5 tips for alleviating the stress that comes with nursing

Susanna Kahr

As anyone who works in nursing will tell you, this isn’t a job for the faint hearted. Nursing is tough. Whether you’re dealing with a sick patient who might not survive the night, managing the expectations of patients, doctors or other nurses, or running around for hours at a time with no time to stop to eat or have a coffee break, nursing can really take its toll on your mental wellbeing. Here’s everything you need to know about managing the stress of the job and avoiding nursing burnout. 

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” meaning that it now sees burnout as a direct result of a badly managed workplace. Burnout is more than just feeling stressed, it is the point where you feel physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted leaving you detached from the situation and lacking motivation. It’s a big problem that is affecting a lot of people in all kinds of jobs, throughout the world, but nurses and healthcare professionals are particularly at risk. 

As a nurse, the feelings associated with burnout are not only detrimental to you, as a human being, but they also massively impede you from being able to do your job properly. In fact, studies show that there is a link between nursing burnout and an increased likelihood of infections in patients. And, it’s been found that hospitals with high burnout rates tend to have lower patient satisfaction. This all means that looking after your mental wellbeing is incredibly important. Here are 5 tips for looking after yourself. 

Get savvy about the causes of nursing burnout

Burnout doesn’t only affect nurses, but there are a number of reasons why you as a nurse might be more susceptible to burnout.

Firstly, as you know already, nurses usually work really long shifts, which can leave you feeling completely exhausted and fatigued. Add in overtime and it’s easy to see why nurses feel overworked and stressed out.

Secondly, as a nurse, you’re expected to put everyone else first, leaving you very little time to think about your own needs and leaving you feeling depleted.

Thirdly, nurses work in some of the busiest, most highly stressful environments. Not many people would be able to manage working in the ER, Intensive Care or Pediatric wards, but you do it, day in day out. Give yourself some credit!

Finally, another big aspect of nursing that others will never have to deal with, is the fact that you have to work with dying or seriously ill patients every day. Every decision you make has the potential to seriously impact your patient’s survival or recovery, and so when patients die, it can be difficult to process and these emotions can really wear you down over time.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with these factors and learn to recognize burnout in yourself and others so that you can communicate with your manager and team effectively.

Put yourself first

Given that we just mentioned that not putting yourself first is a big factor causing nursing burnout, a really important step is to actually start prioritizing your needs. An easy way to do this is to think about doing one thing for yourself every day, whether that be picking up your favorite coffee on the way to work, going to the gym or your favorite exercise class, or planning something nice to do with friends or family. Try to think about what you need and plan something nice for you to look forward to. And, if you want to take this really seriously then try to factor in some ‘me time,’ every now and again or take yourself on a date. Run a hot bath, book a massage, buy a new book, whatever you need to do, make sure it’s done with the purpose of looking after yourself. 

“Working here I’ve learned a lot, not just about the busy but myself. I have definitely become more confident in myself.” – anonymous employer review at Michigan Neuroscience Clinic

Learn how to manage your stress and emotions

A big part of alleviating the stress is making sure that it doesn’t have a chance to build up. You need to actively recognize when you’re feeling stressed out and make sure to communicate with your manager or team. Find a good listener and vent to them about the cause of your stress. Or, if you find it easier, you could start journaling and writing down and tracking your emotions. 

“My supervisor will take time to sit and listen to my opinions and concerns.” – anonymous employer review at Lincoln Orthopedic Center

Learn how to breathe

This is a really helpful skill to learn and will help you to get through many challenging situations. Learning how to breathe properly regulates the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the nervous system and can actually strengthen your nervous system. You can get started by dedicating 5 minutes a day to focussing on your breathing and learning everything you need to know about diaphragmatic breathing. And, if you think it’s something your whole team or department could benefit from, why not suggest that your manager or employer organize a course for you all? 

“It is easy and not too busy that you have moments at work to breathe. I enjoy helping people.” – anonymous employer review at Miracle Ear

Bring some mindfulness into your life

Mindfulness is not just a trend, there are lots of aspects of mindfulness that can really help you to manage the stress of working in healthcare. One way to do this is to try to remain CALM – Consciously Aware Living in the Moment which you can practice with meditation training. Another way to bring mindfulness into your daily life is by practicing mindful eating and make mealtimes a time for reflection, savoring every bite and enjoying the act of nourishing yourself.

“I feel the environment is improving. People are just more mindful of their coworkers and patients and trying to make it a more positive environment.” – anonymous employer review at Southwest Healthcare Services

If you’ve enjoyed this article and want some more tips for boosting your mental health, check out this article too. 



The new WHO ruling means that employers have to recognize and help their employees to manage stress levels at work. What’s your experience been like with your employer? Are they proactive and helpful or could they do more to help you all to reduce the risk of burnout? Let us know in a review on kununu, and help us to help other healthcare professionals find the right job for them. 


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