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Dealing with Difficult Patients: The importance of self-care

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Nursing is known as the caring profession. Nurses are known as caring individuals. Caring and anticipating needs are strengths of those in nursing. They are our best assets, and the assets most recognized by others.

But our greatest assets can also be our worst liabilities. In other words, caring has two sides to it: Caring for others is noble and fulfilling, but caring too much, or using up all of our energy caring without caring for ourselves, can leave us tired and drained.

In order to take care of challenging patients, we need to make time to take care of ourselves. Nurses who do not take care of their own health needs are often the ones most likely to have problems caring for challenging patients. We need to face up to the reality that spending our work life caring for others is a heavy burden, and we must take some time to recharge, and refill our cupboards. We need to address the emotional toll our work takes on us.

Rethinking stress

Stress can be emotional, physical, or spiritual. The first step in handling stress is to make sure that we understand how we cope with stress.

As nurses, we can make the assumption that our personal life and our work life cause us stress. There is really no need to make a list of our stressors—this might cause us more stress. But it’s safe to assume that we have stress. We have all developed methods to handle our stress: Sometimes we develop adaptive ways and other times we use maladaptive methods. Start by listing some coping methods and separating them into those that help and those that hinder you. Then do more of what helps, and systematically eliminate or change those that hinder.

Sometimes the way we look at things causes us increased stress. Here are some ways of thinking that add to stress. Do any of these ring true for you?

Extreme thinking: Sometimes we see things with no middle ground or no gray. It is all black and white, all or nothing, good or bad.

Overgeneralizing/blowing things out of proportion: Everything is a crisis. “No one here knows what he or she is doing.” “I never get a good assignment.”

Mind reading/fortune-telling: You predict the future in a negative way: “This is going to be another rotten day.”

Jumping to conclusions without enough evidence or guessing about what other people are thinking about us: “They don’t know what it is like to work on the floor. This is just one more thing they thought up to make our days difficult.”

Personalizing: Jumping to a conclusion that something is directly connected to you: “Everyone knows I’ve been off work because I can’t cope.”

One way to reduce your stress is to change the way you look at things. Try these alternatives and see how they work for you:

Change extreme thinking into reality thinking. Look for the gray between the black and white.
Stop overgeneralizing and recognize that what is happening now is only what is happening now. Nothing lasts forever. Look for times when good things happen to you, such as when you do get a good assignment.

Stop mind reading. Ask for clarification and details. Check out the facts. What does the policy say? What does the procedure mandate?

Gather your data before making a conclusion. We all know we need to make a comprehensive patient assessment before a diagnosis can be made. Use the same principles when coming to a conclusion (diagnosis) about a situation that has caused you discomfort.

Come to grips with the reality that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Yes, sorry to say, most of the time other people are so concerned about themselves that they don’t even think about how their actions might affect you.

Change stress into relief

In her article “Break the cycle of stress with PBR3,” Becky Graner, MS, RN, IAC, shares a simple tool that aids in stress relief. PBR3 stands for pause, breathe, relax, reflect, rewrite. Let’s see how it works. Adhere to the process in the following table the next time you are in a stressful situation at work, or just before going in to take care of a patient who presents a challenge to you.

Pause: Simply stop thinking. You can continue doing something such as walking down the hall, washing your hands, or another activity that has become automatic for you. Simply stop your thoughts.

Breathe: Stop the chatter in your mind by paying attention to your breathing. Just focus on your breaths and count, say a prayer, or repeat an affirmation to yourself. Don’t try to control your breath. And don’t hold your breath.

Relax: Simply taking a pause and a few breaths, particularly diaphragmatic breathing, takes you out of a reactive state and into a more relaxed state. When you are relaxed, your thinking will clear.

Reflect: Debrief yourself. What was going on that led up to the situation that bothered you? If you felt angry, what was the feeling behind the anger? Was your response out of proportion to the situation? Were you thinking the worst?

Rewrite: Check yourself to find out where you may have been taking things too personally, making assumptions, or doing some of the other automatic thinking processes that cause more stress than not. Rethink or rewrite these into more realistic assumptions. Using humor, empathy, or compassion may soothe you.

Reference
Graner, B. “Break the cycle of stress with PBR3.” American Nurse Today, (2)5:56–57.

 

Throwback Thursday: Your 10 Step Guide to a Rockin’ New Year

By Carol Ebert, RN, BSN, MA, CHES, CWP

The word TRANSITION means the passage from one form, state, style, or place to another – CHANGE!  Some of you are cringing thinking about change, but others are thinking – BRING IT ON!  How many transitions are you experiencing right now?  From holiday over-eating to New Year reckonings about weight?  From worrying about money to wondering what else you could do to increase your income?  From working in a job that is not a fit for you to wondering what else you could be doing? From leaving the workforce to enter the world of retirement and not knowing how to adjust? Transitions are everywhere at any time and can be perceived as negative or positive.  I prefer the latter and have some thoughts to consider.

