Fighting Burnout

Nurses face unprecedented risks for burnout

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Susan Blaakman, is a founding member of University of Rochester School of Nursing’s Wellness Task Force and director of the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program.

Though the pandemic is now endemic, one of its many lasting effects is even worse staffing issues in healthcare than before.

Add to this combative patients, long hours, changing shifts, emotionally stressful work and plenty of physical challenges and it’s little surprise that nurses face high risk for burnout.

“It’s bad right now,” said Josh Lynch, registered nurse on an acute care floor for Rochester Regional Health. “As terrible as it is to say, you have to become somewhat emotionally detached and pack certain things away and deal with them later.”

He said that some nurses he knows wor kout at the gym, meditate or, as he does, spend time with his kids and binge watch TV shows when not at work.

“I want to sit, zone out and not think about anything,” he said. “I want to be in a different moment.”

Unfortunately, he knows some nurses who turn to substance use to cope.

“If you don’t take care of yourself, this job will eat you alive,” Lynch said. “The things we see and go through and are expected of us will tear you apart if you let it.”

Susan Blaakman, founding member of University of Rochester School of Nursing’s Wellness Task Force and director of the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program, recommends that nurses practice self-care to combat the stressors inherent to the work.

This includes “enough sleep, good nutrition, and setting boundaries in place,” Blaakman said. “Seek help when you need it. When you have intense feelings, don’t push them away but embrace them and understand what’s happening in your body physiologically.”

Blaakman noted that mindfulness can help, as it can help slow breathing and assist in noticing what’s happening around the person. Gratitude can also help reduce burnout, such as feeling thankful to help patients during their most vulnerable moments.

It’s also beneficial for nurses to adjust their perspective. For example, remaining a perfectionist can make each day a drag.

“Some things we found recently is thinking about respecting people where they are and trying not to be a perfectionist,” Blaakman said. “We may feel like we need to have all the answers but patients need to make choices. You can’t fix other people but you can help them reach their own goals.”

Greg Hoffman-Fragale, doctor of nurse practitioner interim nursing officer at Finger Lakes Health, takes a week off for a vacation every quarter as well as a mental health day. He also periodically has massage therapy.

“Self-care is helpful because if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your employees, your nurses or your patients,” Hoffman-Fragale said. “Self-care is important because often as a leader we are selfless and lose sight or focus on our own needs and put the needs of others first. We have to remember that we’re human beings. Because we’re leaders doesn’t mean we don’t require food, rest leisure time with family and pets.”

Hoffman-Fragale added that professional boundaries also help mitigate stress, such as refusing to stay late. Otherwise, “you get short with your loved ones and curt with staff,” he said. “You can get fatigued, cranky and sick.”