Healthcare burnout is like the poisoned apple of the healthcare industry. It seeps into your personal and professional life and leaves you feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically depleted. According to Healthline, burnout is a state of “mental and physical exhaustion that can zap the joy out of your career, friendships, and family interactions.”
Needless to say, healthcare worker burnout isn’t great for anyone. And when the profession you work in is prone to stress and difficult decisions on a daily basis, it can feel like a lot of effort to avoid burnout. Luckily, there are established self-care strategies and other coping mechanisms you can practice to help alleviate the effects of healthcare worker burnout.
Not-so-fun facts about healthcare worker burnout
As the backbone of the healthcare system, why are some of our most-talented healthcare professionals experiencing burnout and emotional exhaustion?
Since it’s common for many traveling healthcare workers and perm staff to work 10 to 13-hour-long shifts, long workdays/nights play a role in burnout. After a while, the negative effects of these long shifts have an enormous impact on worker motivation.
Another stressor of the job are the emotional challenges that come with it. It can be exhausting to care for a multitude of patients, to stay positive in front of them and their families, plus to cope with patient loss, and then some. All these emotional challenges can lead to a lack of motivation and job satisfaction that eventually turns into total burnout.
Most recently, healthcare professionals have experienced pandemic anxiety that stems from new hospital and nursing home regulations, new and enhanced safety precautions, and the general disarray of the world.
Healthcare worker burnout comes in many shapes and forms. Sometimes it sneaks up on you and you don’t realize its presence until it’s too late. While the specific symptoms might vary per person, there are some common areas to look out for. If you find yourself feeling more anxious, tired, unfocused, or unmotivated than normal, turn inward and ask yourself if you’re feeling burned out from your travel job.
Healthcare burnout doesn’t do any favors for the healthcare facility, patient care, staffing agency, or for you. If left untreated, persistent burnout can lead to high turnover rates, lower quality of healthcare, and increased patient mortality rates. So, how can you avoid burnout? Check out the top eight strategies for travelers to avoid healthcare burnout.
No. 1: Rely on your support system
People need people—especially in times of distress. One of the best ways to avoid healthcare worker burnout is to reach out and rely on your people in your personal life, whether that’s friends, family, fellow travel buddies, your recruiter, or someone else.
Marketplace makes it easy for you to connect with your personal staffing agency recruiter via text, phone, or email. When you want to get in touch, simply click a button on their recruiter profile, and choose your preferred method of communication. Your healthcare recruiter is there for you, so use their knowledge and expertise to your advantage.
Traveling licensed practical nurse (LPN), Gin, said she avoids traveler burnout by “making friends” and “seeing the sights.” Try her advice out for yourself next time you’re feeling more stressed than satisfied.
No. 2: Prioritize your sleep
You hear all the time how important sleep is for your mind and body but may never fully understand the effects until your own sleep is lacking. Those rumors about the importance of sleep are true and adequate sleep for healthcare professionals is vital to remain alert, relieve stress, avoid medical errors, and ensure patient safety.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Because seven to nine hours of consecutive rest isn’t always an option, talk to your healthcare facility about breaks and on-call or nap rooms you can use during long shifts. Studies show that even a 20-minute power nap can improve alertness, overall mood, and well being.
Research published in the journal “Sleep,” reports there is a “wealth of evidence that brief daytime naps of 10 to 20 minutes decrease subjective sleepiness, increase objective alertness, and improve cognitive performance.”
No. 3: Practice relaxation techniques
There are a million and one different ways to relax. Yoga, meditation, a nice walk in the park — whatever relaxation looks like for you, practice it more often to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Dedicate time to unwind from the pressures of your healthcare career and make those relaxation techniques part of your everyday routine for stress management.
Here are some relaxation ideas in case you’re in a slump:
Do some meditating
Listen to music
Take a break with a hobby
Deep breathing exercises
Soak in a bath
Get a massage
Create art to get inspired
Write in a journal
No. 4: More exercise, more endorphins
Although it might feel like mustering up the energy to workout would add to feelings of exhaustion, surprisingly, exercise does the opposite.
“Not only can exercise help ease depression, but it can also lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol profile, help control blood sugar, and reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and common cancers,” said Irina Todorov, MD.
Don’t worry—if you have more of a love/hate relationship with exercise, know that working out doesn’t need to be a visit to the gym. Experiment with different types of exercise and find the right method that works best for you. You may even find that some gyms or studios offer discounts for healthcare workers.
No. 5: Eat a well-balanced and nutritional diet
Just like a car, your body needs fuel to keep going. Instead of gas, the fuel your body needs is food and the more nutrition, the better. To accomplish a well-balanced diet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adding an emphasis to fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; including a variety of protein into your meals (i.e. seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, soy products, nuts, and seeds); sticking to foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars; and that you stay within your daily calorie need.
