of water, exercising, eating a balanced and healthy diet and getting adequate sleep. Especially for shift workers like nurses, sleep is something that can get out of wack, so when able to, I have learned that taking time off to get your biological clock rest is essential to recovery. Sometimes, sleep can take a while to reset and in which case patience is needed. Surrounding myself with people that I like and being okay with saying no I don't want to do something helps to recover as well. It is important to listen to your body and respect it's signals. I have learned to make sure to give myself time; the longer I have been burned out, the longer it has taken to come out of it. Early recognition is key.