Meet Michelle Gordon, who talks about her experience and advice on nurse burnout and how you can recognise and overcome it. Michelle has been nursing for 24 years and currently lives in Boyne Island, QLD. She is a mum of 3 children 16, 14 and 6 yrs, and even is a surf lifesaver and patrols the local beach with her 2 sons.

Background and Journey into Nurse Burnout

I went to uni straight after high school and completed my grad year in a small medical-surgical hospital in Melbourne.  About 6 months into my grad year the hospital became an aged care rehab facility where I began working as team leader on shift

I then went onto work in a busy cardiothoracic ward at The Austin hospital in Melbourne, and I LOVED IT! I learned SO MUCH and loved the variety, every second patient was either monitored or had chest drains.  I was inspired to further my studies and complete my grad cert in intensive cardiac nursing where I worked in CCU and ICU.

I spent around 10 years in CCU as a Clinical Nurse. After my time in CCU I went and worked in radiology, first in a private hospital but later expanded my radiology skills back at The Austin Hospital working my way up to scout and scrub nurse in the Angiography rooms.

Over the last 7 years I’ve worked in a regional QLD hospital in ED again broadening my knowledge and skills even further.

Between 2016 and 2018 I experienced deep overwhelm and burnout, it was one of the darkest times in my life.

Between 2016 and 2018 I experienced deep overwhelm and burnout, it was one of the darkest times in my life.

Michelle Gordon

My Nurse Burnout Red Flags

The red flags for me were increasing levels of anxiety, particularly before my shift, at that point I was picking up too many extra shifts and overtime while still trying to be mum and manage home life amongst the shift work.

Another red flag was I began to drink wine after each shift, I’d literally race in the door, pour the wine and that became my wind down routine until it got out of hand.

Over the 2 years I was burnt out I was barely existing.  I’d show up for work, pour my heart and soul in then crumble behind closed doors.  I wasn’t eating properly, suffered from painful GI issues and really wasn’t present at home for my children and husband.  I lost touch with who I was and what lit me up outside of work.

My life was literally work, sleep, eat, repeat.

Practical things nurses can do to reduce burnout

To set boundaries around how many shifts they are available for.

Set boundaries around work time, family time and non-negotiable YOU time. 

My 5 top tips for nurses to create a healthy work/life balance

  1. Own the day before it owns you.  Setting up some regular daily rituals in the morning is a really empowering way to start the day.  I like to walk, journal and use positive affirmations to kickstart my day.
  2. Stay fueled with nourishing healthy foods!  Packing lot’s of protein rich snacks, rice cakes, fruit and food that is easy and quick to consume on the go.  So often I was caught out not being able to take a meal break and wondered why I would start to become irritable and cranky! 
  3. Support yourself FIRST! Self-care in nursing is a must and is often overlooked.  Checking in each day with yourself asking “what do I need today” or “how can I support myself today”.  That maybe an extra hour sleep, a bath after shift and a nice candle or it might be a book and some sunshine before the afternoon shift. 
  4. Prioritize and plan your shift.  While we can’t control everything in nursing, I find using a daily tracker or keeping a notebook with reminders for myself is a great way to stay on top of your shift and feeling organized and prepared which reduces the overwhelm.
  5. Quiet the monkey mind.  Using a shutdown routine was a critical step that helped me disconnect from the hectic shift I’d just had.  Journaling, meditation, visualization then a cup of tea and some dark chocolate really helped me ground in and reconnect with myself after work.

Burnout in nursing is REAL!  It manifests differently from person to person and often as nurses we don’t share what we are feeling which is the first problem.

We are healers and carers right? And usually that means taking care of everyone else’s needs before our very own and so often, the subtle signs of burnout are ignored until it becomes a real problem and starts seeping into our home and family life.

Goal Setting and Mindset

Goal setting is an important tool and process we can use in our personal and professional lives to help us become motivated to achieve a desired goal or outcome.  Goal setting helps you get the best out of your life, helps your vision and desires become reality through taking specific steps of action that will get you to your destination.  Nurses can do this anytime throughout their career by thinking of where they want to be in 10 years, what would their dream job look like?

Then it’s breaking that goal down into smaller chunks, in 5 years and 12-month milestones that will ultimately reach the big end goal.
LOVE goal setting! It’s something I do with my clients in my coaching practice. 

Mindset work and finding your “inner light” is a big part of my coaching practice. It’s about challenging our beliefs, our programs and habits that ultimately shape how we think and feel and our outcome or lived experiences. After my journey through burnout, I quickly realized I had grown up with a fixed mindset, I thought failure was failure and not an opportunity to try something new and learn.

I saw the glass half empty rather than the glass half full.

I saw challenges as an opportunity to give up rather than an opportunity to grow and expand.

I’ve since done a tonne of mindset work in the past 3 years which has honestly changed my life and now my clients.  Mindset work is one the best things you can do for yourself that will open up a whole world of opportunity and possibility. 

Throughout my journey I’ve also discovered my inner light, my unique abilities and light that I get to share with my patients, their families, and my colleagues.  As nurses we sometimes feel we are just a number on the floor, but we are so much more than that.  When you discover your inner light, your values, your mission and message we are able to have an even deeper and more beautiful impact on the world. 

Wellness and Life Coach

One of the core outcomes in My 12-week program The Health and Happiness Formula, is to really helps nurses to discover and tap into their unique inner light.

In 2020 I became a life coach after coming out the other side of my own journey through burnout and launched my business The Healthy Happy Nurse.  My mission is to help nurses and women become free from burnout and overwhelm and unlock a life of freedom, empowerment, confidence, health, happiness and joy.

This year I have also gone on to complete my Neuro-linguistic Programming practitioner certification to enhance my coaching services and practice.  The challenges since starting my business and side hustle have been many!  Businesses don’t happen overnight!  It’s been a real process and journey in building my brand, my mission, and my message from the ground up.  And when things get tough, I go back to my why, why am I doing this, who am I here for and who can I help.

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