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What are the key methods that nurses and doctors use to prevent burnout? This question was at the heart of a recent study published in Critical Care Nurse, the clinical practice journal of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, “Self-care Strategies to Combat Burnout Among Pediatric Critical Care Nurses and Physicians.” This face to face study, conducted among a group of 20 nurses and physicians in pediatric intensive care and intermediate care units, explores six different strategies to help mitigate burnout

One: Maintain Awareness of the Meaning of Your Work

Calling to mind the higher purposes and meaning of the work you do can be a very effective weapon for fighting burnout. Comments from nurses in the study included:

“Caring, for me, is the heart. Doing things out of our heart adds meanings and values to what we do.”

“I love being a nurse because I have the privilege to come in and care for someone’s child, mother, brother, or sister and touch people’s lives.”

“Taking care of others makes me feel that I am doing something meaningful. I am involving myself in something for the greater good.”

The authors of the study say, “Finding ways to remember one’s sense of purpose might help refresh or renew one’s commitment to caring and overcome exhaustion.”

Two: Connect With Sources of Support

The risk of burnout can be assuaged by emotional and moral support. Such support can come not only from family and spirituality but also from maintaining your awareness of the progress patients are making. Among the responses from study participants were remarks such as:

“It motivates me at work that I am able to help patients and families feel better.”

“I want to feel that I did the best that I could for patients and families at work. When I do, I feel happy and energized.”

“My family is my buffer and energy source.”

“I feel that I work for a higher being. My spiritual belief and value give me energy.”

However, the authors sound a note of caution about becoming overly dependent on patients’ progress as a source of support, calling this “a vulnerable side. If health care professionals tie their happiness to patients’ positive progression, they could be at high risk for burnout.”

Three: Foster Trustful, Fulfilling Work Relationships

Forming and sustaining positive relationships with co-workers and leadership can provide you with a lasting and valuable source of support against burnout. Responses on this subject included:

“I love the people I work with. We help one another. My coworkers make work fun.”

“Nurse managers’ willingness to reach out makes a difference on a unit. Their availability on the unit created the bonding between nurses and nurse leaders.”

“Senior physicians’ support is very important.”

Such remarks made it clear that participants keenly felt the beneficial effects of working with a trusted, supportive, and caring team headed by good leaders.

Four: Train Yourself to Take a Positive Approach

Nurses and doctors stressed the role of positivity in avoiding emotional and physical burnout. A number noted that dwelling upon events such as patient deaths or seeking out their own shortcomings tended to drain their energy and exacerbate stress and anxiety. Taking a more optimistic approach, they found, often went a long way toward relieving such symptoms:

“I started to focus on the bright side of my work. Doing so helped me relieve my stress and boost my energy.”

“While some days were demanding and emotionally distressing, I found a way to position myself to face the challenges by seeing the good in the overall picture. I keep a gratitude journal to count my blessings.”

“Recognizing my contributions to the lives of others and having a positive attitude help me face the high demand of my job.”

Five: Practice Emotional Hygiene

For most of those participating in the study, practicing emotional hygiene strengthened their protective shield against burnout. Emotional hygiene includes a variety of measures such as keeping a proper work/life balance, relaxing in the company of family and friends, attention to prayer or spirituality, and getting sufficient sleep and exercise. Nurses in the study mentioned the aspects of emotional hygiene they found most useful, including:

“To set boundaries and maintain a work-life balance.”

“I make sure that I have a good rest after work.”

“Practicing mindfulness helps me reduce stress.”

Six: Recognize and Appreciate Your Own Uniqueness

The sixth tool in the anti-burnout toolkit, say the authors, is “the recognition of one’s unique self,” which facilitates finding one’s “inner strength and power during difficult times.” Among the responses on this topic were the following comments:

“Each of us is a unique contributor.”

“Even though I am a new nurse, my coworkers make me feel that I am an important member of the team, which helped me build confidence in myself.”

“Health care is like a team sport in which each one of us has a unique position [to play].”

Recognizing one’s own unique contributions, along with those of each member of the team, the authors suggest, helps to “create a nurturing environment that fostered individuals’ growth and ability to provide high-quality patient care. Thus, strengths-based self-care could be an effective strategy for collaborating in a team environment and fighting symptoms of burnout.”

All of these measures help practitioners keep pace with the intense demands that confront clinicians in their work. In assessing their findings, the authors conclude that “without adequate self-care strategies, health care professionals are at risk for secondary trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue. Having a loving and caring heart and being compassionate toward oneself is key to being able to care effectively for others.”

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Koren Thomas
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