America is experiencing a nursing shortage. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are overwhelmed.
The shortage intensified during the pandemic, with high turnover rates in hospitals across the country. Burnout, increasing patient numbers, and early retirement have also contributed to the shortage.
Many nurses now need to work harder than they did before. As you consider a career in nursing, it is important to acknowledge the challenges that come with the profession.
Whether you are looking to earn a Bachelor’s in Nursing or want to pursue entry-level nursing Master’s programs like those offered at Elmhurst University, you will become part of a workforce that has to work very hard almost every day of the year.
You need to find a work-life balance, or you will burn out.
What is work-life balance?
It is the balance between the professional and the personal. If you have a good work-life balance, your career and your personal life are separate. You set time aside to rest, be with loved ones and attend to your family.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you split your time 50-50 between the two. Rather, a good work-life balance means that your personal life doesn’t suffer because of your career.
Nurses who have poor work-life balance often find themselves behind in their home obligations.
They may lack time for simple chores such as shopping and cleaning, they do not see their families enough, and are often stressed because they do not have time for rest and recreation.
The result is nurse burnout.
Work-life balance for nurses
In an ideal world, nurses work 12-hour shifts three days a week. Unfortunately, this is rarely the reality.
In many hospitals, nurses find themselves taking on more shifts and working longer hours because there aren’t enough nurses to cope with the high number of patients.
Private facilities such as nursing homes may be a little better. Some allow nurses to work 8- or 10-hour shifts a few times a week.
Unfortunately, the growing number of elderly patients has meant that even in private clinics, nurses need to work longer than they should.
The result is burnout. Not only don’t they have time to attend to their personal lives, but they also don’t have time to rest and recuperate.
Nurse burnout is something to take seriously. According to a 2017 report, long working hours impact all aspects of nurses’ health.
Not only do they suffer physically and psychologically, but they are also more likely to make mistakes.
Their relationships also suffer. Many find it hard to hold on to marriages because they don’t spend enough time with their partners.
If they have children, they must do additional juggling to ensure that they are properly taken care of.
Effects of poor work-life balance for nurses
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Nurses need to work very hard right from the beginning. To qualify to be a nurse requires long hours of study. If you are already employed and are thinking about studying, your days will be even busier.
Things get even more complicated for those who have families. Apart from everything else, they need to find time to make sure that everyone at home is taken care of.
Knowing the warning signs of burnout is important because as soon as you notice them you can take steps to restore balance to your life.
- Physical fatigue
It is normal to feel fatigued after a hard day’s work, but if you constantly feel tired, then you may be suffering from nurse burnout. The average adult needs at least six hours of sleep every day. This can be tricky on a nurse’s schedule.
If you need to work for 12 hours and then commute, spend time with your family, and do some chores, you don’t have much time left for sleep.
The result is a constant feeling of fatigue. It may manifest as trouble falling asleep or waking up. When you do, you feel like you need more sleep.
- Compassion fatigue
One of the things you learn in nursing training is compassion. You learn how to empathize with patients and understand their pain. When you start to lose your bedside manner, you may be suffering from burnout.
You may feel irritable and snap at patients. Talking to them starts to look like a chore, and you may find it hard to go out of your way to make them comfortable.
- Aches and pains
Nursing is a physically demanding career. You are on your feet almost all the time, and you must work hard and fast. Without a work-life balance, you start to experience aches and pains that don’t go away. The most commonly reported are headaches and backaches.
- Lack of job satisfaction
You became a nurse because you wanted to help others. You have always loved helping patients, but lately, you don’t get any satisfaction from it.
Routine tasks seem tedious, and you don’t like your work environment. You are not able to pinpoint the problem, but you know that something isn’t right. This is a classic symptom of burnout.
- Depression and anxiety
Hospitals aren’t the easiest places to work. You often see people at their worst, and it is your job to help them. You listen as patients tell you their problems and you need to empathize because it is your job. It isn’t uncommon for nurses to suffer from PTSD.
If you don’t know how to unwind, you will soon find yourself feeling anxious and depressed.
- Panic before shifts
If you feel anxious or panicky before every shift, it could be a sign that you are overworked. Panic is your body’s way of telling you that you may not be able to cope. Some nurses feel depressed before a shift begins.
If you don’t feel enthused and energized before work, you may want to re-examine your schedule and find more time to unwind.
- Withdrawal from relationships
When did you last spend quality time with your loved ones?
Many nurses agree that it is difficult to balance work and relationships. They don’t have enough time to spend with significant others. The resulting guilt makes them withdraw or minimize contact and communication.
