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Burn out in nursing and a nurse’s self care experiment

Sep 21, 2023 | Reflective practice

Work related stress and burn out has been written about for a long time in nursing and midwifery. Only a few years ago it was found that almost one-third of Australian nurses and midwives were considering leaving the profession due to precisely that and this was prior to the covid restrictions.

We face all sorts of challenges in our working day and working life that are not just limited to what we experience with the patients in our care. Very few go into nursing and midwifery not knowing this and, as a result, we have been renowned as people who are prepared to jump in boots and all, roll up our sleeves and get right in it up to our elbows so to speak.

So, what is it that is resulting in high levels of burn out and being under so much stress that we would rather do anything but nursing?

Workplace cultures as well as the quality of our education are all hugely important – but where are WE in all of this? 

Where is the focus on the love and care that is essential for health care professionals to maintain their own vitality within their job?

I used to be one of the ‘one-third of nurses’ who was actively looking for a way out of nursing, and I invested a lot of time, effort, and money for this to become my reality. Fortunately, my plans didn’t quite work and I am still nursing today. In fact, I have gone from what I used to call the ‘reluctant nurse’, to feeling like a nurse who is deeply committed – I now enjoy so much of what I do. The secret was not about getting a new job – even though I eventually did – the changes were happening in me way before the new job came along. The secret, which really isn’t a secret at all, was that the way I cared for and tended to myself had significantly changed.

I started my own personal self care research project as at the time I was feeling very tired, if not exhausted, and disinterested in nursing, doing the absolute minimum that I had to do on a shift. I even experienced some anxiety about being at work and dealing with all that we need to deal with on any given shift. So, I began by asking myself a few questions that felt important to me at that time:

  • ‘What happens if I go to bed when I begin to feel sleepy, instead of falling asleep on the lounge?’
  • ‘What happens if I take myself out for a walk every day?’
  • ‘What happens if I give myself a little more time to prepare for my day, so I am not rushing?’

Slowly but surely, I began making more supportive choices such as going to bed when I felt tired, which was often before 9pm when I was working a morning shift or on a day off. I also took myself for a walk every day and I gave myself more time to prepare for my workday or night. These were all very simple activities that I made a regular commitment to include in my day.

Over time through being consistent with these activities, I observed that how I felt began to change. I noted that: 

  • I felt less tired and more energised
  • I was more engaged in my work and genuinely enjoyed it
  • I realised that I really did care about and enjoyed people, and this was because I was beginning to take greater care of myself

And, wait for it…

I absolutely love nursing and marvel at this because there was a time that I thought I would never say this

What I have found through my personal research project of self care is that caring for myself is never boring, stagnant and is not a tick-box list of things to achieve in a day to make myself feel better, and it doesn’t even require a budget to make it happen. Caring for myself has become a new foundation for a way of living my whole life and it is forever developing, which is then what supports and enhances the work I do as a nurse.

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