T – Trust your instincts.  Rather than be caught off guard when things change, take the high road and note what your gut is telling you about what it going on. Keep in mind the change you are experiencing might be just what you have been secretly wanting!

R – Reset your eating and exercise program.  Have you been stuck and know you want to get healthier but not sure how to make the first move? I’m sure you have dealt with this before, so reflect on what helped you be successful in the past and recreate those steps.

A – Adjust your thinking from I CAN’T to I CAN.  See yourself healthy, happy and whole.  Send time every day imagining yourself being your best and being grateful for all that you are and have.  Hang up pictures to visually represent what your goals look like so you can start living in that body even before you get there.

N – Notice what you need right now. Go outside right now for a walk.  Yes – right now!  By yourself!  Take a notepad and pen along because great ideas are sure to surface while you are walking and you may want to write them down before you lose them.  Focus as you walk on what you really need right now to move forward thru this transition. This will be your starting point.

S – Set goals in alignment with your values to create the life you love.  Have you ever taken the time to really ask yourself what you want? Yes, you know what your mother wants for you, what your kids want, what your partner wants, and what you “should” want.  But what do you really want?  Write down 3 dreams you have for a more complete life and post it where you can ponder it.

I – Integrate all your skills into a single focus.  By now you have probably acquired a lot of great life and work skills that make you the fantastic talented person you are.  During this transition, you might find that it is time to put them all to good use and see what emerges.  Write down a list of everything you are great at – write until you can’t think of anything else – at least 30 things.

T – Train yourself for new skills.  After I had acquired all the skills I thought I needed in life, I opened up myself to what might be next for me – the key – being open to possibilities.  What showed up for me was “wellness coaching”, or some people call it “life coaching”.  When I was searching for “what’s next for me”, a friend coached me and after just 2 sessions, I had a new direction, a plan, and I was on my way again.  I loved the experience so much, I was trained to be a coach as well as a coach trainer.

I – Invite new opportunities.  When I was transitioning out of the workforce and into my own independent wellness business, I needed to figure out how to earn money while still doing the work I am passionate about.  Because I remained open to new ideas, I was presented with a way to help people get healthy as well as make passive income that could grow over time.  The key was to stay open to new ideas and give them a chance to see if they could work for you.

O – Own up to what is best for you. Not sure what direction to take as you transition?  Your guide should be how you “feel” about what you decide to do.  As they say, if it feels right – do it?

N – Now is the time to reinvent yourself.  I wrote a whole chapter on this in the book Wise Women Speak – Choosing Stepping Stones Along the Path.  My gift to you is a free download of this chapter by logging on to my website http://carolebert.com/meet-carol/free-ebook/

Enjoy the process of your transition.  Remember, it’s about the journey not the destination.  Fun times ahead!  Contact me at any time for support – carol@carolebert.com.

Tips for recommitting to nursing in the new year

The new year is often a time for retrospection and reflection, especially when it comes to your career. If you’re starting to feel burnt out on nursing but not quite ready for a career change, here is some advice to freshen things up in the new year.

  • Reflect on your past: Sometimes the best way to go forward is to look back. What drew you to nursing in the first place? Why was a career in nursing right for you? Think about the positive experiences you’ve had as a nurse that reaffirmed your career goals. Treat your next shift like it’s your first day; what excites you? What makes you nervous? Sometimes asking these questions can reinvigorate how you approach your work.
  • Connect (and disconnect): If you’re feeling down about your job, sometimes the best solution is to ask for help. Reach out to your peers and develop a support system to help yourself and others. If you think there’s something that could make you happier at work, talk to your managers about it; sometimes a small change can have a profound effect. It’s also important to let go sometimes. Being a caregiver, interacting with patients at some of the worst times in their lives can negatively impact your outlook and make your job even more difficult. Try to focus on the good you’ve done for patients and don’t take it personally when a patient struggles or suffers.
  • Commit to the new: Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, taking on new challenges can be a great way to energize your career. Seek out new experiences and opportunities; take the frustrations of the day and channel it toward learning a new skill or pursuing additional training options. Reflecting on your weaknesses can be difficult at first, but identifying them and working towards improvement can be satisfying and build you confidence. Another great way to embrace the new is working with nursing students or new nurses. They bring energy and enthusiasm to the job, and becoming a preceptor or informal mentor can be a great way to grow your own enthusiasm while furthering your career.

