When The Nurse Is Stretched Too Thin, The Nurse Keith Show, EPS 113

On episode 113, I delve into what nurses can do to determine if they’re at their breaking point, and what to do about it when that’s the reality they’re facing. This episode was based on a blog post on Digital Doorway. If you’re feeling like you’re just pushing a rock up a hill every day to no avail a la Sisyphus, this episode is for you!

Sisyphus cartoon

In the blog post and this episode, we explore the following topics: 

Your Capacity

To quote from the original post:

Nurses, it’s up to you to determine for yourself what your capacity for stress and unhappiness really is. No one on the outside can really tell you what you should or shouldn’t be feeling on the inside. Your ability to determine your own capacity is part of your emotional intelligence and your personal insight into the workings of your own psyche.

The nurse who brags that she can face any challenge or work any number of shifts without blinking an eye is probably lying — either to you, or to herself. We’ve all probably encountered those highly seasoned nurses — some would derogatorily label them as “Old Battle Axes” — who, for all intents and purposes, seem impervious to all negativity or stress. Their jaded outward personalities probably belie what may be going on inside of them; they may actually so far gone, they can’t even feel their own feelings. This is the opposite of emotional intelligence.

Why Do You Stay? 

If your workplace leaves much to be desired, one of the initial questions to ask yourself is, “Why do I stay?” If you’re only staying because of the money, that’s probably not going to seem like enough as symptoms of stress-based illness begin to arise, or you’re just too depressed and despondent to take any action whatsoever.

You may be caught in a moment of simply feeling too beaten up by your work to even consider making a change. This type of ennui and loss of energy to create change in your life can have dire consequences, especially if you’re tolerating bullying, the sabotaging of your patient care by colleagues (we know this happens, folks), or other behaviors that put your license — and your patients — at risk.

Remaining in a job that’s killing you is not recommended, nor is it mentally, physically, or emotionally healthy. Some might even say it can be spiritually damaging to stay in work that doesn’t feed your heart and soul and/or detracts from your self-esteem and self-worth.

Cultivating Resilience

Finding and strengthening your most resilient self is essential to counteracting those moments, days, weeks, months, or even years when you’re stretched too thin and come dangerously close to reaching your breaking point.

Why allow yourself to get to the point of snapping from the strain? Why not cultivate resilience, as well as strategies for surviving and thriving rather than tolerating what’s unhealthy? No one can do this work for you, but you can enlist the help of those who can make the journey easier.

Pushing Back

How you push back is up to you, but push back you must. When the going gets tough, your job is to build up your resilience, take action, and push back against what is making your miserable. The ultimate push back may be giving your notice, and that is sometimes the only way. However, if you’re dedicated to your workplace and want to fight the good fight, enlist courageous colleagues willing to stand by your side.

When you’re stretched too thin, it’s time for action. When you’re pushed beyond your limit, recognize what those limits really are and how to protect them from ever being threatened again.

Staying may work, or it may be impossible. Leaving may be the only way out, or there may be other solutions. If you’re experiencing the cognitive dissonance of workplace demands beyond your capacity to meet those demands, it’s time to consider your options.

Don’t allow your well-being, health, and happiness to be compromised by your work. This profession of nursing should feed your soul, pay your bills, and bring you fulfillment and positive self regard. If something else is happening in your work life and career, it’s time for a new plan and a new lease on life.


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Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BCKeith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.

Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith was previously the resident nursing career expert at Nurse.com.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.”

He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and has written for Nurse.org, Nurse.com, MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online platforms.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur.

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