9 Ways to Address Nursing Burnout

Get tips and resources to help overcome your emotional exhaustion.

Medically reviewed in March 2022

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If you get a pit in your stomach before your shift starts and you’d rather pull the covers over your head than pull on your scrubs, you’re not alone. According to a survey conducted in February 2022 by staffing firm Incredible Health, 34 percent of nurses surveyed said it was likely they would leave their jobs by the end of the year, with 44 percent indicating that burnout was to blame.

In addition to low job satisfaction, burnout can lead to:

  • Poor patient outcomes
  • Low patient satisfaction scores
  • Work injuries
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Compassion fatigue

Here are nine ways to address burnout and find joy in your work once again.

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What is burnout?

Burnout is a type of stress syndrome. Its causes vary from person to person, but feeling emotionally exhausted is one common feature. Emotional exhaustion may make it difficult to empathize with your patients. It also can cause:

  • A lack of motivation
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Frequently calling out sick
  • Stomach pains or body aches
  • Difficulty sleeping

To address burnout, it’s essential to take care of yourself with the same energy and dedication that you show toward others.

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Face moral distress

Moral distress is one leading cause of nursing burnout. It can happen if your personal or professional values are at odds with the practices at your workplace. For example, you may disagree with another healthcare provider’s orders for ethical reasons.

Here are some ways to face moral distress head-on:

  • Order an ethics consult. These meetings bring together different disciplines to carefully consider options and help the team choose a responsible care plan. Some hospitals will allow you to order one anonymously if you’d like.
  • Be vocal. Speak up during rounds—it will empower you and benefit your patients.
a male and female nurse lift an elderly man out of a wheelchair
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Avoid unnecessary physical stress

There is no completely safe way to manually lift or transfer patients. Manual patient handling can cause micro-injuries to the spine, which can take their toll over time. In fact, musculoskeletal pain and injuries are a major reason why nurses leave the profession permanently.

Safe Patient Handling and Mobility (SPHM) programs and the use of SPHM technology are the key to protecting you and your patients from injuries. If your work place doesn’t have a program, bring it up at your next unit discussion or meeting. Visit the American Nurses Association's pages on Safe Patient Handling and Mobility for more information. 

a tired male nurse sits and collects his thoughts in front of a large window
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Don’t bury your feelings

Nurses who regularly hide their true feelings at work have higher rates of burnout, according to a study published in 2007 in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing that surveyed over 800 bedside nurses.

It’s okay to express frustration at work. It’s even okay to cry—just hand off your pager or tell the charge nurse when you step away. Lean on your teammates for support and be there for them, too. You may be exhausted after work, but take a minute to chat in the break room or check on the nurse who’s still charting. You never know when a fellow superhero needs a shoulder to cry on.

If necessary, join a support group or consider counseling.

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Take time to grieve

As a nurse, you will share patients’ most intimate and joyous moments, and you’ll comfort their families during times of unimaginable loss. But while loved ones may take years to mourn a death, you grieve a patient’s death during and between shifts while readying yourself for the traumas ahead.

Acknowledging your feelings can help you grieve and heal:

  • Talk to a counselor or confide in other nurses through a support group.
  • Reach out to pastoral care. Most hospitals typically offer multiple-faith or non-religious spiritual support. A chaplain or other faith leader can pray with you if you’d like or just listen as you talk about your feelings of loss.
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Work smarter

You work hard, but it pays to work smart, too:

  • Keep a to-do list every day. You can’t do everything at once, but you can cross off one task at a time. Writing down patient requests and new orders as they come in can help you prioritize and stay calm.
  • Group your tasks together. If you know a patient needs a blood draw or wound care, bring the supplies along with you during med pass. Doing as much as possible on your first trip will save time and keep your shift organized.
  • Plan out your med passes. Take a minute to decide on the order in which you’ll see your patients. Reviewing your to-do list can help you decide which patient you need to visit first.
  • Delegate when you can. Take advantage of help from colleagues or nursing assistants to help lighten your load.
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Take care of yourself at work

Your hectic days will seem even more overwhelming if you’re neglecting your own wellness needs:

  • Take your meal break. Some 35 percent of nurses report that they rarely or never take a break to eat.
  • When you do eat, choose healthy foods, like leafy greens or grilled chicken, in the cafeteria for natural energy to help you through the day.
  • Get away from the floor if you can—step outside for some fresh air, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
  • Try these easy exercises for nurses at work if you know you’ll be too tired to hit the gym after your shift.
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Take care of yourself outside of work

Prioritize your own mental and physical health on days off to build the energy and resilience you’ll need on the job.

  • Take time for family and friends. Strong relationships reduce stress and have been linked to a longer lifespan.
  • Avoid the temptation to stay in bed on days off. Making it to the gym and choosing healthy foods will give you the physical strength and mental stamina you need to face your upcoming shifts.
  • Consider practicing yoga, which can boost your mental health, stretch out your sore back, and strengthen your core muscles for better body mechanics at work.
  • Get enough sleep to show up for your shifts feeling refreshed.
nurses laughing together
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Build an unstoppable team

Advocating for your team can increase your sense of control, solve problems in your work area, and protect you against burnout.

  • Learn your facility’s policies and regulations and consider joining the group that creates these policies to ensure that your—and all the other unit nurses’—voices are heard. 
  • If you notice that a coworker is drowsy on the job or showing signs of burnout, don’t ask, “Do you need help?” Instead say, “Tell me how I can help.” Have them step away for a coffee break or speak with the nurse supervisor if they’re impaired.
  • Remember that burnout is highest among young nurses. When training new nurses, recognize and celebrate their accomplishments and share tips for preventing burnout. 
Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Shah MK, Gandrakota N, Cimiotti JP, Ghose N, Moore M, Ali MK. Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Nurse Burnout in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(2):e2036469.
Vahey DC, Aiken LH, Sloane DM, Clarke SP, Vargas D. Nurse burnout and patient satisfaction. Med Care. 2004;42(2 Suppl):II57-II66.
Cleveland Clinic. Consult QD. Nine Strategies for Alleviating Nurse Burnout. Oct. 10, 2016.
Austin W. What is the role of ethics consultation in the moral habitability of health care environments? AMA J Ethics. 2017;19(6):595-600.
Erickson R, Grove W. Why emotions matter: age, agitation, and burnout among registered nurses. Online J Issues Nurs. 2007;13(1).
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Safe Patient Handling: Preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders in Nursing Homes. February 2014.
Houck D. Helping nurses cope with grief and compassion fatigue: an educational intervention. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2014;18(4):454-458.
Witkoski A, Dickson VV. Hospital staff nurses’ work hours, meal periods, and rest breaks. AAOHN J. 2010;58(11):489-497.

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