The job of a nurse is an important one. You must look after the sick, treat medical conditions, and help prevent diseases. With people’s health and wellness in your hands, it’s a role that requires you to be vigilant and ready. Unfortunately, due to the all-too-common nurse fatigue, you might not always feel alert enough, especially after a rough night of sleep or during a particularly long shift.
What is Nurse Fatigue?
Often mistaken for run-of-the-mill tiredness, nurse fatigue is much more than your usual early morning sleepiness. It is a deep feeling of exhaustion that impacts your entire life and often doesn’t go away for a long time. In the job, it can lead to errors, a reduction in empathy (often called compassion fatigue), slower reactions, poor memory, and little attention to detail. That makes nurse fatigue a very serious issue. Not only does it severely impact the person’s life, but it may also affect their patients and overall job performance.
What Causes Nurse Fatigue?
Nurse fatigue can be brought on by a lot of things. The role of nursing is undeniably stressful, and many nurses find they are emotionally or physically exhausted by the end of their shift. If that goes on too long, it can lead to nurse fatigue. Here are some common potential causes:
• Not enough sleep
• Emotionally exhausting work
• Long shifts
• A poor work-life balance
• Lack of support
When these things build up, a nurse may become overwhelmed and overtired. It is unfortunately common. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it, though.
It’s always better to prevent something from happening than it is to treat it. So, if you are a nurse, try using these ten ways to prevent nurse fatigue. By getting ahead of your emotional and physical wellness early on, you are more likely to succeed as a nurse while maintaining good health.
1: Place Boundaries Between Work and Your Personal Life
This first step is often the hardest – place boundaries between your work and personal life. Nursing is such an intense job. After witnessing a patient pull through an illness, a family grieve, or a patient suddenly get worse with no prior indication, it can feel near-impossible to leave all of that at work. If you take all of that home with you, though, you will end up exhausted.
It’s crucial to place a barrier between work-you and home-you. At work, you can focus entirely on everything that’s going on. When you get home, you must do the opposite – focus on your personal life, whether that’s what you’re going to have for dinner or what movie you’re going to see with your partner. It will be challenging at first, but this kind of thinking will help stop you from taking your nursing job home.
2: Make Sure You’re in the Right Nursing Profession
Do you wake up each morning and wish you didn’t have to go to work? Do you often watch the clock, waiting and waiting for your shift to end? While it’s normal to want to get home from work from time to time, if you find that you dread your shifts and wish to be anywhere but there, you might need to reassess your role. No one should dislike their job that much!
The good news is that there are tons of excellent nursing roles out there. If you dislike being a registered nurse on a ward, you might prefer working with appointment-only patients in a clinic environment, so a family nurse practitioner role could work. While you maybe shouldn’t jump careers straight away, it is important to consider which nursing role is right for you.
3: Monitor Your Health
All too often, nurses focus on everyone else’s health and not their own. You’re not immune to getting sick, though! Think about all the advice you might give patients – get enough sleep, eat a good diet, get fresh air – and do it for yourself. On top of that, make it a habit to monitor your health.
You know your body better than anyone, and you will know when something changes. By getting to know your physical and mental health on a deeper level, you are more likely to know when something is wrong, which means you can get it treated sooner. This will help ensure an underlying illness does not affect your energy levels and, in turn, your work.
4: Develop Strong Relationships with Colleagues
It is much easier to get through a tough working day when you are surrounded by people who lift you. Developing strong relationships with your co-workers is key to enjoying your role as a nurse. During the breaks between your shifts, you can laugh, chat, vent – whatever! This will help you unwind and get ready for your next shift. Plus, with great support behind you, you have people to lean upon when work gets tough, and you need an extra pair of hands.
5: Regular Physical Exercise
It might seem backward – to prevent exhaustion, do something that makes you feel tired. It works, though. Exercising is essential when it comes to physical and mental health, so getting in your cardio will help you when it comes to keeping up your energy levels on your shifts.
Not only will working out build your physical strength, making long shifts on your feet much easier, but it will also help boost your mood overall. There are plenty of ways to work out, from swimming to rock climbing, so choose one that suits you.
6: Stop and Breathe
Sometimes, nurses forget to do the simplest things because they are so focused on their work and patients. One of those might be breathing properly. When you are overly stressed, it helps to take a moment or two to breathe in and out slowly. Inhale, and exhale. This simple method can help reduce your stress levels and bring clarity to your mind, so the next time you’re overwhelmed, try it out.
7: Have a Hobby Outside of Nursing
If your entire world revolves around nursing, you will likely fall victim to nurse fatigue at some point. It’s not a job you can do without a break, after all, due to how emotionally and physically taxing it is.
To make sure you have more purpose than nursing, invest your free time into a hobby. Luckily, there are tons of great hobbies out there that are not related to healthcare. If you like physical activity, you could try hiking or taking up a sport. Do you prefer peace and quiet? Hobbies like painting or bird watching are endlessly relaxing. It doesn’t matter what hobby you do – just as long as it brings you happiness outside work.
8: Get Enough Sleep
Sleep often gets neglected in the world of nursing. Not getting enough sleep is a one-way ticket to nurse fatigue, though. It will affect every part of your waking life, from your personal relationships to your work performance. Without enough good sleep, you won’t be the same person.
Of course, getting enough sleep is so much easier said than done, especially after a stressful or long shift. Here are some ways to manage it:
• Sleep in a cool, dark room
• No caffeine after midday
• Use your bed only for sleeping
• Set a regular sleep schedule
• Don’t eat too close to bedtime
If none of these things work for you, you might need to visit your doctor. Sleep deprivation is no joke, so it’s better to do it sooner rather than later, not just for the sake of your job but also for your health.
9: Eat a Healthy and Balanced Diet
As a nurse, you understand how important a healthy diet is. How much do you live by it, though? Nurses often eat quick, easy food throughout the day, and this food is often unhealthy. You might snack on candy bars, fast food, chips – whatever you can get your hands on and whatever goes down quick before your shift starts. In reality, these foods only give a short burst of energy and will quickly leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
Start practicing what you preach by snacking on healthy foods like carrots, hummus, nuts, and fruit. Try to make your meals healthy, too – it helps to make lunches at the start of the week.
10: Take Time Off When Necessary
Taking time off work is not always an option, but if you feel yourself reaching nurse fatigue, take a break. Let your manager/supervisor know how you’ve been feeling and that you need a couple of days off. A small recharge can help you gain mental clarity and get back to work feeling refreshed and ready for anything!
Nurse fatigue should always be taken seriously. If left too long, it can affect every area of your life. Use these ten tips to prevent it, and don’t forget to watch for signs of fatigue after long or stressful shifts.