How to Avoid Burnout as a Nurse

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As a nurse, you probably know a co-worker or two whose face could appear next to the word “burnout” in t


he dictionary. Maybe that nurse is even you. Whether you’re a nursing newbie or a seasoned pro, burnout can happen to the best of the best — and we’re sharing how to recognize the warning signs and prevent it altogether.

What is Nursing Burnout?

National Nurses United defines burnout as physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. While this may sound like your normal response to a particularly grueling shift, it’s actually totally different. Typical work stress is brought on by over-engagement, but burnout is characterized by the exact opposite: disengagement.


In other words, a stressed-out nurse may worry about her patients or feel insecure about her level of experience. A nurse suffering from burnout, on the other hand, is more likely to feel detached from her job and unfulfilled by its daily demands. Similarly, stress will appear intermittently, whereas burnout rears its ugly head each and every day.

Burnout directly affects nursing professionals, but it can indirectly affect their patients, as well. It’s no surprise that facilities with high burnout rates also experienced lowered patient satisfaction. One study by the American Journal of Infection Control even noted a correlation between nursing burnout and higher instances of patient infections.

Burnout may seem like a necessary evil of the nursing profession, but it doesn’t have to be a normal part of working in the healthcare industry.

What Causes Nursing Burnout?

Several issues can contribute to nursing burnout, and it’s important to understand how these factors affect nurses and their overall job satisfaction.

1. Long Hours

12-hour shifts take a toll on anyone, and nurses deal with particularly demanding job duties. Many nurses agree that these long hours are one of the primary reasons they feel tired and fatigued. Unfortunately, this extended work can also result in a greater risk of error according to the National Institute of Health.

2. Stressful Environments

Patient overload, micro-management, documentation… nurses deal with a lot of stressors on a daily basis. These challenges can make nurses feel overwhelmed and overworked as a result.

3. Heavy Issues

From sickness and emotions to dealing with death, the nursing field is not for the faint of heart. Nurses get attached to their patients, and the reality of grief and loss is an unfortunate part of the job.

4. Lack of Self-Care

Nurses are constantly caring for others, and this selfless attitude can lead to self-neglect and compassion fatigue. Factor in the personal demands of caring for your family and managing a home, and it’s no wonder why so many healthcare workers feel as if they have no time for themselves.

Warning Signs of Burnout

Worried that you’re experiencing burnout on the job, or concerned about certain co-workers or staff? Keep an eye out for these red flags:

  • Fatigue
  • Physical illness
  • Weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling under-appreciated
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Avoiding co-workers
  • Irritability
  • Calling out sick
  • Showing up late
  • Asking to leave work early
  • Poor work performance

7 Ways to Prevent Nursing Burnout

Everybody gets stressed out from time to time, but burnout isn’t something you should just accept. Prevent disengagement with these nursing musts:

1. Practice self-care. You know that old adage about how you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself? Well, that’s a saying for a reason. One of the most important things you can do is put yourself first. Learn how to say no and set appropriate boundaries.

2. Make a change. Sometimes, the answer to your burnout blues may lie in making a career change. Look into potential specializations you can pursue, or start small with a department change.

3. Confide in a friend. Having a friend of confidant you can talk to makes a huge difference in how you handle burnout. Find someone who lets you vent at the end of a hard day and doesn’t tell you what to do unless you seek his or her advice.

Preferably, you’ll have a confidant in the nursing field who understands your daily struggles in addition to someone with an outside, unbiased perspective.

4. Exercise regularly. As a nurse, you’re probably already pretty active throughout the day working with patients, which is excellent for your body. That being said, you may want to take up an exercise routine that you’ll actually enjoy for improved holistic health.

Whether it’s taking a walk with your husband in the evening, going for bike rides or enrolling in a yoga or Pilates class, try to find a fitness program that enriches your mind, body and soul.

5. Eat well. If you’ve noticed fluctuations in your weight, you’ll want to step back and analyze your current diet plan. Nurses suffering from burnout are more likely to either eat too little due to a lack of appetite or use food as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety.

Focus on nutritious meals and snacks that are packed with vitamins and minerals to help your body function better and get your weight back to a healthy range.

6. Go back to school. If you’re unfulfilled in your current nursing position, you may want to consider going back to school. For some healthcare professionals, the idea of additional studies sounds like punishment. But for others, it can open the door to a new career path.

Look into non-traditional nursing programs that better accommodate working adults, or research online certifications. You may rediscover your lost passion in the process.

Have you experienced nursing burnout? If so, how do you recommend preventing and addressing it? Keep the conversation going in the comments section below, and connect with your fellow nurses via our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

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