The Mayo Clinic defines workplace burnout as “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.” While burnout can happen after a traumatic event, often, it’s the discrete signals your body gives you that go unnoticed as you strive to care for others. In other words, you may not even notice you’re headed for burnout until it’s too late. Let’s examine some of the subtle signs of workplace burnout before it poses a threat to your health or your employment as a nurse.

1. You’re tired all the time.

Initially, you may feel lethargic and lack energy on most days. However, as burnout progresses, you’re likely to experience a constant state of depletion and have difficulty mustering up the stamina you need to stay attentive on the job. Furthermore, you’ll find it takes a long time to restore your energy reserves from one day to the next.

2. The idea of going to work each day seems dreadful to you.

As burnout progresses, your sense of optimism diminishes, and your mental state is more likely to be negative. If you feel dread settling into the pit of your stomach whenever you think about work, it’s a good indicator you’re in burnout mode.

3. You have an increase in physical symptoms.

In a November 2013 article in Psychology Today, author Sherrie Bourg Carter, PsyD, notes a range of physical symptoms linked to burnout. These symptoms include (but aren’t limited to) insomnia, loss of appetite, chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and headaches. However, Bourg Carter acknowledges these complaints can overlap with other medical problems, and she recommends being medically assessed to rule out other factors besides burnout.

4. You’re forgetful or have difficulty concentrating.

Does your usual, sharp memory seem a little fuzzy? Perhaps you’re not able to do as much during your shift as you used to do. When your work drains you, it becomes more challenging to concentrate and remember specific details. Your focus decreases, and you may feel overwhelmed as your nursing duties suddenly seem more taxing to manage.

5. You feel anxious.

Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, restlessness, and tension. If the mere thought of work invokes worry and makes you unable to relax, this could be your mind and body giving you a much-needed wake-up call if you don’t make some serious changes.

The good news is that you can prevent workplace burnout. Bourg Carter offers this sound advice regarding this condition, “Its nature is much more insidious, creeping up on us over time like a slow leak, which makes it much harder to recognize. Still, our bodies and minds do give us warnings, and if you know what to look for, you can recognize it before it’s too late.” The key to preventing burnout is to notice how you’re feeling each day, regularly practice self-care, take inventory of the priorities in your life, set boundaries, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio

Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a Chicago-based, freelance lifestyle writer, licensed occupational therapist, and certified Pilates instructor. Her expertise is in health, wellness, fitness, and chronic illness management.

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