Burnout: An Ever-Present Danger for Nurses


The pandemic has illuminated a longstanding issue faced by healthcare workers worldwide: burnout. Nurses, in particular, have been affected, grappling with the pressures of caring for patients amid the uncertainties and demands of the healthcare landscape. According to the CDC’s Quality of Worklife Survey, nearly half of healthcare workers reported feeling burned out in 2022, an increase from 32% in 2018. This surge in burnout has been accompanied by a notable rise in poor mental health symptoms among healthcare workers. These numbers are slightly worse for nurses, as reported by the American Nurses Foundation in 2023, which noted that more than half of surveyed nurses are experiencing symptoms of burnout. 

Why Are Nurses So Susceptible to Burnout? 

Healthcare can be uniquely stressful since healthcare workers are often exposed to human suffering and death on a scale that other professions typically do not experience in their day-to-day life. They are constantly in emotional and stressful situations involving patients, while trying to do their jobs. Like during the pandemic, healthcare workers often experience heightened risk for exposure to infectious diseases. In many cases, staffing shortages, being overworked, and a lack of sufficient mental health support worsen stressful work environments. On top of that, there’s a reported stigma towards seeking mental health care. These factors come together to create a perfect storm. 

What Are Symptoms of Burnout?

If a nurse feels overworked constantly, if they always feel too tired to work, if they don’t look forward to their job, or if they feel unappreciated, they might be experiencing early signs of burnout. Escalating signs include insomnia and depression. 

The three common symptoms of burnout syndrome are emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a lack of personal satisfaction. Emotional exhaustion often leaves nurses feeling they can’t handle the emotions that come with their job. Nurses cope with the emotional exhaustion by depersonalizing, which results in less empathy towards their patient’s emotions. Lastly, they might experience dissatisfaction with their job and a lack of personal accomplishment. 

What Are Consequences of Burnout?

Symptoms of burnout affect nurse well-being, which in turn affect patient care. One of the most dangerous consequences of burnout is patient safety. Nurses experiencing burnout can make mistakes impacting quality of patient care. They can become disengaged from their patients as a way to protect themselves. The consequences of burnout can extend long after the workday is over. Nurses can bring their stress home and into their relationships with their loved ones. 

Burnout often leads to decreased job satisfaction, decreased quality of patient care, and in extreme cases, nurses might leave the position or the profession altogether. 

How Can You Prevent Nurse Burnout?

As a nurse, preventing burnout begins with awareness. Individuals being aware of the early warning signs is the first step to alleviating problems before they take root in themselves or their colleagues. 

There are a few strategies individual nurses can try before burnout develops into a serious problem: 

  • Sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for everyone but it’s especially vital for nurses in order to alleviate symptoms of burnout as well as for patient safety. At least seven hours of sleep is currently recommended by the CDC. 
  • Exercise: Exercise and physical activity have been proven to have stress-relieving abilities. About 150 minutes of physical activity is recommended a week for an adult. 
  • Eat healthy: Eating nutritious balanced meals that include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and beans allows nurses to be in optimal health and perform their job well. 
  • Take a break: Do not be ashamed of needing a break. Use your time off from work to re-calibrate and de-stress. 
  • Have a support system: Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. One of the reasons cited for burnout is a lack of support. In fact, surveying nurses indicated that those who work in supportive environments reported lower levels of burnout. Emotional support is a crucial pillar in dealing with the stresses of being a nurse. So, make sure you have a support system at work. Be a support system for fellow nurses and know you’re not alone in needing help. Find a like-minded co-worker to confide in and vent to. 

If your stressors have escalated, reach out to a mental health professional to help you manage your emotions and provide you with tools and techniques to manage burnout.

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