When it comes to buzzwords, “burnout” is at the top of the list.
Everyone seems to either be burnout out or know someone who is — especially in the nursing industry.
But just what is burnout in nursing? Is it more than just wishing you were on vacation instead of at work?
This guide explains what burnout looks like, why it happens, and what you can do about it.
Table of Contents
- What Is Burnout in Nursing?
- What Are the Signs of Nursing Burnout?
- Top 5 Causes of Burnout in Nursing
- 5 Tips on How to Prevent Burnout in Nursing
- Trusted Nurse Staffing: Find Balance in Your Nursing Career With An Agency That Puts Our Nurses First
What Is Burnout in Nursing?
Burnout in nurses is a rising issue that the healthcare industry is facing. Especially after the Covid-19 pandemic — and its persistent and lingering effects — many nurses have found themselves feeling like they have reached the end of their ropes.
Burnout is different from having a few days or battling poor mental health.
Poor mental health or a “string of bad luck” can both often be relieved by a brief vacation or a little extra self-care on the weekend. Curing burnout isn’t quite that easy.
Burnout is a state of utter exhaustion, often in multiple areas including:
Burnout can come from a variety of jobs and life circumstances and leaves its victims feeling defeated, worn down, and thoroughly spent.
What Are the Signs of Nursing Burnout?
While someone can experience symptoms of burnout without actually being burned out, it is important to keep an eye on yourself and seek help if you notice persistent signs of burnout in your day-to-day life.
Some signs to know and look for include:
- Dreading going to work
- Being constantly tired
- Feeling insensitive and unable to show compassion
- Experiencing overwhelming work-related anxiety
- Deteriorating physical health
You Dread Going to Work
Your alarm goes off and you wish you could throw it across the room. It’s not just that you’re tired from a late night out… it’s that you don’t want to go to work. Like you really don’t want to go. As in, you’re pretty sure you’d rather relive finals in nursing school than go to work.
Everyone struggles with wanting to go to work some days. No one loves every single day on the job.
But, if you find yourself dreading going to work frequently, that might be a sign that something is off and you are heading towards — or already stuck in — burnout.
You’re Not Just Tired — You’re Fatigued
It’s only 10 AM and you’re already on your second Redbull. By the time you finally get home that night — or morning, depending on your shift — you’ve lost track of the amount of caffeine you’ve consumed. And yet you couldn’t stop yawning and daydreaming about your bed the entire time.
While chugging too much caffeine now and then is just part of life for a nurse, constantly having to rely on caffeine or sheer willpower to stay awake through your shift isn’t normal.
If you are constantly fatigued — even though you got a solid sleep before your shift — you might be wrestling with burnout.
You Find Yourself Providing Compassionless Care
You’re not sure what’s up but, all of a sudden, you simply don’t feel like you care about your patients anymore.
Sure, you care enough to give them the care that they need, but that deep-down compassion for them is all but gone. You nearly lost it with the sweet old lady who missed the bedpan and you’re forever grateful for your colleague who took over before you started cussing at the guy who wouldn’t take his medications.
This isn’t like you and you’re not sure why you can’t find the strength to care.
To be fair, nurses don’t always feel compassion for their patients — sometimes patients are just plain difficult! — but generally, they can provide compassionate care and, overall, they care about their patients.
But, if you find yourself struggling to feel the compassion for your patients that once made each day worth it, you might be dealing with some burnout.
The Anxiety You Face About Work Is Overwhelming
Feeling a little anxious in high-stress jobs like nursing is totally normal. But if you find yourself battling severe anxiety about work, you might need to take a closer look at your emotional and mental health.
Do your days off look like you sitting in an anxious puddle worrying about what will happen on your next shift?
Have you found yourself experiencing anxiety attacks when you’re not working because you are dreading going to work or are experiencing other negative thoughts and emotions towards your job?
It’s okay to sometimes feel a little nervous about a big day at work — maybe your boss is doing evaluations or maybe you are assisting with a big surgery — but a state of anxiety should not be your constant.
If the thought of going to work makes you feel a little bit queasy and leaves a knot in your stomach, burnout could be at the root of your anxieties.
You’re Sick More Often Than Not
It feels like you’ve had a cold for the past six months and you’re pretty sure that you just caught the tummy bug floating through your department. You always had a pretty strong immune system and you weren’t really sick all that often but now … it feels like you’re sick more often than you’re healthy.
If your immune system suddenly seems to be out of whack, you might need to consider burnout as the culprit. When your whole system is exhausted and burned out, it could be that your immune system is working overtime simply to survive.
Constant illness — or constant feelings of illness — can be a major sign of burnout.
Top 5 Causes of Burnout in Nursing
Nurses burn out for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of sleep to overly stressful working environments.
Here are the top five influencing factors of burnout rates in nursing.
#1: Long Hours
Nurses work long, exhausting shifts and often stay past their scheduled clock-out time.
On average, nurses work about 12-13 hours at a time, with some working even more.
These long hours can leave nurses with fluttering eyelids and plummeting morale. Since people’s lives often rely on a nurse’s care, nurses may or may not get their breaks when they need them.
#2: Inadequate Sleep
Long — often overnight — shifts lead to poor sleep patterns. Especially for nurses with families and social lives, finding time to get enough sleep can be a difficult task.
