Common signs of nursing burnout

Why nurses should ask for mental health days—and what to do with them

For nurses who find themselves in need of a break, mental health days can be the perfect way to step back and regroup. "If the nurses don't care for their own mind, body and stress system, then that leads to burnout very quickly. So taking intermittent mental health days can prevent a more chronic burnout," said Stephanie Swann, Ph.D, LCSW, a psychotherapist to nurses and other healthcare professionals.

» RELATED: The 5 most common signs of nursing burnout

Whether you take the time to relax or enjoy the great outdoors, a well-spent mental health day can make all the difference if you're showing signs of burnout on the job.

For nurses working in high-paced, intense medical facilities, the potential for job-induced stress, depression and anxiety is high. In fact, nurse.org says that nurses experience clinical depression at twice the rate of the general public.

Signs of job burnout

The Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as "a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of identity." In practice, though, job burnout can be seen in many different forms.

"Burnout is a subjective, personal analysis," Swann said. "It's a subjective acknowledgment that there are mental states arising that they know are too much to handle given the work that is required of them."

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Swann suggested a few signs that people can look for if they feel a family member or a nursing colleague is approaching burnout:

  • They dread going into work almost everyday
  • They show symptoms of chronic negativity: "If you wake up and begin to have multiple arguments or negative conversations in your mind before you're even at the hospital or office then that's a real red flag," Swann said.
  • Instead of supporting colleagues, they start to criticize them
  • They start to express doubt in their own capabilities
  • They no longer enjoy their favorite activities or socializing
  • They're tired more often
  • They lose their compassion toward patients
  • Their fuse has become noticeably short
  • They lose their ability to listen to patients
  • They stop leaning on colleagues for support

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Ways to avoid burnout

But how is it possible for nurses to manage mental health when they are constantly working through high-stress situations? Swann, who is the co-owner owner of Atlanta Mindfulness Institute, said the practice of mindfulness - not just one-off mental health days - is the secret to staying in control of stress.

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages nurses to ground themselves in the physical present as a way to avoid becoming wrapped up in unhealthy or distracting thoughts.

"If you're only okay when you get away from the stressor, then you're at that stressor's mercy," Swann said. "The more mindful you are, the more you'll take that mental health day out of self care instead of out of aversion and trying to get away."

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If you're looking for self care activities to explore on your mental health days, Talkspace has a few suggestions:

  • Get a lot of sleep - Eight hours should be enough to help you start your day feeling well rested.
  • Eat well throughout the day - Mental health can include feeding your body as well as your mind.
  • Get out and do some physical exercise - Working out can have a positive effect on the mind.
  • Do some mental and emotional work - Jumping into your never-ending to-do list or planning your way out of daily anxieties is a productive use of your rejuvenation time.
  • Call a loved one and make some human contact - If you're not close to anyone in your town, you can also use this time to go out and connect with new people.
  • Take a luxurious bath - Taking the time to pamper yourself can be the cherry on top of a well-spent mental health day.
  • Reflect on the day - Writing your thoughts in a journal might be a good way to keep track of your progress.

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So taking intermittent mental health days can prevent a more chronic burnout," said Stephanie Swann, Ph.D, LCSW, a psychotherapist to nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Whether you take the time to relax or enjoy the great outdoors, a well-spent mental health day can make all the difference if you're showing signs of burnout on the job.

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