Burnout Bonfire: The Why and How in Handling Healthcare Burnout

We love a good bonfire and the sharing of stories that come with it, so we decided what better way to talk about burnout than fireside (at least metaphorically).

In 2023, nurses are showing up and showing out. We talked to nurses about burnout, resilience, and mental health – meet us by the fire.

While we’re bringing back fun to the Nurses Week celebrations this year, it’s crucial that we also recognize the toll this work takes on healthcare professionals. In Nurse.org’s annual State of Nursing Report, 81% of nurses surveyed felt burned out at some point within the last 18 months. That alarming percentage is one of the highest across any profession, including higher levels of PTSD than military veterans.  We can share posts that emphasize the importance of self-care and positivity in mitigating burnout, but who knows better than the nurses who have experienced it firsthand? Our goal is to foster a community, provide support, and create space for nurses helping nurses. That’s why we’re turning the spotlight on nurses to share the strategies that have helped them stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Below we delve into why burnout is so common, as well as tactics both from nurses and the NuWest team.

Why burnout is so prevalent in Nurses

No teams in nursing

Marcus Buckingham calls out lack of teams as an important gap in how nurses are supported in the workplace. Humans thrive in team environments with both peer and mentor support; this is proven to build resiliency and reduce the likelihood of burnout. Nurse supervisors handle upwards of 60 nurses at any given time, diminishing any chance to run team-building exercises or hold 1:1s with each individual.

Something that makes a difference but is less controlled by the nurses themselves, is just overall moral and feeling appreciated. Traveler or staff, having peers who are friendly and a boss who seems to actually care makes a potentially awful shift/assignment completely different.
– Corissa Rodgers

Individual strengths are not taken advantage of

In a recent podcast with our CEO Mona Veiseh spoke to the need for the industry to look for what’s working in healthcare and the unique strengths of healthcare professionals to create a more sustainable workplace. In short, the healthcare industry hasn’t unlocked a way to work smarter, not harder…yet.

Staffing shortages

The prevalence of burnout post-pandemic is a catalyst for healthcare labor shortages. More nurses are choosing to step away from bedside and pursue other job opportunities. This makes it more difficult to find talented healthcare professionals to meet the needs of their community, increasing the patient-to-nurse ratio and therefore increasing stress levels.

Hard work as a core principle

As nurses, many of you intrinsically lean into working hard. You answer the call, day in and day out, picking up extra shifts on a regular basis. That work ethic is admirable, but it also reduces your time to decompress and practice self-care.

Tactics to overcome burnout

Unplug to unwind

I think its about staying true to what makes YOU happy outside of work. For me, that’s being outdoors – hiking, climbing, repelling, that sort of thing. It’s important to make yourself a priority and to be intentional about getting out and doing the things that make you happy
– Ashleigh Byers

When you’re off the clock, make time to get outside in nature and try a digital detox from phones and other screens. Doing a digital detox is a proven method for reducing stress levels and building resiliency. Don’t worry, we don’t expect you to hike Kilimanjaro. You can still reap the benefits even if the great outdoors is not your forte, simply by going for a walk, relaxing at a beach, or soaking up some sunshine sans screens.

Self-care as a skillset

We will admit, recommendations for self-care often list bubble baths and skincare routines as sure-fire ways to beat burnout. While relaxing baths and skincare routines are nice, they don’t exactly wipe away the mental and physical exhaustion stemming from long shifts and a series of patients. 

Because self-care looks different for everyone, it is important to find methods of self-care that work for YOU, rather than forcing the self-care trends of Tik Tok (here’s looking at you banana bread of 2020).

Whether your particular form of self-care is getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, or blasting music for a 10 min dance sesh – do what feels right and makes you feel at peace.

Connect with colleagues and support networks

Nurses work in high-stress environments by nature of their trade. Exploring support groups, peer mentorship programs or mental health professionals in your area is a healthy way to share experiences and learn tips to manage stress and combat burnout. Find someone you respect and aspire to and ask them to be your mentor. Seek out professional development opportunities, such as conferences or workshops, that are focused on giving you the skills to become more resilient and build community. Reach out to your employer and ask about helping create a special resource group for nurses who want more support.

Set boundaries and manage workload

You may feel pressure to take on additional shifts or responsibilities, but it is important to set boundaries and manage workload to prevent burnout. Communicate with your recruiters and supervisors to help advocate for appropriate staffing levels.  

Practice mindfulness and stress management techniques

Mindfulness and stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can be effective in reducing stress and preventing burnout. Nurses can practice mindfulness during their breaks or incorporate mindfulness and stress management techniques into their daily routine.

Take time off when needed

If you’re able to, request a few extra days off once every few months to allow for time to truly decompress. If you feel burnout encroaching on your mental (and physical) health, approach your employer and request schedule blocking to give you several days off in a row to create space for you to recharge.

Change is on the horizon

To significantly lower the number of healthcare professionals experiencing burnout, we must address the root causes. The new challenge we face is to identify the practices that work in healthcare and lean into those strengths to create a brighter future together. While systemic change in healthcare cannot happen overnight, change is on the horizon. We’re actively engaged with local, state, and national healthcare advocacy organizations to bring about this change. Furthermore, we are bringing nurses on board to our own teams as recruiters, compliance specialists, and leaders. These team members provide expertise to help us truly understand what nurses experience, and how we can best provide support.

