Nursing Burnout: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Introduction to Nursing Burnout

Nursing is a noble profession that requires dedication, compassion, and hard work. Nurses play a critical role in ensuring the health and well-being of patients, but this comes at a cost. Nursing burnout is a condition that affects many nurses worldwide and can lead to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

This condition can affect not only the nurse’s well-being but also the quality of care they provide to their patients. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and solutions to nursing burnout to help nurses overcome this condition and improve their overall well-being.

Nursing Burnout
Nursing Burnout

4 Common Causes of Nursing Burnout

Nursing burnout is a prevalent and serious issue that affects many healthcare professionals. There are several causes of nursing burnout, including excessive workload, emotional exhaustion, lack of support, and personal issues.

  1. Excessive workload: One of the primary causes of nursing burnout is an excessive workload. Nurses often work long hours without breaks, and are responsible for caring for multiple patients simultaneously. This can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, and a lack of time to recharge and recover from the demands of the job.
  2. Emotional exhaustion: Nurses are often exposed to traumatic situations, such as patient deaths, accidents, and serious illnesses. This exposure can lead to emotional exhaustion and can be particularly challenging for nurses who lack the support and resources they need to cope with these difficult experiences.
  3. Lack of support: A lack of support from colleagues, supervisors, and the healthcare system can also contribute to nursing burnout. Nurses may feel isolated and unsupported, which can lead to feelings of stress, frustration, and burnout. Additionally, a lack of resources and equipment, such as personal protective equipment, can make it difficult for nurses to perform their job safely and efficiently.
  4. Personal issues: Personal issues can also contribute to nursing burnout. Nurses who are experiencing personal problems, such as financial difficulties, family problems, or health issues, may struggle to balance the demands of their personal lives with the demands of their job. This can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and burnout.

Nursing burnout is a complex issue that can be caused by a variety of factors. By understanding the causes of nursing burnout, healthcare professionals can take steps to prevent it and provide support for those who are experiencing burnout.

4 Common Symptoms of Nursing Burnout

Nursing burnout can manifest in various ways, including:

  1. Physical exhaustion: Nurses often work long hours and have physically demanding jobs that can leave them feeling physically exhausted. They may be required to lift and move patients, stand for long periods, and work in high-stress environments. This physical exhaustion can lead to feelings of fatigue and a lack of energy, which can make it difficult for nurses to perform their job duties effectively. Additionally, physical exhaustion can impact a nurse’s overall health, leading to increased sick days and a decreased ability to cope with work-related stress.
  1. Emotional exhaustion: Nurses are often exposed to traumatic situations and may witness patients suffering from serious illnesses or injuries. This exposure to emotional stress can lead to emotional exhaustion and burnout. Nurses may feel overwhelmed by their emotions and find it difficult to empathize with their patients. They may also become detached from their work and lose their sense of purpose, leading to a decreased sense of job satisfaction.
  1. Decreased job satisfaction: Nurses who experience burnout may feel a lack of fulfillment in their job and may start to question their career choice. They may feel underappreciated, undervalued, or that their work is not making a significant impact. Additionally, burnout can lead to feelings of cynicism and negativity, making it difficult for nurses to find joy in their work. This decreased job satisfaction can have significant impacts on the quality of care provided to patients and can lead to increased turnover rates among nursing staff.
  1. Depersonalization: Nurses who experience burnout may become cynical and develop negative attitudes towards their patients and coworkers. This depersonalization can lead to a decrease in empathy and a lack of concern for others. Nurses may also become detached from their work and lose their sense of purpose, leading to a decreased sense of job satisfaction. Additionally, depersonalization can impact the quality of care provided to patients and can lead to negative interactions between nurses and their colleagues.

Nursing burnout is a significant issue that can have negative impacts on nurses, patients, and healthcare organizations. Understanding the causes and symptoms of burnout is the first step in preventing and treating this issue. By prioritizing self-care, seeking support, and implementing effective policies and programs, healthcare organizations can promote the well-being of nursing staff and improve patient outcomes.

