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Building resilience against burnout

Building resilience against burnout

Professor Kim Foster

Suppressing one’s real emotions to be ‘professional’ at work is a big part of nursing and midwifery but this emotional labour can contribute to stress and burnout, Professor Kim Foster told the ANMF/Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria Wellness Conference.

Prof. Foster, who leads the Mental Health Nursing Research Unit at Royal Melbourne Hospital, said resilience was a protective factor against burnout which can be both learned and developed.

Nurses’ emotional labour of suppressing emotions to manage, control or alter their emotional states in the workplace is often called a ‘soft’ skill but this term undermines the hard work involved, Prof. Foster said.

Prof. Foster, who is leading a large study investigating the impact of resilience education on mental health nurses, provided the definition of resilience as ‘a process of adaptation and recovery from stress and adversity’. It’s more than ‘coping’, she said.

‘Resilience is where we’re faced with significant stress and we’re able to positively recover from that and retain our wellbeing,’ she said.

Research of Australian mental health nurses’ resilience and emotional labour found that the more nurses felt they had to suppress their real emotions, the lower their resilience.

Conversely, research has found a positive association between resilience and feeling emotions that are consistent with job expectations (such as feeling empathy). Nurses with opportunities to reflect on their practice through clinical supervision were also more resilient.

Prof. Foster’s research has found higher resilience among nurses who are older and more experienced. Resilience education can improve nurses’ ability to control negative thoughts, manage stress and emotionally self-regulate.

Several studies have indicated that developing resilience involves a combination of personal and workplace resources.

Personal factors include:

  • realistic appraisal and meaning-making of situation
  • managing own emotions
  • self-care following stressful situations
  • acting authentically and with empathy
  • having a growth mindset
  • using positive coping strategies (humour, active problem-solving)

Workplace factors that foster resilience are:

  • supportive collegial and team relationships
  • peer or clinical supervision and reflective practice
  • mindfulness training and resilience education
  • professional support or counselling (such as the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria)
  • professional development and training in specific skills such as aggression management
  • postgraduate education.