Getting to the bottom of ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’ can be a difficult mission.
In 2014, the one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted out of nursing. I remember this period vividly now, but for many of the years following it all felt like a blur of disconnection, meaninglessness and uncertainty. Was I living someone else's life or my own?- at the time it was hard to know. All I knew was that I wanted out.
It’s amazing to think that we can look back on a time of such immense stress and view it with so much gratitude and appreciation, but that’s exactly how I’ve come to view my experience of burnout. This perspective and level of acceptance is something that I’ve only recently found, and it’s come as I’ve gained greater understanding of the stressors and events that led to my conviction that I needed to leave the healthcare industry.
Experiencing burnout was one of the hardest things that I’ve gone through in my life, and despite my newfound appreciation of my experiences, it’s still something that is hard for me to recount with others. However, I’ve found myself compelled to share my journey because I know I’m not alone in having these feelings, and I don’t want others to go through this- or feel like they are alone.
Burnout within the healthcare industry is sadly a reoccurring story. Within Australia the annual turnover rate within nursing is 15% (or 44,000 nurses) every year and in the US the problem is very similar with figures suggesting 375,000 nurses turnover every year- unfortunately, burnout and emotional fatigue contributes greatly to these figures. In excess of this, there are many who experience the feelings and emotions of burnout (and see the consequences within their family, social and personal lives) without formally leaving their roles.
So what is burnout? Well, according to the World Health Organization; “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Although WHO describes burnout as specifically related to occupational contexts, I personally felt as though burnout was something that encompassed all aspects of my life. For me, stress was stress- all of the stress in my life (at home, socially, personally and professionally) was pouring into one overflowing cup- and although this stress was predominantly stemming from work, the other stress in my life was further exacerbating the situation.
I wasn’t just affected at work, I was completely exhausted in all areas of my life. I was no longer certain of my skills, I found myself having difficulty sleeping, I wasn’t enjoying my time with my family and friends, and I felt like I’d lost my passion for people and for my work. It also accumulated in other physical symptoms; I was drinking a ridiculous amount of water, my thoughts were racing and headaches had become the new normal. I was beginning to become really worried that something physically was going wrong. And ultimately, it concluded in me leaving the role I was in at the time and returning to the dairy farm that I grew up on.
I share these symptoms and experiences to not only raise a general awareness of burnout, but also in the hope that anyone else who has, or is, going through something will realise that they’re not alone- or perhaps even notice some of the warning signs within themselves, before it gets to the point of no return.
Next week, I’ll share a little more about what happened when I finally sought help, and how I finally realised that what I was experiencing was burnout.
Key tips/takeaways from today
- Burnout can sneak up on you, you’ll likely be to overwhelmed to realise that’s what you’re experiencing (particularly if you’re not aware of the signs)
- You may notice that you’re experiencing a range of symptoms (like stress, feeling exhausted and physically unwell) but you may not link these with your emotional wellbeing
- Burnout is common. It might not be talked about a lot, but many people have had their own experiences of burnout
- Learning the causes of burnout can help you come to terms with your experience