Nurse Fatigue: 5 Professional Tips On How To Cope

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With the long, tasking hours of many typical nursing shifts, it is unsurprising that nurse fatigue is a critical issue. 

Meeting high demands, filling up for the staff shortage and sometimes unavailability of necessary equipment make it more burdensome for nurses as they carry out clinical activities. 

Fatigue has always been an important issue in nursing over the years. Interestingly, it is still a serious issue today.  

Sometimes, the term burnout is used to describe nurse fatigue.

However, in this text, we are referring to fatigue in light of the Oxford dictionary definition; extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness

Do not be taken aback by ‘illness’ in the definition. 

Yes, it is more common to see nurses going to work when ill instead of staying back to rest and heal. 

Factors such as increased job demands, chronic understaffing, work politics, and poor remuneration have been the most important factors promoting nurse fatigue in the workplace.

If fatigue is not handled early and adequately, it can lead to burnout. 

Burnout is an advanced form of fatigue. It’s the culmination of all the effects of fatigue.

“Nurse burnout is the state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by sustained work-related stressors such as long hours, the pressure of quick decision-making, and the strain of caring for patients who may have poor outcomes.”

University of St Augustine For Health Sciences

Certain factors can predispose nurses to fatigue [or burnout]. 

  • The number of patients: Nurses who look after more than four patients are more likely to experience a higher rate of fatigue or burnout. 
  • Long shifts: Working longer shifts [10 – 13 hours or more] as opposed to shorter shifts [8-9 hours] increases the chances of nurses falling into fatigue or burnout. 
  • Stressful specialities: Nurses who work in the ER [emergency rooms], ICU [Intensive Care Unit], OT [Operating Theatres], and other high-volume and critical have higher rates of fatigue or burnout. 

Major Causes of Nurse Fatigue

Here are some of the major causes of nurse fatigue: 

  • Long hours
  • Lack of sleep
  • High-stress environment
  • Lack of support
  • Emotional strain from patient care

How Can You Cope?

Photo by Bino Le on Unsplash

In fighting nurse fatigue [burnout], internal factors are the only factors nurses may have complete control over. 

External factors such as an overworked workforce, poor staffing, poor pay, lack of equipment, organisation politics and bottlenecks, etc., may not be in the power of nurses or healthcare professionals to solve. 

However, nurses can take personal steps to ensure they don’t get caught in the web of nurse fatigue or, worse, burnout. 

  • Improve schedules: As much as possible, ensure you work in places with reasonable schedules for nurses. Avoid staying in organisations that overwork staff all in the name of working hard. You must strive to live a balanced and healthy life that allows you to spend time with loved ones and attend to other vital things in your life. 
  • Take breaks: You are entitled to take breaks within long shifts and longer holidays or vacations. Make sure you take them. Don’t joke about your breaks or vacations. Holidays will give you the sweet time to relax, heal and recuperate. Nurses who are always working round the clock throughout the month and year are setting themselves up for eventual burnout.
  • Seek out support: The moment you begin to feel the first signs of fatigue, ensure you seek help. Please speak with your supervisors and let them know how you feel. Join support groups and express your concern. If you start to feel tired and unmotivated about work, it may be a warning sign; if nothing is done about it, burnout may set in. 
  • Learn coping methods: Learning how to cope with stress goes a long way in helping you recover and preventing you from wearing out; there are a lot of coping mechanisms that will take the burden of work off your shoulder. Like exercise when you return from a busy shift, reading, journaling, or watching your favourite show or a movie. Post-work relaxation routines can make a really big difference in your physical and mental health. Instead of swimming in the stress of work, why not wash it away by relaxing and doing what you love? 
  • Change specialities or focus: If you feel changing specialities to a more relaxed environment will do the magic, go all out for it. Your mental and physical well-being is way better than staying in a speciality you may enjoy but that crushes you. 

In summary, fatigue is a challenge nurses deal with daily as they carry out their jobs. 

It can significantly affect how they function and respond; hence its proper management and ameliorating conditions and factors which can induce it should be promoted. 

Nurses should always try to work on developing internal coping methods to deal with fatigue and burnout while doing the little that they can do in terms of advocacy and speaking up to push organisational changes that will help eliminate external factors that contribute to the development of nurse fatigue/burnout in healthcare organisations.  

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