- An erosion of work ethic
You have always had a strong work ethic and have done things by the book. However, lately, you feel like you couldn’t be bothered. So long as no one else is around, you are willing to cut corners so that you can finish tasks faster.
The problem isn’t that you have suddenly become a bad person. You are more likely tired because you have been working too hard.
If you find yourself snapping at colleagues and patients, it is time to rest. Irritability is a sign of fatigue not only in nurses but in everyone.
How can you improve work-life balance?
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Left untreated, burnout will affect your career. It may also damage your mental and physical health.
Now that you know the symptoms, how do you deal with them?
- Develop a strong routine
This may be difficult to do in the face of staffing shortages in hospitals, but you need to try. Talk to your employers about shorter shifts or breaks between shifts.
When you leave work, make sure to leave it behind. Learn to compartmentalize so that you don’t carry your work home with you.
Think about changes that you can make to your schedule so that you have more time to rest. Take your annual holidays as scheduled and do something that you enjoy.
- Think about climbing the career ladder
Nurses who work in management are busy but not as busy as those who work directly with patients. Think about enrolling in entry-level nursing Master’s programs. They are the key to more money, more benefits, and more time to relax. Related.
- Sleep is vital
Sleep is restorative. Unfortunately, most people don’t get nearly enough of it. According to a CDC report, one-third of Americans don’t sleep enough. Poor sleeping habits often result in illness.
As a nurse, you must make time to sleep. If you work 12-hour shifts, for example, leave the hospital immediately after your shift is finished, do your chores and get into bed.
Taking your work home with you affects the quality of your sleep. If you are thinking about your patients when you are supposed to be asleep your brain doesn’t rest.
At the end of every shift, leave it all behind. It is time to take care of you so that you can start your next shift restored and energized.
- Sign up for a wellness program
Wellness programs are one way to deal with work-related stress. They teach you how to manage various aspects of your life so that you can cope better.
Some employers have embraced these programs because they realize that employee health is vital. Find out if there is a wellness program where you work. If there isn’t, look for one near you that can accommodate your busy schedule.
- Spend time with loved ones
This is one of the easiest ways to deal with work-related stress. Taking an hour or two to play with your kids, for example, will leave you feeling energized and fresh.
- Identify the stressors
Knowing what is making you feel burnt out is important. If, for example, working in a certain unit leaves you feeling exhausted every time, you can ask not to be assigned to that particular area.
- Ask for help when you need it
You are not a superhero. Everyone needs help from time to time, but many don’t reach out because they are worried that it reflects badly on them.
Your job is demanding, and your employer understands that you cannot do it all by yourself.
How do you deal with burnout?
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Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to stop burnout from happening. The signs don’t appear all at once.
How do you deal with it once you notice that it is happening?
Start by looking at your work-life balance.
How many hours do you spend at work?
If you are working more than you should, making changes to your schedule is a quick and simple way to fix the problem.
On your days off, allow your mind to relax. Find fun activities that you enjoy and do them each week. Strive to make friends from other spheres of life.
If all your friends are work colleagues, you will have a hard time disconnecting from your job during your free time.
You can also take extended leave. Talk to your employer about taking a couple of months off. Many are willing to let good nurses rest so that they can come back ready to provide high-quality patient care.
Taking small breaks when you are at work is also helpful. Hospitals are busy places and can be overwhelming. Short breaks every few hours are necessary. Use them to do a little yoga, or some breathing exercises, or just lie down and clear your mind.
Another good strategy for work-life balance is to make friends at work. Nurses who are surrounded by caring colleagues find it easier to cope.
If you feel an escalation in your mental or physical situation, you should seek professional help right away. If your hospital offers counseling services, make an appointment to see a therapist.
Many times, dealing with the psychological symptoms of burnout will help deal with the physical. However, if aches and pains persist, you should see a doctor for a diagnosis.
Nursing is a rewarding career, but it demands that you be at your best at all times. Being in constant contact with the sick can affect you mentally and physically.
For those looking to climb the career ladder, it is even more taxing. Enrolling in entry-level nursing master’s programs, for example, means that you don’t have much time to relax.
It is up to you to find your work-life balance. Don’t spend more time than you need to at work. When your shift ends, clear your mind and relax.
Look for wellness programs for professionals. You’ll learn tips on how you can make the most of your time and avoid burnout.
About The Author:
Stacey Smith is a freelance health writer. She is passionate to write about women’s health, dental health, diabetes, endocrinology, and nutrition and provides in-depth features on the latest in health news for medical clinics and health magazines.