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Recognizing the Signs of Burnout in Healthcare Workers

March 10, 2024

Job stress, social isolation, and burnout rate are often overlooked in healthcare, especially when the general population expects healthcare workers to just get used to habitual burnout due to chronic exposure to stressful and aversive situations. And while this line of work can be rewarding for some, it's just as challenging for most. Working in the healthcare industry is no easy feat, especially since professional life and the overall work environment jeopardize physical and mental health.

In this article, we will talk about how to recognize the early signs of burnout among healthcare workers. In line with our article about useful self-care recommendations for nurses, we want to broaden the target audience and discuss burnout among healthcare workers in general. Factoring in personality traits, mental health concerns, personal life, the onset of stress and the lack of stress management initiatives and skills, and even substance abuse or cases of suicide reports among employees, we will dive deep into these issues and find ways to help out healthcare workers ultimately for the prevention of burnout.

‍How Do We Understand Burnout?

Burnout is a term used to describe being emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted. In the case of healthcare workers, this is from prolonged exposure to workplace stress. It leaves healthcare workers feeling overwhelmed, reduces their motivation, and makes them unable to perform their job duties properly.

It's important not to confuse burnout with exhaustion, which is a normal reaction of the human body (and the mental state as well) when facing stress. Burnout, on the other hand, creates a state of constant emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion and is generally caused by prolonged or excessive levels of stress. As stress begins to pile up and continue, a person begins to lose interest and motivation to complete simple tasks and activities they once enjoyed.

Burnout in Healthcare

As we all know, the healthcare sector is one of the hardest industries to work in, especially during these unprecedented times post-pandemic. Nurses, personal support workers (PSW), and caregivers of all parts of the healthcare system are constantly working long hours with little time to sleep. These working conditions are inevitably resulting in large numbers of healthcare worker burnout.

Why is talking about this important? Because leaving healthcare worker burnout unchecked can cause serious long-term physical and mental damage to nurses, doctors, PSWs, paramedics, and others in the field. That is why it is essential to know what burnout is, what signs and symptoms to watch out for, and how to effectively prevent or treat it.

What Causes Burnout?

There are several reasons why healthcare workers report feeling burnout, including longer shifts, lack of resources, and excessive workloads. Reasons can overlap, and real-life experiences can be different from situations in theory, but these three are timely and relevant reasons that cause burnout among healthcare employees:

1) Shortage of staff members

Understaffed clinics and hospitals make healthcare workers work even more hours and leave them with less time to enjoy themselves with their families and friends, which leads them to experience more stress and makes them more susceptible to burnout. This scenario can be dangerous because it causes harm to both healthcare professionals and potentially to patients, so it's good to know what the main issue that causes burnout and how to prevent it in the future and to ensure a better quality of care for patients and the wellbeing of healthcare professionals.

2) Complicated patients

Healthcare workers are expected to make patients feel comfortable by treating their medical issues and attending to their needs. However, some patients may be complicated to deal with and can add more stress to healthcare workers. These patients often have complex medical conditions, multiple comorbidities, and psychological issues that require extensive time, resources, and specialized care to manage effectively. Healthcare providers may find themselves feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained when faced with the demands of treating these patients, leading to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction.

3) Fast-paced and stressful work environments

The healthcare environment in hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities is often stressful, demanding and tense, which puts healthcare workers at high risk for burnout. The constant pressure to meet tight deadlines, handle large workloads, and maintain high levels of productivity can leave employees feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. This continuous stress can cause healthcare employees to experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and insomnia, as well as emotional symptoms like irritability, anxiety, and depression. Coupled with the lack of time for self-care and relaxation in a fast-paced environment, employees are prevented from properly recharging their energy levels and coping with the demands of their jobs.

Take care of your best employees through the help of Caring Support.

What are Some of the Signs of Burnout Among Healthcare Workers?

While burnout is not necessarily a diagnosable psychological disorder, it does not mean it should not be taken into account and treated seriously. Another point is that burnout may vary from one person to another, so it is important to identify its symptoms so it doesn’t get dismissed as stress and anxiety.

In the case of healthcare workers, burnout can be demonstrated through the identification of attitudes and actions such as not wanting to work anymore, feeling physical and emotional exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and more. Below are some tell-tale signs of burnout in healthcare workers:

A list summarizing the signs of burnout in healthcare workers.

If you spot one or more of these burnout signs and symptoms in a co-worker or yourself, you may brush them off as anxiety or as a result of temporary stress, but if these symptoms last more than a week, you should pay further attention, as it is more likely to be burnout.

How to Prevent Healthcare Workers' Burnout

To prevent and reduce burnout from threatening workers' happiness and productivity, it is important for healthcare organizations and healthcare professionals to recognize burnout and invest in solutions by taking the best approach and making major changes. Meanwhile, some helpful changes that can prevent healthcare workers, like nurses and PSWs, from burnout are:

1) Maintaining self-care practices

Healthcare workers may get so carried away in their jobs that they forget about themselves and stop caring about their well-being. To change that, you should first start by eating a healthy diet and drinking enough water. Relaxing in a warm bath or shower is a great way to calm yourself down. Good self-care and having time for your well-being can decrease the chance of you getting burnt out.

2) Adopting positive coping strategies

Strategies such as mindfulness practices, regular exercise, seeking social support, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can enhance resilience and reduce the negative impacts of workplace strain. By incorporating these techniques into their daily routines, healthcare professionals can better navigate challenges, maintain a sense of control over their emotions, and prevent feelings of overwhelm or exhaustion. Moreover, cultivating a proactive approach to self-care fosters a supportive environment within healthcare settings, promoting teamwork and fostering camaraderie amongst colleagues who are all striving to provide high-quality care amid demanding circumstances.

