So why do we stop short on ourselves? Perhaps, some of us missed out on early lessons from parents and others. Not just on self-care, but on the inherent messages below that, about self-value and self-worth. What we learned instead was others and their needs are more important than us and ours. But, does this explain it all? Is our altruism, poor self-care and low self-worth the only reasons we are at risk of burnout? While these points may be central, I think there is more.
As nurses and midwives we are highly attuned observers and listeners. Taking in the stories of our patients and consumers is integral to effective identification, assessment and management of need. In my own work and that which I see in many colleagues, is just how easy it is to take in the pain and suffering of others. We do this in part as a way of understanding those we care for. It’s also how we empathize and when undertaken as a therapeutic skill we develop an awareness and mastery of the process in which this occurs.
But, this way of taking in, also happens outside of our awareness. Throughout our working day during the range of interactions not just with patients, but their families and visitors, colleagues and the many people that come and go from the workplace. In the Nurses Station, during handover, in meetings, in the medication room, while we are home-visiting and even during meal breaks in the staff room. People around us are projecting an array of emotions, and experiences onto us. Some of it we need, some of it we do not. Without attention to these processes, an awareness of what is happening and action to combat and offload the stories, experiences and projections of others that do not serve us, we are easily weighed down.
This is often why we naturally feel tired at the end of a work-day. But it is also what can organise us to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. These projected emotions, stories and events can accumulate over time and if left unchecked and unmanaged can lead to the outcome of burnout.