Nursing Burnout: How to Replace Frustration with Optimism


Working as a nurse can be stressful. You’re exposed to a variety of emotions, often at a pivotal point in a person’s life. Those emotions can range from joy and happiness to anger and fear. Add a pandemic and a nursing shortage to the mix, and it’s no wonder that burnout rates are soaring.

According to a recent study from, 80% of the nurses surveyed said their units were understaffed, and 62% reported that they were sadder and more depressed than they were before the pandemic, both of which can lead to nursing burnout.

What is Nursing Burnout

Nursing burnout is often confused with compassion fatigue. While the two share similarities, they are different.

Webster’s defines burnout as the “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” For a nurse, this exhaustion comes from a variety of circumstances including working long hours, limited time with patients, anxious family members, an unsafe environment and ever-changing processes.

Burnout can lead to compassion fatigue, which is the inability to empathize or feel compassion for others.

Both these conditions can push nurses to operate on autopilot.

Getting off Autopilot

If you’re experiencing nursing burnout, it’s easy to go on autopilot. Instead of just going through the motions, be in the moment with each of your patients:

  • Before you enter a patient’s room, scan your body for sensations; perhaps your jaw is clenched or your shoulders are tense
  • Notice any sense of feeling rushed or anxious, and acknowledge these feelings without trying to get rid of them
  • Take a few deep breaths, exhaling your tension
  • Set the intention to be fully present with your patient as you prepare to meet them
  • Knock on the door and establish eye contact as you enter the patient’s room
  • Introduce yourself warmly and make a connection
  • Chat together for a moment or two before moving on to the assessment or placing your fingers on the computer keyboard
  • Whenever you notice your attention has wandered, gently bring it back to your patient and the task at hand

Building a Positive Work Environment

In healthcare, we often have an outdated mindset in that our work environment is set and defined. No matter how inefficient it might be, we have to work in it. This is not the case.

The No. 1 reason nurses leave their jobs is their work environment. In order to improve the work environment at your hospital, nurses need to know their opinions matter. Differing opinions should not only be heard, but also valued.

When nurses feel heard, they are more likely to come to leadership with problems, as well as solutions, creating a better work environment and culture for all.

Practicing Gratitude

A Duke University study had healthcare workers write a gratitude letter listing three good things from their day over a two-week period. This resulted in a 22% decrease in burnout that was sustained one year later. Participants also experienced a 40% drop in depression, fewer delays, better work-life balance and less conflict with colleagues.

Practicing gratitude can go a long way in preventing nursing burnout. Some ways you can do this in your nursing unit include:

  • Asking each person to say something they felt grateful for during routine huddles
  • Starting a gratitude board where both colleagues and patients and their families can leave positive notes
  • Encourage unsolicited thank-yous
  • Pass around a sheet at the end of each shift on which staff can write down something that went well that day

The content of this site is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions or treatments.