 

Study: Nurse fatigue on the rise

A new survey indicates that fatigue affects 85 percent of nurses, and more than half of nurses have experienced burnout.

The study, conducted by Kronos Incorporated, surveyed 257 nurses currently working in U.S. hospitals. Nearly all of the respondents (98%) said their work is physically and mentally demanding, and 63 percent reported that their work caused nurse burnout. 44 percent worried that their patient care would suffer because of their exhaustion, and 41 percent considered changing hospitals in the past year because of their burnout.

Nurse fatigue has a number of causes, and can occur during any shift. An excess of fatigue without proper coping mechanism can cause burnout, an exhaustion that can cause your staff feel alienated from their work and cause diminished performance.

The best way to counter burnout in your staff is to create programs that encourage self-care and raise awareness about the symptoms of nurse fatigue. For more tips about coping with burnout, check out the following articles from the Strategies for Nurse Managers’ Reading Room:

Preventing nurse fatigue
Take Five: How renewal rooms revive stressed out nurses
Don’t underestimate damage caused by burned out nurses
Stop requiring nurses to work overtime

Tips for recommitting to nursing in the new year

The new year is often a time for retrospection and reflection, especially when it comes to your career. If you’re starting to feel burnt out on nursing but not quite ready for a career change, here is some advice to freshen things up in the new year.

  • Reflect on your past: Sometimes the best way to go forward is to look back. What drew you to nursing in the first place? Why was a career in nursing right for you? Think about the positive experiences you’ve had as a nurse that reaffirmed your career goals. Treat your next shift like it’s your first day; what excites you? What makes you nervous? Sometimes asking these questions can reinvigorate how you approach your work.
  • Connect (and disconnect): If you’re feeling down about your job, sometimes the best solution is to ask for help. Reach out to your peers and develop a support system to help yourself and others. If you think there’s something that could make you happier at work, talk to your managers about it; sometimes a small change can have a profound effect.

    It’s also important to let go sometimes. Being a caregiver, interacting with patients at some of the worst times in their lives can negatively impact your outlook and make your job even more difficult. Try to focus on the good you’ve done for patients and don’t take it personally when a patient struggles or suffers.

  • Commit to the new: Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, taking on new challenges can be a great way to energize your career. Seek out new experiences and opportunities; take the frustrations of the day and channel it toward learning a new skill or pursuing additional training options. Reflecting on your weaknesses can be difficult at first, but identifying them and working towards improvement can be satisfying and build you confidence.

    Another great way to embrace the new is working with nursing students or new nurses. They bring energy and enthusiasm to the job, and becoming a preceptor or informal mentor can be a great way to grow your own enthusiasm while furthering your career.

For more articles about avoiding burnout and developing your career, check out the Health & Wellness section of the Strategies for Nurse Managers Reading Room!

Sleep vital to nurses’ performance

For many nurses, sleep is an afterthought. With long shifts and busy schedules, it can be hard to make the time for a full night’s rest, particularly for night nurses. But it might be worth the effort, both for nurses and their patients.

Most importantly, not getting enough sleep can put patients at risk. Without proper rest, your decision making and reaction time decreases significantly, which can make the difference in in an acute care setting. It can also affect your recall, which might lead to preventable mistakes like incorrectly assessing a patient’s condition or a medication error.

Beyond the patient safety concerns, lack of sleep can also make it harder to perform all of your duties. Amount of sleep has a corresponding impact on your mood. Without enough sleep, you can feel more anxious and stressed out, making it harder for you to communicate with your coworkers and patients. Additionally, sleep is key staying healthy and in shape; so after a long shift, your sore feet and back won’t recover properly unless you get enough sleep.

Nurses learn about the negative effects of sleep deprivation, but never take the time to take care of themselves. So the next time you think about staying out late or taking an extra shift, maybe consider getting some extra rest instead.

For more information about sleep deprivation, visit the National Institutes of Health’s site.

 

Combating depression in nurses

Nurses are twice as likely to experience clinical depression than the general population. Why aren’t we talking about it?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) found that 18% of nurses exhibit symptoms of depression, compared to the 9% found in the general public. Nurses are happy to talk about their staff shortages or their back problems, but we almost never see serious discussions about mental health issues.

Minority Nurse suggests that nursing culture exacerbates the depression issue. Nurses take great pride in their survivability and toughness; they often see trials facing new nurses as a proving ground, a way of weeding out those who are not cut out for the job. This leads nurses struggling with depression to bury their feelings and work twice as hard, which will make things worse in the long run.

