Nursing Burnout: Why it Happens & What to Do About It

As a working parent, nobody has to tell you what stress feels like. You’ve juggled school with raising your family and work and managed to make it through just fine. But what if all that stress evolves into something bigger? A phenomenon in the healthcare community – nursing burnout – has become just that.

Everybody gets stressed out sometimes, but intense stress experienced on a regular basis over a longer period of time can become burnout, which is characterized by emotional exhaustion and disengagement. Many nurses and nursing students can experience this feeling of burnout because of the rigor and intensity of their work or program. While nursing burnout may be a reality for some, it doesn’t have to define your career.

Numerous studies can be found dealing with this issue, but we compiled all of the information in one place so you can educate yourself. Learn how nursing burnout is affecting the healthcare community and how you can avoid it.

What exactly is nursing burnout?

Burnout is categorized as physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, according to National Nurses United. While stress is characterized by over-engagement, burnout is characterized by disengagement. Burnout can lead to dulled emotions and detachment. It strongly affects the emotions and undermines motivation, leaving a sense of hopelessness. For those experiencing burnout, every day is a bad day, according to Help Guide.

Burnout not only affects the wellbeing of nurses but also the care patients receive. Hospitals with high burnout rates tend to have lower patient satisfaction, according to the National Institute of Health. Nursing burnout has also been linked to an increased likelihood of infections in patients, as found by a study from the American Journal of Infection Control.

Why do nurses burnout?

There are several factors that can contribute to nursing burnout. Most cases develop as a result of a combination of causes. Here are a few of the biggest culprits:

1. Long shifts

Many nurses cite their long hours as a main source of fatigue. Nurses are in demand and hours are nothing short of plentiful. A nurse may find themselves putting in overtime or being called in when staffing is short. They may also have difficulty leaving on time when their shift is over.

Sometimes nurses opt for longer work days, choosing to work three days a week for 12-hour shifts. While many nurses enjoy the flexibility of 12-hour shifts, these longer hours can result in greater fatigue and an increased chance of error, according to the National Institute of Health.

2. Putting others first

Nurses are notoriously selfless. Many feel it is their calling to care for others, but oftentimes overlook caring for themselves. However, nurses driven by a desire to care for others were actually found to be more vulnerable to nursing burnout, according to research by the American Sociological Association.

When put in a routine of caring for patients, raising a family and working long, hectic hours, nurses can sometimes neglect addressing their own needs for wellbeing. Over time, this can become a major cause of nursing burnout.

3. Busy, high-stress environments

Nurses have a lot on their plates. To add to that, nursing responsibilities have increased over the past 15 years due to advancements in technology and documentation, according to National Nurses United. The extensive workload has the potential to cause nurses to feel overwhelmed and at a loss of control. Short-staffing in hospital settings makes for busier, more hectic days for nurses. Exposure to this stress over time leads to nursing burnout.

4. Dealing with sickness & death

Much of the emotional aspect of nursing burnout can result from daily exposure to ill patients. It’s easy for nurses to grow attached to patients, but part of the nursing reality is that some of these patients don’t make it. Emotional baggage and grief can creep in on your personal life, especially when nurses are faced with consistent loss and given little time to decompress, says the Washington Post.

How can you avoid nursing burnout?

Nursing burnout may affect some in the community but it doesn’t have to be your fate. Being proactive about your wellbeing can help ward off any emotional exhaustion and keep you at your best. Here are some strategies to maintain your zest for nursing:

1. Set boundaries

Knowing how to say no is an essential skill for safeguarding your wellbeing and evading nursing burnout. Set boundaries on your commitments both in and out of the workplace to avoid overextending yourself.

2. Process your emotions

Find a good listener to vent to or confide in after a tough day. Or, after a particularly taxing shift, debrief to someone so you can leave your emotional baggage at work instead of bringing it home at the end of the day. For tougher stuff, consider talking it out with a therapist or loved one, suggests Nurse Together.

3. Put yourself first

Devote a certain amount of time every day to focus on yourself. Prioritize your mental health and schedule intentional time to relax and unwind. Do something just for the sake of enjoyment. And make sure you’re getting enough sleep – a common factor contributing to burnout, according to Help Guide.

4. Manage your stress

Addressing your stress rather than ignoring it can help combat nursing burnout. Be deliberate in your actions, whether that’s through exercise, healthy eating or meditating. Control your outlook through positive, intentional thought, recommends the American Holistic Nurse Association.

5. Find solace in creativity

Pick up an old hobby or try your hand at something new. Be it painting, writing or trying out a new recipe, keeping your hands busy can help you reflect and sort out your emotions. Some hospitals are already implementing creative arts to boost staff morale and fight off nursing burnout.

Protect your passion

Nursing burnout can occur anytime—whether you’re burning the candle at both ends as a student or working your way up the ranks as an RN. Don’t accept this problem as your destiny because there are preventative measures you can put in place. Utilize these strategies to preserve your passion for nursing and maintain your wellbeing as you begin your career.

If you think you have what it takes for nursing, learn more about the RN and BSN degree options at Rasmussen College to get your career started.

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen College to support its educational programs. Rasmussen College may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit for a list of programs offered. External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.

Kristina is a Content Marketing Specialist at Collegis Education who researches and writes content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She hopes her content helps enlighten and engage students through all stages of their education journeys.

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