3 Ways New Nurses Can Avoid Burnout

nurse at work experiencing burnout

Last year, Aspen had the privilege to speak with one of the leading voices in addressing workplace bullying and incivility. Workplace bullying and incivility can lead to stress, dissatisfaction, and even burnout. Now, Dr. Renee Thompson shares her expert insights on how nurses can avoid burnout. 

Nurses are the common denominator from beginning to end of life. They are the glue that closes the loop on the circle of life.

In a 2017 study conducted by Kronos, 63% of nurses reported that their work caused nurse burnout. Nurses spend their lives caring for others yet often suffer the consequences of that care by getting burned out. 

If nursing is a new career for you or if you’re growing into a new nursing role as an RN, we want to help you avoid burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is characterized by an interplay of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion often caused by chronic and unrelenting stress. When nurses aren’t able to recuperate from the extreme demands placed on them, it can lead to feelings of burnout and fatigue.

Knowing that burnout is real, what can new nurses entering the profession do to protect themselves? 

How to avoid burnout in the nursing field.

1. Get Gritty

Angela Duckworth, psychology professor, is an expert on what it takes to maintain interest and effort to achieve a long-term goal – to work at something hard, day after day. It’s called grit. One parable Angela shared in her book Grit shines a light on the difference between nurses who see their career choice as a job and those who view it as a calling. Those who view being a nurse as a calling are more likely to have grit.

The Bricklayers:

Three bricklayers are asked, “What are you doing?”

The first says, “I am laying bricks.”

The second says, “I am building a church.”

The third says, “I am building a house of God.”

The first has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

Nurses deal with life and death situations and the unpredictability of patient care daily and the occasional pandemic. Yet, some nurses remain resilient because they have grit!

2. Take care of yourself

Nurses are tireless advocates when promoting physical health and well-being to patients, but more than 50% of nurses report their overall health as poor.

Your body spends energy every second maintaining your body’s functions, keeping your pH between 7.35 – 7.45, bringing oxygen and nutrients to your cells, and getting rid of waste products. Yet, many nurses sabotage themselves when it comes to their physical energy and then wonder why they feel tired and burned out.

Why is that? It may be because nurses don’t always make it a priority to take care of themselves.      

Taking care of your body doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you love. It means you have to be intentional about increasing the amount of physical energy you have to care for patients and your family, which can ultimately help you avoid burnout.

To increase your physical energy, pick one tip from each category below that you will commit to over the next few months. Once you’ve adopted these tips as a habit, add another tip until you’ve adopted all 9 strategies! 

To increase physical energy: 

Adapt your diet 

Your body spends 50% of its energy digesting food. This leaves only 50% for everything else. Choose your foods wisely.

  • Eat real food and stay away from processed foods. Choose 1-ingredient foods such as broccoli, salmon, almonds, etc. most of the time.
  • Increase your servings of vegetables and fruits while decreasing your meat intake (meat takes more energy to digest).
  • Stay away from fake foods such as artificial sweeteners and heavily processed foods. Your body has no idea what to do with them. So, it spends more energy processing.
Move your body

When we exercise, we release nitric oxide, a potent vaso-regulator that helps keep our blood flowing to our brains and bodies. Exercise is like cognitive and cardiovascular candy.

  • Set a goal to get a minimum of 10,000 steps per day (get a device to track steps!)
  • Schedule activity that gets your heart rate up for 44 minutes, 3-4 days a week. Remember, being busy isn’t the same as exercising.
  • Incorporate strength training and stretching into your routine.
Get better sleep

There is nothing more important to your mental health than allowing your brain to recover. The brain recovers during sleep.

  • Turn off electronics one hour before bedtime. Most electronics emit a blue light that interferes with melatonin production. This affects the quality of sleep.
  • Increase the amount of sleep you get by just 15-30 minutes every few weeks until you are consistently sleeping 7-8 hours per night.
  • Avoid taking sleep aids, which can interfere with the quality of your sleep too.

3. Remember Why You Became a Nurse

Nurses put aside their own needs for the sake of serving other people. However, with that service comes great responsibility and, at times, great sacrifice.

What is nursing to you? A job? A career? A calling? How about all of the above?  

We live in unprecedented times right now with a lot of uncertainty and fear, which can lead to more stress and an increase in burnout. However, when things get tough, remember why you chose to become a nurse in the first place – to make a difference or because you love science and are fascinated by the human body, for example. 

Whatever your “why” is, keep it top of mind. It can help you get through the tough days.     

Strive for small improvements – not perfection! It’s the little improvements made over time, even on the most difficult of days — like a bricklayer laying one brick at a time — that leads to something magical.

You can check out Nurse Keith’s article for more self-care tips on how to avoid burnout during COVID-19

Free Resource for nurses handling stress and burnout

Click here to download a free copy of “5 Unusual Ways to Beat Burnout.”


About the Author

renee thompson healthy workforce institute Dr. Renee Thompson is the CEO & Founder of the Healthy Workforce Institute and works with healthcare organizations to cultivate a professional workforce by addressing workplace bullying and incivility. Renee is one of only 26 nurses in the world who have achieved the prestigious Certified Speaking Professional designation. In 2018, it was recognized as one of LinkedIn’s Top Ten Voices in Healthcare for her contribution to their global online healthcare community. If you want to learn more practical strategies to beat burnout, check out Renee’s book, From Exhausted to Extraordinary: Strategies to Reverse Nurse Fatigue, or her online course, From Exhausted to Extraordinary: Strategies to Reduce Burnout in Healthcare.

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