The long-term effects of nurses not taking their breaks
I have read many of the comments on the Mighty Nurse Facebook page about nurses not getting lunches. Some even find it humorous that one would suggest such a thing to a busy nurse.
I am a registered nurse and I worked med-surg for many years. We were always short staffed, busy, stressed, and running from one patient’s room to the other.
I didn’t take any lunches or any breaks. I didn’t even go to the bathroom.
About five years ago, my life changed. Suddenly, I couldn’t be superhuman anymore.
I couldn’t function in or out of work, and that made me very afraid. I was later diagnosed with a combination of burnout and compassion fatigue.
Because of these twin career killers, I can’t work at the bedside anymore. All the work I did in nursing school, all the time I put into my job, and now I am unable to take advantage of all that being a nurse gave to me.
I was told that I would get used to it when I was so tired and so stressed. My fellow coworkers looked at me with pity, thinking that I couldn’t take it and wasn’t strong like them.
That’s a bunch of bull. In fact, I was not taking care of myself, and one of the first symptoms of putting your job before your own mental health is not taking any breaks.
I can hear the nurses out their screaming that they are just unable. Look, someone else can look after your patient for 10 minutes, the charting can wait, and someone else can give that pain pill.
You really aren’t in it alone, though it may sometimes feel like it. You worked so hard, studied so much, and took out tremendous loans just so you could work in this profession that you once loved.
Self-care is the most important thing in preventing burnout and compassion fatigue. This means leaving work at work, having fun on your days off, and giving yourself the permission to urinate, get off your feet, and get something to eat.
No one is benefiting from you wearing yourself down like an overused pencil eraser. No one will applaud when you hurt yourself beyond repair and can’t work anymore.
The old cliché that you can’t take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself is true. You must make time for lunch and breaks because they are the most important thing you can do for yourself and your sanity.
I hear you complaining about staffing, management, overtime, demanding patients, coworkers who won’t or can’t help, and about a million other reasons why you can’t do this simple thing. If you matter to you, then you will find a way.
If you saw a patient or coworker suffering, you would offer them help. Why don’t you offer the same help to yourself and take care of your needs first?
Too much is at stake here to ignore this problem. Your livelihood and your mental health depend on how seriously you take this simple instruction: take a break during your shift.
I know you feel you can’t, and I know you feel you shouldn’t. Take it from someone who has been there though, the consequences are real and painful.