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Nurse First News Blog

Nurse Burnout: A Complete Guide

Posted November 23, 2021

Nursing burnout is a real issue and quite common in the field. This is due to short staffing, lack of sleep, emotional and physical exhaustion, and stress. All these causes swirl together to create a synergy that wreaks havoc on a nurse. Even the most positive and optimistic nurse can fall victim to burnout.

What is Nurse Burnout?

63% of nurses noted that their work has resulted in nurse burnout

Nurse burnout has become a buzz word lately in the healthcare industry and for good reason. 63% of nurses noted that their work has resulted in nurse burnout. Nursing burnout is a widespread phenomenon. It’s characterized by a reduction in energy and passion. This is a consequence of emotional exhaustion, lack of motivation, and feelings of frustration. Burnout may lead to reductions in work efficacy and patient care.

Causes of Nurse Burnout

Causes of nurse burnout

Everyone gets stressed or can be tired here and there. However, having chronic sleep problems and high-stress can yield real long-term problems. There are many causes that result in nurse burnout. Some causes include lack of sleep, toxic and stressful work environment, understaffing, and more. Many causes go full-circle Below are some of the main causes of nurse burnout in 2021.

Understaffing

The nursing industry has experienced short-staffing since the 1900’s. This was because of war, economic issues, and a handful of other reasons. Currently in 2021, The U.S. is in a critical shortage of nurses and the USAHS predicts it will be until 2030. Nursing Shortage is due to:

  • Nurses retiring early
  • Baby boomers are aging, increasing need for care
  • Healthcare reforms increase healthcare availability
  • Nurse burnout

Like mentioned above, is a full-circle problem. A study shows that 31.5% of nurses who have left their jobs reported burnout as their reasoning for leaving. As other nurses leave, the nurses on their floor have to take on a larger load of patients. The larger the patient-to-nurse ratio is, the higher the risk of nurse burnout.

Lack of Sleep


With nurses having to work long hours, and back-to-back day shifts, lack of sleep is a serious concern. Lack of sleep is when a person does not get an adequate amount of sleep or quality of sleep to sustain their lifestyle. Lack of sleep can present itself in many symptoms. Some examples are: lack of energy, irritability, daytime fatigue, worsened memory, slowed thinking, and increase in mood changes.

Study after study prove that nurses are chronically tired. 63% of nurses say their work has caused burnout, and four out of five nurses report their work is fatigue-inducing. To reduce burnout, we must first look at better ways to stay well-rested.

Toxic Work Environment

Sadly, bullying doesn’t stop with school children.  A recent survey found that 66% of nurses either experienced or witnessed bullying. They named staff nurses as bullies 58% of the time, physicians 38%, patient care technicians 34%, and nurse managers 34% of the time. On top of this, nurses also have to deal with combative patients and upset patient family members. This makes for a toxic work environment riddled with resentment, fear, and mistrust.

Emotionally Taxing Patients

Working with patients is what draws nurses into the medical field. Making a difference in the lives of patients is rewarding. However even if you put everything into your patient’s care you might still lose them to illness or injury. Illness and death are part of a nurse’s shift but especially for ER, ICU, and LTC nurses. Being a nurse doesn’t make dealing with death and illness any easier. 43% of RNs working in hospital settings experience symptoms of emotional exhaustion. Have grace, you are not alone.

High Stress Environment

While every nurse has their own daily challenges, some specialties have higher stress shifts than others. Some specialties that are high-stress are Oncology, ER, ICU, NICU, OR, and Psych. These specialties see trauma, combative patients, and death often throughout their shifts. Dealing with the above means these nurses have to think and act quick! For some nurses this can cause feelings of exhilaration, while others feel extreme stress.

Symptoms of Nurse Burnout

symptoms of burnout

Nurse burnout can creep up on even the most positive and energetic nurse. If you are experiencing any of the below symptoms, don’t ignore them. When you identify you are suffering from burnout, it is time to make changes! Some nurse burnout symptoms include:

Physical Symptoms of Nurse Burnout:

  • Feeling physically exhausted most of the time
  • Feeling withdrawn
  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Insomnia
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Headaches

Emotional Symptoms of Nurse Burnout

  • Dreading work
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Feeling withdrawn
  • Feeling apathetic towards patients
  • Decreased career satisfaction
  • Lack of motivation

Dangers and Risks of Nurse Burnout

Understaffing

As a staffing agency, we understand the industry-wide need for more help. In 2021 there were many reasons for understaffing. The COVID pandemic and the mandated vaccine didn’t help the shortage. With nurses retiring early, and the baby boomers aging, the nursing industry is already at a deficit. Nurses are already overworked so heavy turnover can jumpstart symptoms of nurse burnout.