There’s also the idea that mental health issues are seen as a weakness. Nurses rely on each other to be reliable and trustworthy, and someone who is struggling might be easily dismissed as unreliable. This puts their job at risk, and can affect their relationship with peers. Additionally, the nurse mentality is to put the care of others first; many nurses might not release why their suffering, as they so rarely address their own needs.

If admitting they have a problem or asking for help is often the last thing a nurse wants to do, how do you help them? The process starts with nurse managers. Educating managers about the warning signs of depression, and they in turn train their staff to recognize the condition in themselves and their peers. Coming up with strategies to help depressed nurses that aren’t punitive and making sure their staff have resources available to them can help alleviate the fears associated with mental illness.  Showing the staff that it’s okay to talk about mental illness and that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness will help change the “tough it out” culture of nursing.

Addressing mental health issues can help improve nurse retention as well. Instead of “weeding out” the weak links, supporting new nurses through a crisis and encouraging them to get help will keep them at their jobs longer, and make them better nurses for the rest of their career.

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Take Five: How renewal rooms revive stressed out nurses

With long shifts, hard work, and close contact with the sick and the dying, it’s unsurprising that many nurses are burnt out. One study found that nearly one-third of oncology nurses exhibit emotional exhaustion and 50% report levels of emotional distress. Despite the fact they might be hurting, nurses are often expected to “tough it out,” hiding their stress from the eyes of others.

Compassion fatigue is a huge issue for us all in bedside nursing, and we as leaders need to look into and address that,” says Jacklynn Lesniak, RN, MS, BSN, senior vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, IL.

In response, CTCA Midwestern created several “nurse renewal rooms,” with one in each inpatient tower, surgical department, and outpatient care area. The rooms were designed by Jillianne Shriver, RN, BSN, HN-BC who studied relaxation techniques and holistic nursing for three months for the project.

Only one nurse is allowed in the room at a time, giving them much needed private time away from the eyes of patients and coworkers. Each room is laden with relaxation material and décor: aromatherapy and meditation material, a yoga mat, a sand garden, books for reading and journaling, and music therapy.  When a nurse feels he or she needs to step back, they inform their charge nurse that they need to use the room. Then they hand over their communications devices and go into the renewal room for a couple minutes to decompress.

“I decided that I really wanted somewhere for the nurses to take that time to renew, rejuvenate, and recharge,” Shriver says. “To step out of whatever situation they may be in, whether that be a stressful or busy day, and have five to 15 minutes to themselves to be able to focus, ground themselves, take a deep breath, and then step back into practice.”

Not only did the renewal rooms work, they worked well. CTCA Midwestern reported that the first renewal room was used 422 times in the first three months and 96% of nurses said they felt better after using it. Which is pretty impressive when you consider the first renewal room was just a supply area with a massage chair and some relaxing decorations.

To read more in-depth about nurse renewal rooms, check out the original article at HealthLeaders.com.

Rock Your Health: Avoid New Year weight gain with a clean sweep!

Weight gain is common during the first months of the year despite our New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. Small yearly weight gains of one to two pounds may be a significant contributor to the high rate of obesity in America, and weight gain over the holiday period may be responsible for much of this yearly weight gain.

A study published in PLOS ONE shows that despite people’s best intentions to eat less in the New Year, they may actually be taking in more calories during the first three months of the year.

Our good intentions may be resulting in us buying more healthy foods, but we are also buying the same unhealthy foods and therefore eating more of both. For me, that means we need to do a clean sweep of all the unhealthy stuff before re-stocking with the healthy choices.

This clean sweep needs to happen at home and at work. A good first step is to team up at work and re-start the New Year with new food choices that support healthy lifestyles and focus on using healthy foods for celebrations and not always cakes!

Contact me if you want for find out how to do a Clean Sweep. carol@carolebert.com

Rock Your Health: Asleep at the wheel?

Are you and your nursing staff ready for a nap after lunch? Why do we get so sleepy after we eat and can’t seem to think straight? And what did we eat that causes this feeling?

The latest information might interest you. Low glycemic food has a positive effect on brain function after a meal. In a recent study of normal weight adults, a meal consisting of low-glycemic carbohydrates improved cognitive function after meals better than a high glycemic meal. (A Nilsson et al. Effects on cognitive performance of modulating the postprandial blood glucose profile at breakfast. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2012) 66, 1039-1043.)

Looks like the guilty party is eating high glycemic foods. The whites: White bread, white pasta, white rice, white potatoes, and, of course, the usual processed fast foods and sweets.

Want some help finding low glycemic tasty alternatives? Check out this website www.glycemicindex.com.