l’m officially declaring this nurse practitioner burnout week here at ThriveAP. I arrived home from working the overnight shift in the emergency department yesterday morning around 6:30am. I promptly declared to my husband that I was in no mood to talk about my day. I unpacked my work bag and headed to my bedroom only to find an “I love you” note from him resting on the pillow. Sigh. I immediately regretted the terse tone I took as I stormed into the house 5 minutes earlier.
I awoke to the sun peeking through my blinds just three hours later and decided to call my nap good enough. I had things to do and didn’t want to medicate myself in an attempt to sleep longer. I went about my day exhausted, cranky, and pretty much was just plain miserable. “I’m quitting this @$#*@&! job”, I thought. Overwhelmed, overworked, and under-rested, I felt like I couldn’t take the pressure of my many commitments any longer, particularly those that involve staying up all night. Do you ever feel the same?
Fortunately, this morning, I woke up on the right side of the bed, seven beautiful hours of sleep under my belt. Life seemed more manageable and my commitments within reason. So, am I worn out, burnt out, or just a little stressed out?
Burnout is a common discussion topic among healthcare providers. Working odd hours, high expectations and levels of responsibility, along with employment within a system rife with red tape, makes maintaining motivation and enthusiasm for practice can be difficult to maintain.
Distinguishing between stress, burnout, and being worn out is important for nurse practitioners in evaluating physical and emotional state. Feeling worn out constitutes physical exhaustion. Pulling overnight shifts on the hospital floor is likely to lead NPs to feel worn out even if the work required during the shift itself is not particularly demanding. Covering a large hospital with patients on multiple units may leave your dawgs barking at the end of the day – physical rather than mental wear and tear. Being worn out is a temporary and often easily remedied problem.
In contrast, stress is internal, a result of emotions and both internal and external pressures. While stress may be accompanied by physical symptoms, the condition is characterized primarily by mental fatigue and feeling overwhelmed. Some stress is important in our lives as nurse practitioners. Stress pushes us to grow professionally and encourages improved performance. Prolonged stress, however, can lead to the dreaded burnout experienced by many nurse practitioners.
Burnout results when stress runs at max levels for a prolonged period of time. Our mental ability to cope wears thin. Development experts define burnout as “a constant depletion of mental, physical, and emotional energy – without expected needs being met”. Burnout makes us feel irritable, fatigued, frustrated, tense, and is accompanied by a feeling of overall emotional negativity.
How would you categorize yourself in your nurse practitioner career? Are you worn out, stressed out, or burnt out? Identify where you fall in this spectrum. Recognizing a potential problem can help you break the cycle. Keep your nurse practitioner career on track by identifying and managing symptoms and circumstances early for a positive professional experience.
Where do you fall in the burnout spectrum as a nurse practitioner? What steps have you taken to reverse the problem?
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