Nursing Burnout Cycle
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9 Common Burnout Symptoms of a Healthcare Worker

My Nursing Journey of Burnout in Healthcare

April 18, 2022 by Christine Zethraus, PMHNP-BC

How Working in Healthcare has Impacted my Emotional and Physical Well-being

My Burnout Beginning

Burnout is REAL. Burnout is definitely real if you’re a healthcare worker. Then throw additional gasoline on burnout if you’re a nurse working in the pandemic. Double it if you’re a nurse working the ICU.

Before I became a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, I worked as an ICU nurse for 5 years in a Level I Trauma Center. What does a “Level I Trauma Center” mean? Level I Trauma Center means my patients had a variety of life-threatening critical injuries such as gunshot wounds, car wrecks, plane crashes, strokes, sepsis, etc. Think constant extreme stress (fight or flight).

I purposely choose to work in the ICU because I knew this intense training and experience would be beneficial for my planned advanced nursing school. Quite frankly I had no clue what I was getting myself into. Looking back, I’m actually grateful I was naïve about my new adventure because this was the beginning of my nurse burnout story. The beginning of my nursing burnout signs affecting my emotional and physical well-being.

Hint: I didn’t listen or see the burnout signs.

Burnout Symptoms
Burnout Symptoms

Pandemic Burnout

Fast forward 12 years later where I am now a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner working during the Covid-19 Pandemic dealing with a different kind of trauma. An emotional one. And I’m not just talking about my patients. My own personal emotional trauma of FEAR. Fear of getting covid, fear we are all going to die, fear I would need heart surgery because of my long covid symptoms, fear there would be no food on the shelves, fear my lung damage due to long-covid, fear my family would die, and fear the world was ending.

Fear was the dominate emotion during the pandemic

I made the assumption my healthcare professional burnout was because of working during the pandemic. Nope. My burnout started long before working in mental health during the pandemic. My burnout started in nursing school when I put everyone and everything else before my own well-being. My burnout started when I was not myself a priority.

I first noticed my burnout symptoms when I had Coronavirus then Long-Covid Symptoms in 2020. Having Long-Covid forced me to slow down, forced me to re-evaluate what’s important, forced me to make myself priority. I had no other choice because I was on a path to chronic illness, auto-immune disease and most likely early death.

Occupational Burnout
Occupational Burnout in Nursing

My Burnout Symptoms

Below Are My 9 Burnout Symptoms as a Healthcare Worker:

#1. Frustration. Frustration over the smallest thing not going right. Frustration a plan changed. Frustration with obstacles in my way when attempting a simple task. Frustration when I worked hard to help a patient get the resources they needed only to for the resources not to work out. Frustration with my frustration.

#2. Irritability. Irritability for unknown reasons. Irritable even when I have many things to be grateful for. Irritable when I can’t stop being irritable

#3. Overwhelmed. Easily overwhelmed when a new task is added to my to-do list. Overwhelmed if my daughter unexpectedly has a test or a school event. Overwhelmed when my password or user name doesn’t work. Overwhelmed when I can’t figure out why I’m overwhelmed.

#4. Procrastination. Procrastinating completing that task I know is going to suck. Procrastinating completing a project. Procrastinating having that difficult or mundane conversation. Procrastinating starting that list of CBLs required yearly for my job.

#5. Cynical. Not trusting people will do what they say. Skeptical something too good to be true will not work out.  

#6. Boundaries. Not making myself a priority. Feeling as if I don’t have enough time to put myself first because of my long list of to-dos. Putting others’ needs before my own. 

#7. Disconnection. Feeling disconnected from my spirituality, friends, and most importantly, feeling disconnected from myself. 

#8. Weight gain. Remaining stagnant, not walking my dog daily, not lifting weights 3 times a week, and eating processed food and sugar. Constant release of stress hormone cortisol.

#9. Anxiety. Anxious about the future, feeling guilty about the past, and not staying in the present moment. 

Anxious Brain

Moving Forward

I am grateful to recognize my burnout symptoms as a healthcare worker. Recognizing and having awareness of my burnout symptoms will help me move forward in making myself a priority. Knowing my burnout symptoms will not only help me put myself first again, but also help other fellow nurses recognize their own burnout symptoms so they too can make themselves a priority.

Thank you for sharing in my journey of helping humanity.

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