Nursing burnout can lead to physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction, and depersonalization. These symptoms can have significant impacts on the quality of care provided to patients and can lead to negative outcomes for nursing staff. It is essential that nurses prioritize self-care, seek support when needed, and establish healthy work-life balance to prevent burnout and promote overall well-being.

3 Common Consequences from Nursing Burnout

  1. Increased errors and decreased patient safety: Nurses who are experiencing burnout may be more likely to make mistakes, leading to decreased patient safety. This can be due to a lack of focus, attention, and energy. Burned-out nurses may be more prone to errors such as medication errors, incorrect documentation, and miscommunication with other healthcare professionals. These mistakes can have serious consequences for patients, including increased risk of injury or even death.
  2. Increased absenteeism and turnover: Burnout can lead to increased absenteeism and turnover rates among nursing staff. Nurses may take more sick days or time off due to physical and emotional exhaustion, leading to staffing shortages and increased workload for remaining staff. This increased workload can contribute to further burnout and stress, creating a vicious cycle. Additionally, nurses who experience burnout may leave their jobs or even the nursing profession altogether, leading to increased turnover rates and difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified nursing staff.
  3. Organizational costs: Nursing burnout can have significant organizational costs, including decreased patient satisfaction, increased medical errors, and decreased productivity. Additionally, the costs associated with recruitment, hiring, and training new nursing staff to replace burned-out staff can be substantial. Organizations may also face costs associated with increased absenteeism, overtime pay, and decreased staff morale. Addressing nursing burnout can have significant financial benefits for healthcare organizations, including increased productivity, decreased turnover rates, and improved patient outcomes.

4 Solutions to Nursing Burnout

Nursing burnout is a prevalent and concerning issue that can lead to various negative outcomes for nurses and patients alike. Fortunately, there are several solutions that nurses can adopt to prevent and manage burnout.

  1. Self-care: One crucial solution to nursing burnout is self-care. Nurses must prioritize their physical, emotional, and mental well-being by getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical activity. Additionally, nurses should consider taking breaks throughout their workday to recharge and manage stress.
  2. Support systems: Another solution is to establish support systems. Having a network of colleagues, friends, and family members who can offer emotional support and practical assistance can help nurses cope with work-related stress and prevent burnout. Nurses should also consider seeking out mentors and professional networks for additional support and guidance.
  3. Work-life balance: Nurses need to establish a healthy work-life balance and take breaks when needed to prevent burnout. A healthy work-life balance is also crucial to preventing nursing burnout. Nurses should strive to maintain a balance between work and personal life by setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, and taking time off when needed. This includes avoiding working excessive overtime hours and taking adequate time off to recharge and spend time with loved ones.
  4. Seek professional help: If nurses are experiencing severe symptoms of burnout, they may need to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist. Seeking professional help is an option for nurses experiencing severe symptoms of burnout. Seeking the help of a licensed counselor or therapist can provide additional support and resources to help manage stress and prevent burnout.

Nursing burnout is a serious issue that requires proactive solutions. Nurses must prioritize self-care, establish support systems, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and seek professional help when necessary to prevent and manage burnout effectively.

Prevent Nursing Burnout Before it Starts

Preventing and treating nursing burnout requires a multi-faceted approach. Organizations can implement policies and programs aimed at reducing burnout, including providing resources for self-care, promoting work-life balance, and offering opportunities for professional development and career advancement.

Additionally, healthcare professionals can take steps to prevent burnout by practicing self-care, seeking support when needed, and setting healthy boundaries. Treatment for burnout may include therapy, counseling, or other forms of mental health support.

One effective way to treat nursing burnout is to address it early on. Nurses who are experiencing symptoms of burnout should seek help as soon as possible. They should speak to their supervisors or colleagues about their concerns, and consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor. In addition, nurses can participate in mindfulness practices such as meditation or yoga to help reduce stress and promote mental well-being.

Another important aspect of preventing and treating nursing burnout is to address the underlying causes. This may include improving staffing levels, reducing workloads, and providing adequate resources and support for nurses. Nurses should also be encouraged to participate in professional development and training opportunities to help them build their skills and knowledge, and feel more confident in their roles. By addressing these underlying causes, healthcare organizations can create a positive and supportive work environment that promotes the well-being of their nursing staff.