Not only does a balanced and nutritional diet decrease your chances for healthcare worker burnout but eating healthy can also offer adults life-changing benefits:
May help you live longer
Keeps skin, teeth, and eyes healthy
Supports your muscles, boosts immunity, and strengthens your bones
Lowers your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer
Helps your digestive system function
Assists in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
No. 6: Unplug and tune out once in a while
According to recent research, American adults spend, on average, five to six hours a day on their phones, not including work-related use. Some spend as much as 12 hours each day using technology to watch their favorite TV shows, online shop, video chat long-distance friends and family, plus more. Altogether, we spend a lot of our quality time looking at a screen. When was the last time you unplugged to unwind?
Sure, technology has extraordinary benefits that actively makes our lives easier and more efficient, but a break from the variety of screens in our lives offers many mental health benefits, and as a healthcare traveler, it’s important to feel your best so you can provide top-level patient care. A break from the screens can help you avoid traveler burnout, as well as do wonders for your emotional and mental health. Screen-free time can:
“Reboot” your brain to reduce stress and anxiety
Provide an opportunity to practice gratitude
Allow for more “you time” and decrease feelings of loneliness
Give you the perfect chance to connect and be present with the natural world
“Getting into the local area and experiencing something new—this is a priority for me,” said traveler, Pamette, RN. “This keeps me engaged and busy and gives me something to share with friends and family!”
When in doubt, unplug, tune out, and unwind.
No. 7: Take inventory of stressors
They say that knowing is half the battle, and that’s true for identifying your triggers and stressors. When you know what causes feelings of stress and anxiety, you can work to avoid those triggers, and learn healthy coping mechanisms to manage them for your mental health.
One way to get started is to make a list of some of the top challenges you’re currently facing and recognize if your emotional pressure is caused by a person or people, an event or situation, an environment or place, or something else. Take note of external stressors like major life changes, unpredictable and/or traumatic events, and a new environment.
Try to take inventory of external and internal stressors like fear and anxiety as often as you can to maintain a work life balance and avoid burnout.
No. 8: Give yourself a break
It’s easier said than done, but at the end of the day, give yourself a break both emotionally and physically. You work tirelessly to provide the best quality patient care possible, so take a beat and enjoy much-deserved time away from a healthcare facility. Whether you plan a relaxed road trip, luxurious weekend getaway, or a friendly game night with loved ones, dedicate time in your schedule for breaks.
Traveler, Jackie, said she tries to take breaks between contracts as often as possible. She said, “I try to plan my vacations during that time. Also, invite friends and family to come stay with you during contracts!”
Michelle, travel CNA, agrees with Jackie. “Just going home once a month for a short three-day trip [can make a huge difference],” said travel CNA, Michelle.
As a professional healthcare traveler, it may feel impossible for you to take a day or two off. If that’s the case, explore other scheduling options and try to accommodate down-time as much as you can.
“[I block] my days together so that I can travel or do something fun in between assignments to see family, friends, and travel!” said Jess, travel RN. “Also, meditation helps me center myself when I find myself getting burnt out and anxious.”
Breaks from work don’t have to equate to long vacations or sabbaticals. Get some physical and psychological space from the demands of your healthcare career and reap the rewards in return, like:
Reduced stress levels
The chance to decompress and de-stress
Everyone needs a break now and then. You know what they say, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
No. 9: Seek out mental health professional support
Healthcare professionals often find themselves at risk for burnout thanks to the constant pressure and high-stakes nature of their work. However, there are several mental health resources available that can help in mitigating this issue. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is one of many resources that offers free mental health support to employees. These programs provide a range of services including counseling sessions, stress management workshops, and even assistance with personal issues like financial planning.
Another mental health resource is The Emotional PPE Project, a nonprofit group that helps healthcare workers find mental health support by providing a list of volunteer mental health practitioners who offer therapy sessions. They help healthcare workers connect with experienced therapists at no cost and without the need for insurance.
The Therapy Aid Coalition is another organization that offers free or low-cost mental health services to healthcare professionals and first responders. Through its network of licensed therapists, the organization connects U.S. healthcare workers and first responders with mental health support in the form of short-term therapy sessions.
All of these resources can prove instrumental in preventing burnout and promoting mental well being among healthcare workers.
No. 10: Maintain a work life balance
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is so important for preventing burnout for healthcare travelers. Allowing for periods of rest between assignments ensures the mind and body get the much-needed recovery time. This act of stepping back from work obligations not only rejuvenates but also helps in maintaining a fresh perspective towards work.
Recognizing the signs of burnout at an early stage — be it exhaustion, cynicism, or a sense of inefficacy, can be instrumental in taking proactive measures. Exploring more strategies for stress management, such as pursuing hobbies, can further fortify the defense against health worker burnout. After all, in the demanding field of healthcare, taking care of yourself is just as crucial as taking care of others.
Prevent burnout in healthcare
Burnout is a serious issue in the healthcare community and it’s one that can have detrimental consequences for professional healthcare travelers and their patients. And unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. In fact, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported 55 percent of frontline healthcare workers experience burnout with the highest rate (69 percent) among younger staff between the ages of 18 to 29.
So, when the overwhelming feelings of lack of control, enhanced tension, and loss of satisfaction loom over you, use these tens ways to prevent burnout so you can get back to doing what you do best: Saving lives.