Mental Health Awareness for Nurses: How to Spot and Prevent Burnout

By Sarah Knight, ShiftMed Content Manager//Nurse How-Tos, Nurse Self-Care, Nursing Profession, Holidays and Celebrations
Instead of falling prey to job burnout, Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time to find ways to reignite your passion for the nursing profession.

Nurses can achieve a level of job satisfaction that most professionals will never understand. You get to make a difference in the lives of others every day. But if you're like many nurses, the increased work hours and patient loads created by the staffing shortage are taking a toll on your well-being.

According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout is not a medical diagnosis but a type of work-related stress that can affect physical and mental health. Some of the most common causes of burnout include a lack of control, long work hours, emotional strain, and an absence of social support.

Nursing has long been deemed a psychologically demanding profession that can contribute to poor mental health, ranging from anxiety to depression to compassion fatigue—with the nursing shortage further compounding these issues.

From a physical perspective, a 15-year study of 12,000 nurses performed by Danish researchers found that nurses struggling with excessive work pressures had double the risk for heart attacks.

5 Signs of Burnout

Nursing is a stressful occupation in and of itself. So, how can you tell if you're dealing with normal job stress or heading into burnout territory? The Well-Being Index says if you're currently experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may need to make some life changes.

  1. You feel exhausted all the time.

  2. You dread putting on scrubs and going to work.

  3. You feel detached from or are insensitive to your patients (compassion fatigue).

  4. You feel anxious and overwhelmed by small changes.

  5. You get sick more often or have unexplained pain.

5 Ways to Prevent Burnout

While understaffing and unsustainable patient loads at work are out of your control, there are things you can do to take charge of your mental health and calm work-related stress.

1. Make work-life balance a priority.

Tell yourself it's okay to ask for help and delegate tasks to others at work and home. While easier said than done, make a conscious effort to "leave work at work" when you punch out. Try practicing mindfulness if necessary. It also helps to limit your time spent with negative individuals who leave you feeling emotionally drained.

2. Make self-care a habit.

Self-care is essential to your well-being and should be a habit, not a luxury activity you do now and then. Sure, massages, facials, and yoga classes are all great self-care activities, but they're not something that nurses can typically afford or have the time for on a weekly basis.

Self-care needs to become second nature—like brushing your teeth every morning. In other words, find ways to eat healthier, get more sleep, and exercise more often. Daily meditation can also do wonders for your well-being.

You might also consider joining Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation, a program that helps nurses improve their health in six areas: mental health, physical activity, nutrition, rest, quality of life, and safety.

3. Manage stress triggers.

Think about your stress triggers at home and work and identify ways to minimize their impact. If you're unsure of what triggers you, keep a journal and take notes when you feel overwhelmed or on edge. And there's no shame in contacting a mental health professional for help with these triggers.

4. Practice positive self-talk.

It's so much easier to focus on the negative when we're stressed. While it's not always easy to shift your mindset, consciously focus on the positive. Think about why you wanted to become a nurse in the first place and the times you changed a patient's life for the better.

5. Find new nursing opportunities.

If your place of employment tops your list of stress triggers, it's time to find a new opportunity before you lose your passion for the profession. Don't let your employer squash your love of nursing. You owe it to yourself and those in your care to continue your calling.

Keep Doing What You Love (but with less stress)

When the stress of being a nurse starts to weigh you down, reconnect with your calling instead of unplugging from the profession. ShiftMed can help.

For starters, our nursing jobs app puts you in complete control of your work schedule. You can easily access hundreds of open shifts at healthcare facilities in your community. And with no shift minimums, you can work eight hours this week and 40 the next. Even better is that when you're a ShiftMed nurse working weekends and holidays is no longer mandatory.

We also value your hard work and want you to thrive in life. That's why we offer all of our nurses (CNAs, GNAs, STNAs, LVNs, LPNs, and RNs) a comprehensive suite of benefits, from Instant Pay to affordable healthcare coverage.

Sound too good to be true? It's not. Download the ShiftMed App and start doing the work you love when and where you want!