FAQs for Nursing Burnout

  1. Can nursing burnout lead to depression?

Yes, nursing burnout can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems if left untreated.

  1. How can nurses prevent burnout?

Nurses can prevent burnout by prioritizing self-care, establishing a healthy work-life balance, and seeking support from colleagues, friends, and family.

  1. What are some warning signs of nursing burnout?

Some warning signs of nursing burnout include physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, decreased job satisfaction, and depersonalization.

Where to Find Help for Nursing Burnout

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) –
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) –
  3. Crisis Text Line –
  4. Mental Health America (MHA) –
  5. The Recovery Village –


Nursing burnout is a real problem that affects many nurses worldwide. It can lead to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, affecting not only the nurse’s well-being but also the quality of care they provide to their patients.

By understanding the causes, symptoms, and solutions to nursing burnout, nurses can take steps to prevent and overcome this condition. Prioritizing self-care, establishing a healthy work-life balance, and seeking support from colleagues, friends, and family can help nurses cope with work-related stress and improve their overall well-being.

The medical profession can be stressful and demanding, which can contribute to mental health challenges for healthcare providers. Some common mental health issues that can affect medical professionals include:

  1. Burnout: Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, often due to work-related demands.
  2. Depression: Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed.
  3. Anxiety: Anxiety is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive worry, fear, and unease.
  4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as violence, abuse, or a natural disaster.
  5. Compassion Fatigue: Compassion fatigue is a condition where healthcare providers may feel emotionally and physically drained as a result of caring for patients who are experiencing significant emotional distress.
  6. Substance abuse: Substance abuse involves the use of drugs or alcohol in a way that causes harm or interferes with daily life.
  7. Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by periods of elevated or irritable moods (mania or hypomania) and periods of depression.
  8. Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental health condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.
  9. Eating disorders: Eating disorders are mental health conditions that involve abnormal eating habits, often driven by distorted body image and low self-esteem.
  10. Insomnia: Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
  11. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to focus, pay attention, and control impulses.
  12. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is a mental health condition characterized by recurrent and intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions).
  13. Personality disorders: Personality disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by enduring patterns of behavior, thoughts, and emotions that deviate from cultural norms and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning.
  14. Addiction: Addiction is a mental health condition characterized by compulsive drug or alcohol use despite the negative consequences.
  15. Stress: Stress is a natural response to challenges or demands that can negatively impact physical and mental health when prolonged.
  16. Work-related stress: Work-related stress refers to stress caused by job demands, lack of resources, and organizational culture.
  17. Suicidal thoughts: Suicidal thoughts are thoughts of wanting to end one’s own life and can be caused by a range of mental health issues and stressors.
  18. Vicarious trauma: Vicarious trauma refers to the emotional distress that can result from hearing about or witnessing the traumatic experiences of others.
  19. Relationship stress: Relationship stress is stress caused by interpersonal conflicts and challenges with significant others, children, or family members.
  20. Social isolation: Social isolation can occur when healthcare providers work long hours or have limited social interaction outside of work.
  21. Physical health problems: Healthcare providers may be at increased risk for physical health problems due to the demands of their job.
  22. Perfectionism: Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by setting unrealistically high standards for oneself and experiencing negative emotions when these standards are not met.
  23. Self-criticism: Healthcare providers may be self-critical, which can contribute to mental health challenges.
  24. Sleep disturbances: Healthcare providers may have irregular sleep schedules and experience sleep disturbances due to job demands.
  25. Medical errors and malpractice: Medical errors and malpractice can cause significant stress and contribute to mental health challenges for healthcare providers.
6 Tips To Help Nurses Stay Focused and Calm During Long Shifts

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Nursing has long been a career based on a labor of love. These skilled, tenacious individuals manage the bulk of patient care, regularly deal with emergency situations and distressed loved ones, all while maintaining a professional and caring composure – and that was before the pandemic. In this article, we provide tips to help nurses stay calm and focused.

