What to Do About Burnout

Stress, work overload, and competing needs for time combine to produce a feeling called burnout. Burnout is the physical or emotional exhaustion that results from long-term stress. If you work in human services, you’ll probably experience it at one time or another. If you suffer from burnout, you are likely to feel helpless, hopeless, unmotivated, and unappreciated.

Employees in any profession may experience burnout, but nurses in particular have reported high levels of job dissatisfaction due to stress, according to a recent study conducted by the Penn State School of Nursing.

Among 95,000 nurses surveyed, 24 percent who work in hospitals are dissatisfied with their jobs, from burnout caused by staffing levels and emotionally draining work. Nurses who worked in nursing homes reported an even higher rate, 27 percent. These statistics are serious, as increased rates in job dissatisfaction can lead to instability in the nursing workforce.

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout results from a number of factors. Long hours, constant change, and doing more with less are facts of life in many workplaces. But, as a human-service provider, there are two additional factors you might be dealing with:

You took this job in order to make a difference. Now your idealism has run headlong into reality. Despite your hard work, problems persist. Children keep getting abused. Kids use drugs.Parolees re-offend. Abused women return home. Families become homeless.Patients die. Not every story has a happy ending. Maybe many of them don’t.

You are continually challenged by the behavior of the people you serve. You believe you should be able to cope with their behaviors or influence them to change. You feel inadequate. And you’re not alone-caregivers who work with challenging individuals report more anxiety and less job satisfaction than those who don’t have to deal with such behavior.

How Can I Avoid Burnout?

Start by taking care of yourself. It’s standard advice, but only because it works. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise. Enjoy your hobbies. Seek balance in your life. The better shape you’re in when you arrive at work, the better you’ll be able to cope with the day’s challenges. Here are some specific steps you can take to reduce your risk of burnout:

Make peace with what is realistic for you to accomplish. You are only one person. Recognize and accept that you cannot do it all.

Ask for help when you need it. It’s not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of a true professional to know when you need a break or when you’re in over your head.

Recognize that you have choices. Even if you cannot change a situation, you can change your attitude and your response to it. For example, perhaps you provide care for someone who really knows how to push your buttons, and you often find yourself losing your temper. By allowing this individual to trigger your temper, you’ve made the choice to give away self-control. Try to make more positive choices.

Put a limit on your work hours. Establish boundaries between your personal life and your professional life. Try not to bring your work home.

Instead of thinking about the things in your life that drain your energy, focus on the things that recharge your batteries. Make time for whatever you find most meaningful. Whether it’s a hobby, an outdoor activity, or time with your family and friends, schedule that time into your day.

Don’t allow yourself to get in a rut. Keep learning. Try new things. Have goals.

Build a support system for yourself. Research has shown that caregivers who support one another report less stress and more job satisfaction.

Burnout is a very real danger in any human-service profession. By taking proactive steps to maintain a positive attitude at work and a healthy balance between your personal life and your work life, you will be better able to provide Care, Welfare, Safety, and Security SM for those in your care-and for yourself.

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