Decrease in Patient Care

With lack of sleep and motivation, nurses are more likely to make mistakes. Burnout is linked to reduced patient safety, adverse events – including medication error, infections, and falls. According to a study by Kronos, 44%of nurses worry their patient care will falter because they are so tired. In contrast, 11% of nurses admitted they have made a mistake at work because they were so tired. Keep in mind even little mistakes in the nursing field can lead to worsening symptoms or even death.

Negative Impact on Other Staff

Energy and attitude are contagious. Feelings of apathy, cynicism, and lack of motivation could rub off on other staff. Other than attitude, if one nurse is burnt out, other nurses will have to step up in their place. 83% of surveyed nurses said they have helped another nurse who was too tired to work without a break. Some nurses admitted that they were so tired they called in sick to work to get some rest. This is again a full-circle problem.

5 Ways to Prevent Nurse Burnout

If you realized you have some burnout symptoms, that’s okay. That’s the first step of recognizing you need to make a change. Before you give up on your passion of nursing, hear us out! There are ways to combat nurse burnout. These ways include: work/life balance, exercise, getting emotional support, and saying “no”. Below are five ways to prevent burnout, choose a few that make sense for you and try them out.

Take a Break 

I know what you’re thinking, “there is no time for a break!” As a nurse, finding a break here and there can be near impossible. But, try to find a little time for yourself each day. Whether it is a quick walk to fill up your water bottle or two extra minutes in the restroom. Be sure to snag time to catch your breath. Along with the brief daily mental breaks, be sure to use your allotted vacation time. It’s good for the mind, body, and soul to step away from work for longer periods of time. Nurses need a mental and physical break from work every now and then. As a travel nurse, you dictate when and where you want to work. After each 13-week contract, you can decide to take as much time off as you want. You’re in the driver’s seat of your nursing career!

Delegate tasks

two nurses talking to one another in the hallway

More than likely you’re a take-charge type of person, which can often mean you take charge of extra tasks as well. It’s okay to say no to extra projects at work if you are feeling maxed out. The last thing your RN Manager wants is for a great nurse to feel exhausted and overburden. Delegate tasks to others when it feels appropriate, you don’t have to take on the world. It’s not good for you, your manager, or patients. Take charge of your day and feel confident saying no when you need to. 

Exercise

woman exercising in her living room using her laptop

One of the best ways to reduce stress and get the endorphins flowing is through exercise. Even if you only have 10 minutes for a brisk walk, take the time to get it done. Exercise is one of the best ways to ease anxiety, depression, and stress. If you are looking for an exercise regime that you can do in the comfort of your own home, check out the top 5 strength training exercises for nurses. No equipment is necessary, but if you’d like to up your strength you can add dumbbells as you see fit.  Not only will you feel happier, but you’ll be mentally and physically stronger too.

Meditation

woman meditating on her floor

Stress is always amplified in our minds, whether we realize it or not. The brain is a powerful tool, be sure to use it to our benefit and not our curse. Meditation is a great way to ease your burdens and promote relaxation. It’s important to keep tabs on your mental health and meditation is one way that you can center yourself on the here and now. Keep in mind that meditation takes practice. We are used to a world full of constant noise, so as you prepare to meditate be sure the environment is conducive to relaxation. Yes, that means keep your phone and TV away! Find a quiet space where you can focus on you and nothing else. 

Lean on Family and Friends 

adult daughter and older mother embracing and smiling outside of a store

Nothing beats a top-notch support system. As a nurse, your job is demanding and stressful, but having a soft place to land can help ease your burdens. If balancing work and home has you feeling crazy, ask for help! You don’t have to be everything to everyone. Maybe your significant other can help more around the house or you can schedule a coffee date with a friend once a month. Jot down what brings you joy and determine how you can get those things in your life more often!


Nursing is a rewarding but challenging career. It’s important to stay mindful of the burdens you carry and don’t let them get the best of you. There are solutions out there for you if you’re feeling “nurse burnout”. We hope that you can put some of these tips into practice. The healthcare field needs awesome nurses like you, so be sure to take care of yourself too. Here’s a long and happy career as a nurse!

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