Now it is more difficult than ever for anyone in this profession to get through those long, grueling shifts. If you are a nurse, these are 6 tips to help you stay centered and grounded even though your body and mind are exhausted and you still have hours to go.

Nourish Your Body

Creating a meal planning routine isn’t just about saving money and meeting your diet goals, it’s about fueling your body with the energy it needs to get through a long shift. Putting together an assortment of healthy, accessible snacks that you can eat quickly throughout your shift will help keep your energy levels up and your mind focused.

Nourishing your body also helps ensure you have the nutrients you need to stay healthy as a frontline worker. Hydration plays a pivotal role as well in overall hunger management and wellness, as dehydration often presents as fatigue, nausea, and brain fog.

Create a checklist of healthy snacks you need to get through each shift — as well as a small treat to nourish your soul and reward your hard work.

Create a Sleep Routine

Regular office hours aren’t a thing in the medical field, especially for frontline care workers. Many nurses work long, 12-hour shifts, including night shifts. Inconsistent scheduling and interrupted sleep patterns can make creating a sleep routine feel impossible.

While you may not be able to maintain the same sleep routine every night, there are some practical, healthy sleep tips you can implement to ensure your body gets the rest it needs. Try to maintain consistency in your routine as much as possible, even on your days off. Create a space that promotes quality rest by blocking light and using ambient noise to signal to your body that it’s time to rest.

Never underestimate the power of a restorative nap. A 20-minute power nap — especially during a shift — can give your body the reboot it needs to keep going.

Monitor Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a nurse’s greatest frenemy. On the one hand, it will give you a boost to get through those long shifts. On the other, it could further interrupt your sleep habits and create a vicious cycle. Increased caffeine intake can also impact your anxiety levels, which can be debilitating during an emergency situation.

If you have caffeine during a shift, start with one serving at the beginning of your shift, and restrict your intake to a few smaller servings throughout the rest of your shift. Stop consuming caffeine at least three hours before the end of your shift to let your body prepare for rest.

You might also consider switching from coffee to green tea, or iced green tea. Not only is green tea refreshing and caffeinated, it’s loaded with antioxidants that have many health benefits, including improving brain function and lowering your risk of heart disease.

Practice Breathing Techniques

When your body feels threatened, your adrenaline kicks in. This creates a panic response that overrides your senses and makes it difficult to focus and stay calm. Taking deep, restorative breaths slows the body down and interrupts the panic response, so you can get grounded and centered.

When you feel a sense of panic, stop and take a deep breath. Let your breath out slowly, and repeat this sequence a few times, as needed. Then, return to the task at hand. It’s also worth exploring additional techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), to help reduce anxiety after a stressful event.

Model Behaviors for Others

Mental Health Tips: How To Stay Focused And Calm

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Nurses are professionals at the “fake it until you make it” approach to staying calm. When you start to feel panicked, show the behavior you want to exude to others around you. Focus on becoming the voice of reason and model of calm to help the patients, family members and peers around you.  

This strategy is surprisingly effective during tense, emotion-driven situations and can help diffuse feelings of anxiety and stress for others. You might even remind yourself to calm down in the process as well.

Use Self-Care and Emotional Processing

Finally, make time outside of work to practice self-care and stress management. Get out in nature, connect with friends and family, and practice the hobbies and sports that bring you joy. As a nurse, you’ll often experience people at the worst times in their lives, and those experiences will stay with you. Don’t bottle them up – find a healthy outlet so you can let go and keep moving forward.

With these practical tips, you can stay calm and focused during long shifts, and you can look forward to recharging your battery during your down time.

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Mental Health for Nurses

Being a nurse can be hard on your mental health. Burnout, anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, and even secondary trauma are becoming more and more common among all healthcare workers. With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health for healthcare workers has only worsened as they grow angry, exhausted, and burnt out.

According to research, reported cases of anxiety and depression in healthcare workers was as high as 35%, but those who exhibited symptoms of both were as high as 80%! With the stigma that still follows mental health struggles, the number of healthcare providers struggling with them is likely much closer to that 80% statistic.

