3 Steps to Help Relieve Nurse Burnout

July 20th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

Stress. Everybody’s got it. It’s how you handle it that determines your success on any given day.

Now, I start my days fairly early. One of the first things I do is check in with the world. My friend Dayna Steele, whose new book I told you about recently on this site was a source of inspiration for my morning routine. Before her book she wrote a popular blog, “5 Things To Do Every Day for Success.” I don’t get all five in yet but number 2 I do every day.

”2. Read the headlines and watch the news. Not only should you know what is going on in the world, you will also be the first to recognize opportunities (if you followed #1) for you and your business–long before the competition has even had their first cup of coffee.”

So, in that vein, I was reading my local newspaper on line when I came across this little story—it was about a nurse. I think this woman let the stress of her job and life drive her over the edge.

Mary Lucille Gutierrez is an ex-school nurse who will be spending 10 years in prison for setting her school on fire.

Most importantly, no one was injured in the pre-dawn blaze last year that caused about $2 million in damages at Speegleville Elementary School in Woodway, TX (near Waco).

Gutierrez pled guilty to the charges and besides prison she was fined $10,000. Investigators say Gutierrez hoped the fire would lead to a transfer for her or the administrator behind her poor review.

Yes, you just read that right. She set fire to the school because of a bad review. Wow. That’s stressed out.

And, that’s what got me thinking. She was a school nurse. We all know that is one of the most stressful nursing jobs around these days. However, most nursing jobs ride that stress rollercoaster. We are responsible to our patients and their families, to our managers and our institution, to our coworkers and every year we await the results of some annual evaluation to find out if we are going to get a raise as recognition for our hard work. That’s a lot.

I assume most of us became nurses because we wanted to. Whether to work in healthcare, or to help others, or to cement a solid career with job opportunities everywhere, we chose nursing. Most of us weren’t even out of school before we recognized that it can often be a stressful career path.

To be successful you have to fight the stress. Before you burn down a building I have a few suggestions for lightening that load.

  • Take a walk – This walk can be anything you want it to be. Spend 30 minutes on a treadmill in the morning or evening. Stroll around the neighborhood with the kids and the dog for half an hour. Take three 10 minute walks during the course of your day (like walk away from the nurses station on your break) and you reap the same benefits.

    Aerobic exercise of any kind has the power to calm jangled nerves and improve bad moods,” say the experts at Prevention magazine. “And when it's done every day, it can enhance self-esteem and combat depression. Indeed, research has shown that a brisk 20- to 30-minute walk can have the same calming effect as a mild tranquilizer.

  • Shorten Your To-Do List – Nurses are by nature multi-taskers. Our jobs require it. However, when you get a chance, take advantage of a few minutes of quiet. Do nothing. Or do one thing and do it slowly. Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.

    I found this great website “tiny buddha: simple wisdom for complex lives.” One writer offered four great tips for relieving stress by slowing down.

    1. Double the time you think it will take to complete a task. When we estimate how long doing something will take we usually end up taking longer and feeling stressed. Double your time estimate, don’t feel so rushed and enjoy completing your project.
    2. Consciously perform tasks in slow motion. For example, don’t race around the grocery store cutting off other shoppers like you are Mario Andretti. Take a minute. Get a sample at the deli case, consider trying some new vegetable you noticed because you weren’t racing to the tomatoes, or stop and ask the butcher what’s fresh and how to prepare it. Just slow down a little. Just like the guy on the road who whizzes past you and then cuts you off. Usually you end up sitting at the same stoplight. Why not take it easy to get there.
    3. Stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. This could be defined as take a good deep breath from your diaphragm. We do not need to always be in fight-or-flight mode.
    4. No multi-tasking (or at least less).
  • LOL – That’s right, laugh out loud. It can relieve your stress and even other peoples' if they join in. We all know someone who seems to laugh inappropriately during trying times. It’s a stress reliever.

    ”Laughter has known physiological effects, including the flushing of stress hormones like cortisol and the release of "positive" hormones like endorphins. Laughter calms the nervous system, reduces stress, oxygenates the brain, vital organs and cells, and contributes to a sense of overall well-being,” RN, Coach, and ,Laughter-Yoga Leader Keith Carlson told me. “Laughter with another person engenders a sense of camaraderie and community, especially when coupled with eye contact. Laughter can also take you out of your "left brain" during stressful moments, and allow you to discharge tension without discounting the actual stressor or situation. Laughter is good medicine, and can only help when the going is tough,” Carlson added. That's Carlson, the founder of Laughter Yoga, Dr Madan Kataria, and Carlson's wife, Mary Rives, showing us how it's done, at right.

Stress takes its toll on everyone. The economy, the job, traffic, the kids, the dog, ADLs (activities of daily living): they all combine to raise our stress levels and exhaust us.

So, before you burn down a building or yell at your spouse, before you call in sick because that headache just won’t go away, take a step back. Or take about 30 minutes of steps forward, slow it down, and laugh it off. In fact, if you are looking for laughs, you may want to check out laughteryoga.org, where people can find a free or low-cost LY club near you. There are more than 7000 clubs in over seven countries.

Nothing is worth prison time or even having to apologize to loved ones because the stress of being a nurse overwhelmed the joy of it.

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