3) Reaching out to a professional

Professionals can help healthcare workers process their feelings, figure out what they're dealing with, and address their concerns. Seeking professional help can significantly reduce healthcare employee burnout by providing healthcare employees with the necessary tools and resources to better cope with stressors in the workplace. Therapists or counsellors can offer valuable guidance on how to manage work-related stress, set boundaries, and practice self-care techniques. Seeking professional help also allows employees to explore underlying issues contributing to burnout, such as poor work-life balance or unresolved traumas. By addressing these root causes, healthcare workers can develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve their overall mental well-being. Ultimately, investing in professional support not only benefits healthcare employees but also contributes to a more positive and productive work environment within healthcare organizations.

4) Exercising

Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily and being physically active has great benefits on your emotional, physical, and mental health. Regular exercise has been shown to significantly reduce healthcare employee burnout by improving both physical and mental well-being.

Physical activity releases endorphins, which are hormones that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators, helping to alleviate stress and boost overall mood. Regular exercise also improves cardiovascular health, increases energy levels, and helps with sleep quality - all of which are crucial factors in preventing burnout. Engaging in physical activity provides a much-needed break from the demands of the healthcare profession, allowing employees to clear their minds and recharge mentally.

By incorporating regular exercise into their routine, healthcare employees can better cope with the high-stress environment they work in, leading to decreased burnout rates and improved job satisfaction.

5) Maintaining a good sleep routine

Getting enough sleep hours can help with your mental and physical health and helps you stay positive at work. Adequate sleep has been proven to improve mood, cognition, and overall well-being, factors that are essential for healthcare workers dealing with high-stress environments. When healthcare employees consistently get enough quality sleep, they are better equipped to handle the demands of their jobs without becoming overwhelmed or emotionally exhausted. In addition, sufficient rest helps to regulate hormones related to stress and anxiety, contributing to a more balanced emotional state.

6) Reaching out to your supervisor

If your workload is becoming overwhelming, you can reach out to your supervisor and ask them to decrease your workload. Supervisors must create a positive work environment where employees feel valued and heard. By expressing concerns or seeking guidance from their supervisors, healthcare professionals can address issues before they escalate and receive the necessary resources or solutions to prevent burnout. Additionally, supervisors can offer emotional support, recognize individual achievements, and facilitate opportunities for professional growth, ultimately boosting morale and job satisfaction among healthcare employees.

7) Interacting with family and friends

Interacting with friends and family can reduce emotional exhaustion and reduce the feeling of isolation. Family and friends offer a sense of connection, understanding, and comfort that can help alleviate stress and feelings of isolation commonly experienced in high-pressure healthcare settings. Engaging in meaningful conversations, spending quality time together, and receiving encouragement from loved ones can serve as a source of motivation and positivity for healthcare workers facing long hours, challenging cases, and demanding workloads.

A list summarizing tips on how to prevent burnout in healthcare workers.

8) Scheduling free time

Free time can be utilized to do anything that allows you to de-stress such as taking a nice long nap or bath. These are little things that we allow our busy days to take over, and we tend to forget how easily they can change the mood. By having dedicated time off during their work week, healthcare professionals can engage in activities that promote physical, mental, and emotional well-being such as exercise, hobbies, or spending quality time with loved ones. This intentional break from the demands of their job helps prevent exhaustion and chronic stress, ultimately leading to improved job satisfaction and productivity.

9) Acknowledging your breaking point

Knowing your body and mind can make a world of a difference. This will allow you to know when you’re close to a burnout stage and can help you prevent it. It’s essential to acknowledge when you are close to burnout because sometimes it’s as simple as taking a day off to unwind. When aware of becoming overwhelmed, healthcare employees can take proactive steps to protect their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This may include seeking support from colleagues or supervisors, taking breaks when needed, practicing self-care techniques such as mindfulness or exercise, and setting boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

A healthcare worker having her much-needed sleep.

In a world of fast-growing technology, it can be almost impossible to unplug. This means that burnout is almost inevitable. In order to deal with burnout, one can use the “Three R’s” approach: Recognize, Reverse, and Resilience. This approach allows you to acknowledge the issue at hand, learn to undo the damages by seeking out professional help and learning to manage your stress, and lastly, build your strength by nourishing your emotional and physical health.

Overall, to prevent severe burnout, you should prioritize mental health care, recognize the symptoms of burnout early on, and proactively practice stress reduction strategies to be more functional and take care of yourself better.

Find Your Dream Healthcare Job Today at Caring Support

Caring Support offers unparalleled tools and resources designed to streamline communication, enhance productivity, and promote collaboration among your team. By utilizing Caring Support, you can easily schedule shifts, track employee performance, and access important medical records in a secure and efficient manner. Our user-friendly interface ensures that all members of your healthcare staff can navigate the platform with ease, minimizing training time and maximizing efficiency.

Caring Support is equipped with advanced analytics capabilities that provide valuable insights into workforce trends and performance metrics. By leveraging these features, you can make data-driven decisions to optimize your operations and improve patient care. Trust in Caring Support to revolutionize the way you manage your team and elevate the standard of care in your facility. Discover what else we have to offer by checking out our website. Create an account at Caring Support or log in if you have an account already.

About The Author
Kate Piamonte
Content Writer

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