Case Study #4: Elizabeth Scala, Author, Speaker, and Burnout Expert
Welcome to the 4th “case study” on The Burnout Book’s blog! These case studies feature nurses of all walks of life and phases in their career who have experienced burnout and have found a way to get past it. Here’s the plan: I introduce you to a variety of nurses as a way to make sure you know that you aren’t alone with whatever you’re going through at work.
Short staffed and overworked?
New initiatives being added to an already full plate?
Bullying or lateral violence?
These nurses have experienced that too.
Reading their stories will inspire you, make you feel a little less alone, and empower you to make a healthy change in your environment.
A couple months ago, Elizabeth Scala interviewed me for her podcast and around the same time, I sent her a list of questions to answer so I could share her story with all of you! You guys, there’s a reason she’s considered a burnout expert among healthcare professionals. She has spent years addressing this topic in books, speeches, podcasts, and on her website. There is a whole community of “shifters” who look at burnout in a new way because of her, including myself!
Tell me about yourself and your nursing career up to this point. Where do you see yourself going in the future?
Boy- what a question! Well, a bit about me… I am originally from NY. I played sports, took dance, and was quite active growing up.
I went to the University of Delaware and graduated with my bachelor’s in psychology. Then- great idea from others- my senior year roommates, a nursing faculty member, and my mom decided that I should go through the accelerated nursing program after graduation from my first degree. Since I loved being in college, had no desire to leave my friends, and was open to just about anything- there I was, heading for a career in psychiatric nursing.
As a nurse, I have worked in psych, the community, and nursing administration. I currently work as a research program coordinator- in addition to my online business.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes burnout as "exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually a result of prolonged stress or frustration."
Have you ever felt burned out? How did it develop and how did you handle (or not handle) it? How do you avoid getting burned out again?
Sure, I have definitely felt burned out before. Though, I didn’t know what it was. In fact, I used to just think it was my surroundings. Like- my manager was unfair, my colleagues were lazy, the doctors didn’t know anything. It was everyone else- not me!
It developed over time. At first, I loved showing up to work and taking care of patients. As I did less and less to take care of myself- my burnout worsened. In fact, it consumed me.
When I would come home from work, my husband (boyfriend, at the time) didn’t know who to expect. Would I be screaming, yelling, and angry? Complaining, whiney, and sad? Or- for once- in a good mood? My physical health went south- I had bowel issues and terrible sleep hygiene. I would cry for no reason and lash out as though I was a two-year-old, throwing a tantrum.
Thank goodness that part of my life is behind me. However, I can tell you that it takes work to not let myself get back there again. In order to avoid burnout, I put myself first. Sure, this sounds terribly selfish- and you know what? I am OK- even great- with that.
I do the things that I enjoy- like dancing, gardening, and jigsaw puzzles. I go out and see shows, letting myself enjoy the music. At work, I don’t take things personally. I realize that each person is part of the team and that we are all doing the best that we can. I use gratitude, mindfulness, and actually things I have learned in the business world to prevent burnout from creeping back into my life.
Imagine you've just had a really rough week at work. What do you do on your days off to recover and get ready to bounce back for the next shift/work day? What does self care look like for you?
Well, I think I spoke to a lot of that above. However, one thing I DEFINITELY do now and never miss no matter how early I get up… eat breakfast! I wasn’t doing that when I was working in psychiatry and, in fact, actually almost fainted on morning rounds. How embarrassing!
Breakfast is so important. And not just coffee and sugary sweets. I eat salad, a hard-boiled egg, a non-sugary cereal with almond milk, and a smoothie.
Other than breakfast- I take care of myself by spending a TON of time in nature. I walk a lot and it clears my mind. Snuggling with my puppy is a must and I find ways to laugh, smile, and play almost every single day.
How long did it take you to feel "comfortable" in each new role you've taken on? Any advice to nurses who are experiencing the stress of starting something new?
That is an excellent question! Maybe one that is made for me.