With these high levels of mental health disorders in healthcare workers and no end in sight of this pandemic any time soon, what can we do about it to protect ourselves and our colleagues? In this section you’ll find blogs full of tips and ways to improve and maintain your mental health so that you can love your job as a nurse again.

A Hospital to Home Ritual For Nurses

After working a long, 12 hour shift, it’s hard to leave that behind you when you walk through your front door. It’s hard but so important so that you can protect your mental health and spend time with your loved ones. If you spend a lot of time at home worrying about work or your patients, that stress comes home with you. This keeps your mind in the fight or flight mindset. Over a long period of time, this can do true damage to your nervous system, essentially trapping you in a perpetual state of stress. 

So what can we do to try and leave work at work more often? A coming home ritual is a perfect way to help you move from your work to your home without the stress that work inherently brings you. This ritual should promote the rest or digest mindset instead so that you can wind down, enjoy your evening, and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. 

So how do you create this coming home ritual? It’s different for everyone but should contain a few main components:

1. Create a clear end to the work day

This is more difficult now following COVID and more and more people working from home. However, when you do work at the hospital, creating a clear end to the day is important. I do this by taking a few deep breaths or doing a short meditation once I get to my car. Doing this at the end of every work day will train your brain to know that this signifies no more work.

2. Unplug

This is a way to prevent your mind from going straight back to work before you get home. For me, this is playing music loud on my drive home and singing along. It could also be podcasts or listening to an audiobook. Just do something that keeps your mind engaged but not stressed.

3. Reflect

I do a quick check in journaling on my phone. I have an app with a journal function but you could use your notes app just as easily. I answer the prompt: Right now I’m feeling ________. Type a few sentences out and see what comes up for you. I usually do this after my meditation session before I drive home but you can do it once you get home as well. This could also include a brain dump on those especially hard days where you have a lot on your mind and need to get it out.

4. Relax

This is the final stage of your routine. I take a few minutes when I get home to wash my face and put on comfy clothes and sometimes sit down for a few minutes with my husband to catch up. I usually workout after work too so this includes my yoga practice too, but it can be anything that works for you and gets you ready for a relaxing evening. 

Play with your activities and see what works best for you so you can shift into the rest or digest mindset and enjoy your evening off.

A Short and Simple Morning Routine for Nurses

Getting up for 7 am shifts has always been very difficult for me. I would always wake up late, roll out bed, throw on my scrubs, put my hair up into a messy bun, and run out the door. No breakfast, no time to myself or anything.

Then I discovered morning routines and started to implement them slowly into my life. Soon, it became another stressor with so much to do in the morning and never having time for it without waking up at 4 am. So once again, I had to take a step back and reevaluate my routine so that it could work every day, including my work days. 

Below, I laid out an example of a routine you can do and fit in before your shift (note this assumes that you live within a half hour of your workplace, and you may need to adjust accordingly based on your drive time!) 

5:30 am: wakeup, turn on my first timer (set this in advance and start with your morning routine written out somewhere you’ll see it with the times next to it like this is laid out) 

5:30- 5:40 am: Slow stretches while listening to something you enjoy! For me, I love listening to affirmations, either recorded by myself or others, and motivational morning podcasts. But others may like some relaxing music, the news on TV, or just silence! Find what works for you and do whatever stretching your body needs first thing in the morning 

5:40- 5:45 am: Make breakfast. Do as much prep for this as possible the night before so it’s easy to set up! 

5:45- 6:00 am: Eat, drink coffee, and enjoy while writing in your journal. I think a journaling practice is one of the most helpful ways to help you with things like burnout and stress but also help you start your day with motivation! (See my post about morning and evening journaling practices!) 

6:00- 6:10 am: Meditate. You can use an app or find meditations on youtube or even sit in complete silence! But use this time to watch your mind and notice what thoughts and feelings come up. 

6:10- 6:30 am: Get ready for work. This could involve taking a shower or not depending on what you prefer. Keep listening to music or podcasts while you do this! 

6:30 am: Leave for work feeling energized and refreshed!