Even if a nurse can find enough time for a consistent sleep schedule, the hours they work often throw off their circadian rhythm, leading to:
- Poor sleep quality
- Mental health struggles
- Weight gain
- Poor general health
Living in a constant state of tiredness will wear you down quickly and no amount of caffeine can help you if you simply didn’t sleep enough.
#3: Lack of Support
Nursing is stressful and difficult. Nurses see people at their worst moments every day and they have to stay strong and care for those patients, no matter what.
Without proper support, the stress of nursing can send many nurses into deep burnout.
Not only do nurses need the support of their superiors, but they also need each other.
In nursing, teamwork is essential.
Poor teamwork can lead to issues in the workplace such as:
- Poor communication
- Lack of cooperation
- Added stress
Contrastingly, good teamwork can:
- Help save lives
- Create a positive community
- Improve general department function
- Help reduce unnecessary stress
#4: Stressful Work Environments
Nursing is a stressful job. Oftentimes, as a nurse, someone’s life is all but in your hands. Sometimes, that intense stress can lead to burnout.
If you are experiencing burnout, you might want to take a look at your job and department. Some nursing positions are more stressful than others and taking the stress level down for a little while might help you recover.
Some of the most stressful nursing positions include:
If you work in one of these departments and are finding yourself experiencing burnout, changing to a less stressful department may help.
#5: Large Workloads
As the nurse-to-patient gap continues to grow, nurses face ever-increasing workloads. Nursing shortages aren’t good for anyone — not patients, not facilities, and certainly not nurses.
As nurses have to take on more and more tasks, finding ways to manage stress is key. But, no matter how good you are at stress management, there is only so much that the human body and brain can take. Today, many nurses’ workloads push them dangerously close to that limit.
When there is too much work and not enough people, those who stay often find themselves burned out and exhausted.
5 Tips on How to Prevent Burnout in Nursing
Burnout in nurses is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Thankfully, there are some ways to help prevent burnout in nurses.
#1: Set Boundaries Between Work and Home Life
If you’re off work, you are off work.
Setting boundaries is vital if you want to remain healthy and avoid burnout.
You are not a bad coworker or nurse if you don’t work late or pick up extra shifts. Know your capacity and honor it.
No, you cannot come in for a couple of hours to cover for the nurse that didn’t show.
Yes, you understand that they are short staffed but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health to bail them out.
No, you are not willing to stay late on Friday. You have a date and you are not missing it.
Yes, you are using your vacation days because you earned them. Plus, you already booked a flight and you need a margarita on the beach before you work another shift.
Remember, taking time for yourself will help you be a better nurse and live a happier, more fulfilled life.
#2: Develop Strong Relationships Inside and Outside of Work
Take the time to invest in friendships inside and outside the hospital.
You need a gang of friends around you at work who will support you on tough days and celebrate with you on the good ones.
You need to be able to support and celebrate others.
When you step off the job, you need to have friends you can kick back and relax with. Humans were made for community and you need to have some good friendships in your life.
#3: Make Your Health a Priority
One of the hardest things to do is find the energy to care for someone else’s needs when yours have gone unmet for too long.
It is important to take time to focus on your health — mental and physical.
Prioritize things like:
- Going to the gym
- Getting enough sleep
- Going to your own health appointments
- Taking time off to recover when you are sick or injured
If you want to jump on the fast track to burnout, ignore your own health and hope everything works out.
If you want to do your job well and be a healthy, well-rounded person, take the time to make sure you stay healthy.
#4: Remember That Breaks Are Necessary
Whether it’s your lunch break or a long weekend off, taking breaks is essential if you don’t want to burn out.
Yes, your patients might need you and it might be hard to find 30 minutes to eat and breathe, but do your best to prioritize it. It is your hospital’s responsibility to have your breaks covered, rather than making patients wait.
Taking breaks and vacations can help keep you from burning out.
#5: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
You’re used to helping other people all day long. Your job is to find and solve others’ problems.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t need help too, sometimes.
It doesn’t make you weak.
It doesn’t make you a burden.
It makes you a human who is self-aware enough to know that you need a hand at the moment.
Ask for help. Take time to look into what resources might be available to you.
Remember, if you are struggling and need immediate help, you can always contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.
There is always help available, you just have to reach out.
Trusted Nurse Staffing: Find Balance in Your Nursing Career With An Agency That Puts Our Nurses First
No matter how many bubble baths you take, vacation days you put in for, or extra shifts you turn down, sometimes it isn’t enough.
If burnout is getting you down and you need a change of pace, travel nursing could be exactly what you didn’t know you needed.
Travel nursing with Trusted Nurse Staffing can be a great way to reduce or recover from burnout because we care deeply about every single one of our nurses.
Here, our nurses come first. That’s right, nurses first — before patients, before staffing needs, before facility preferences.
Our nurses come first.
We offer incredible benefits such as:
- The highest pay rate in the industry
- Incredible insurance options
- Tons of bonuses
- 24/7 access to your Trusted Partner (in other words, there is always someone there to answer the phone and help you out, day or night, even on the weekends)
- Meal, travel, and housing stipends
If you are curious about travel nursing and want to give it a shot, create your profile with Trusted Nurse Staffing today.
We can’t wait to help you discover the amazing advantages of travel nursing.