If you’ve found certain actions to be helpful in overcoming burnout, please share them here (you’ll also be entered for a giveaway!). We will collect all of your advice to create a robust resource guide, by nurses and for nurses. To kick us off, we asked a few of our nurses-turned-recruiters to share their thoughts:

  • Taking time for myself so I don’t get overwhelmed and eventually burned out.
  • When a patient has a great outcome or gives a compliment, write it down! Look back on these on the hard days to remember it’s worth it.
  • Talking to a doctor when the “normal” methods are not working and you’ve felt burnout for more than a month. Don’t be afraid to try medication, even if it’s for a short time.We all need extra help to get through sometimes.
  • Enough rest before work and go to the beach or camping on my days off to unwind. I try to do relaxing trips away from the city away from everyone. I love camping, so I go often and it relaxes me and gets me ready for the rest of my shifts when I get back in town.
  • I cut down my work load by working smarter not harder. And I have a lot of charting templates I use, so I don’t spend as much time charting as I used to.
  • Sharing my concerns with other professionals and take a few days off.
  • Family, Friends, Breaking from Travel Nursing after each contract (if possible). Sometimes, when offered an extension… they are willing to give you a week or two off in between to regroup.
  • I go to therapy weekly, get monthly massages, and hang out with other nurses to talk about how we feel.
  • Yoga, breaks from work. Looking at my next career. Coworkers!
  • Burnout decreases on the job when I’ve felt like I’ve really made a difference in a patients life. When off the job, lots of sunshine and warm weather helps!
  • Cutting back to 36 hrs and taking assignments in places where I can do the things I love like beach, hiking etc.
  • Exercise 3-5x a week.
  • Self care is everything, I have to take care of myself before I can take care of other people.
  • Finding outlets when things begin to get overwhelming whether it’s bowling and taking hikes enjoying nature and breathing not holding on to mistakes but plans to improve and learn something good new daily.
  • Making sure I stay connected with friends and family on the phone or a FaceTime call. Doing something that relaxes me and makes me feel good like spending a day in the sun at the beach on an off day or getting a massage,  pedi and mani!!
  • Travel nursing has helped my burnout, thanks to Nuwest! Being able to work in 13 week contracts and having an option to take breaks in between has helped me and my mental health tremendously!
  • To help with burnout I stopped picking up more than one overtime shift. I allow myself to have appropriate work life balance and a life outside of work.
  • Taking time off and recharging with family via vacation trips. I’ve come to a great understanding that money is essential for survival, however, money is not enjoyable if stress takes over ones life.
  • Finding a therapist who understands the healthcare profession. It’s helped me so much to be able to emotionally unpack working the whole time through covid, and understand post traumatic stress disorder and how to work through it.
  • Planning trips: having something on the horizon to look forward to helps me stay focused and goal driven. Also, sleep is number one. When I don’t sleep enough my threshold for dealing with important matters goes down. Sleep is the number one most important thing to help me stay positive, happy, and healthy both on and off shift.
  • Focusing on the need to provide for my family, staying active, self care and taking time to vacation.
  • Working contract local staff nursing. Switching it up.This let’s me try different facilities and avoid toxic environments long-term.
  • Practicing TaiChi.
  • 10.000 daily steps.
  • Meditation (I know!) but it helps.
  • Have a coworker to help you vent, talk through things and get through it!
  • Change to a different specialty if you don’t find joy in your current role anymore (if possible).
  • Learning when you have reached your “burn out” and accepting that we as nurses are human it’s ok to admit when it’s time to take a break. That may mean a break from everything including but not limited to work, family responsibilities, cellular device, anything causing extra stress in your life… be ok with taking a day or a full week if needed alone and regrouping mentally… take time for self love and pampering.
  • Coffee (lol) and knowing I’m there for a greater purpose. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
  • A change of environment. Different job, unit, shift. Also, a good vacation.
  • Reading, long baths, sleep.
  • Focusing on advancement in my career.
  • As always… exercise is a huge stress reliever. But also laughing with your co-workers or your family or friends. Laughing so hard your eyes water is the BEST therapy ever!!
  • Planning down time for my first day off is a great way to not put too much pressure on myself to “get over” the trauma, the exhaustion, the stress we deal with at work. I have that first day to sleep, process my emotions, and self-soothe with reading and cooking some of my favorite foods. The next day off is my favorite! After taking my daughter to school, I go on a hike. Being outside in Nature is my very best remedy for preventing and healing from Burnout. I encourage anyone suffering from burnout to GO OUTSIDE. Find some trees, a quiet park, a trail by some flowers, even a slow, phone-off walk around your neighborhood can help. Lots of family time, date nights, and connecting with friends helps as well, but I need time to be alone, ideally in nature, more than anything.
  • Prayer and gratitude practice.
  • Finding a staff job with a team that plays their roles, understanding managers, and recruiters who will back their nurses up when the nurse brings up an issue.
  • Cuddling my cats
  • Frequent vacations, specialty change, travel nursing to allow longer periods of time not working and being at one hospital for a short amount of time.
  • Frequent vacations, specialty change, travel nursing to allow longer periods of time not working and being at one hospital for a short amount of time.
  • Working in a rural setting has helped.
  • My coworkers. They truly can make any bad day better.
  • I took a job that pays less but has a mission I love and a work life balance I can deal with.
  • Amazing teams to be on shift with and VACATIONS!
  • Me and the nurses from the shift have a get together after some shifts.  We have to support each other!
  • Reminding myself of my why to travel in the first place, my family. Spending time away from work doing things I love.
  • I love what I do as critical care nurse. I keep burnout at bay, by not overworking, i.e. committing to shifts after 36 hours. I replenish my energy stores by eating well, exercising and sleeping. My personal relationships are nurtured by encouraging words and lots of hugs. A combination of the above helps eliminate burnout.
  • What’s helped me with burnout has been me achieving my MSN.  I want to give back to my patients in a different way and i believe this is what contributed to me not getting burnt out.
  • Remind myself it’s ok to have a “lazy day” to rest and recover. I also make a day of self care for a massage and nail appointments or whatever helps you feel good. Prioritize your physical and mental.