You’d never know it by watching me online- but I am introverted. And, to be totally honest, I have struggled with self-esteem and confidence for like ever. Even now- doubt, criticism, and lack of self-worth can creep in from time-to-time. So, I totally can relate to a nurse who is worried about starting something new!
My best advice? Just be yourself. OK- sounds too simple to be effective, right? But guess what? Most people are just as self-judging as you are! For some reason, we tend to be our own worst enemies. And what’s good about this? People are SO involved with being critical on themselves- here’s the truth- they aren’t even thinking about you!
Now, if you don’t believe that, here’s some other advice (from lessons I’ve learned in dealing with this my entire life). You’re a unique individual. Yes, even you. And because of that- you do have strengths. Things that you are inherently good at. Things that set you apart from others in nursing. Tap into these. Know what they are. And play them up!
If you’re starting something new or going into another job- just be yourself. Others will take notice and enjoy those qualities in you. And heck- in nursing, they will draw them out from you since they will need you for projects, committees, and other aspects of patient care.
Finally, with each doubt, ask yourself: is this truth or is this a tale I tell myself? If you feel safe to, even ask these things of a trusted confidant. For example, if I am worried about looking stupid in a new role at work because I am worried that I won’t know everything- I stop.
Then, ask yourself, is it realistic for me to know EVERYTHING? Really? Is it possible for me, a brand-new person here, to know everything? Is it possible for anyone to know everything? No way!
This is a tale I am telling myself- so that is reality. Well, reality is I DO know X, Y, and Z. In fact, I have knowledge from my previous job. Or, I know something really well because I studied the heck out of that in school. Duh! I DO know things. I am going to be OK.
It may require some self-talk. And guess what? I even talk to myself in the mirror! It feels weird at first, but you ought to try it too. It works wonders…
You are such a multi-faceted person- you have a podcast, and a blog and website, you have written multiple books, and you organize a nursing conference every year. Do you have any time management tips?
Do I ever! I LOVE to be organized! I love calendars. I love time-management. I could go on and on about this for hours. So, I’ll leave it to two of my favorites…
One, clear out the clutter! That’s right. Don’t have tons of “stuff” just to have stuff. That physical matter actually clutters up the brain, the heart, and our mental/emotional health.
Several times a year I clear out the clutter. Literally. I do large overhauls of my physical space at season change. If I am feeling particularly stuck or frustrated, I say to myself, must be a time for a clear out!
So, don’t let your work spaces and places you live in become cluttered with unnecessary items. Really, even those photos of the besties when you were young- are they serving you now? If the answer is yes, OK. Keep them. But every item I pick up as I walk around my spaces- I ask myself, is this lighting you up? Having this around, does it make you smile? If the answer is no- it’s gone!
Another one of my time-management tips- focus on one thing at a time. So, you mentioned social media. If I am sitting down to write a blog post, I have everything else closed. I mean everything. No text. House phone (yes, I still have one) is off the hook. Email inbox and social media sites shut down.
Now, even if you don’t write a blog post or do anything related to online business, you can use this technique. I watch my own husband- who starts out with one task- get totally distracted (and then wastes time, LOL) by other things along his way. Just the other day, when he was working on changing an electrical outlet in our basement- all of a sudden- he was dusting. I said, “Honey, you gotta do one thing at a time or nothing will ever get done!”
What are you looking forward to most in 2018?
Honestly, success. That or closure. I have been at this online business for seven years now. This is make it or break it year, I have decided. Wow, I can’t believe I am sharing that here! But honestly- it’s now or never.
So, I have been putting strategies in place to change things up. If they work and I see success- then, YAHOO! 2018 is it. If I don’t, then I am completely evaluating everything I do and will be drastically changing things up.
What do y’all want to see?? (smile)
If you could change one thing about nursing to address burnout, it would be:
The selfless mindset.
I keep my spark for nursing alive by:
Doing things other than nursing!
I feel honored to have Elizabeth as part of my case study nurses! Talk about a heavy-hitter in burnout!
If you’d like to get to know Elizabeth better, you can find her in all the places listed below: