Nurse Burnout During the Covid Pandemic

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You finish with your 12-hour shift at the hospital. You’re physically and emotionally exhausted. There were too many patients and not enough staff again.

As you pull into your driveway, you realize you’re dreading your next shift. You don’t want to eat and find yourself getting irritated at the smallest things.

“What is happening?” you ask yourself. There’s a name for it, and it’s more common than you think: nurse burnout. Studies show nurse burnout is prevalent in the medical community. 

Keep reading to find out more about nurse burnout and what can be done to help.

What Is Nurse Burnout?

Nurse burnout results when a nurse experiences negative symptoms directly related to their work.

Identifying nurse burnout is an important step in combating it. Nurse burnout symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Emotional detachment
  • Irritability
  • Lack of productivity
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling Hopeless
  • Apathy
  • Pessimism
  • Loss of enjoyment 

Recognizing symptoms of nurse burnout helps nurses and employers realize when changes need to be made. 

Here’s a closer look at what causes nurse burnout and what to do about it.

Why Does Nurse Burnout Happen?

The burnout phenomenon isn’t specific to the nursing profession. However, nurses are at a higher risk than any other healthcare occupation for burnout. 

Read on to find the most common nurse burnout causes.

1. Working Too Many Consecutive Hours

Nurses who work 10 or more hours are 2.5 times more likely to experience burnout than those working shifts of nine or fewer hours. 

The demand for healthcare jobs is on a steady incline as the baby boomer generation continues to age. Add the COVID-19 pandemic to a nursing profession that was already stretched thin. The result is hospitals asking nurses to work longer hours and more frequent shifts. 

Longer hours worked leaves less time in the day (or night) to take care of family members, errands, and sleep. Nurses working more shifts may not have enough time to process or decompress between working hours. This can lead to emotional exhaustion, the main contributor to nurse burnout.

2. Sleep Deprivation

Nurses working during the COVID-19 pandemic have heightened levels of stress. Working under a constant state of crisis increases stress levels while on and off the job. 

Out of 33,062 healthcare workers studied, 38.9% reported experiencing insomnia related to COVID-19 stress. Insomnia often causes increased irritability and stress. This could also lead to emotional and physical exhaustion, which contribute to nurse burnout.

3. Patient Load 

Hospitals across the world were experiencing nursing shortages before the COVID-19 pandemic. Once hospitals started to reach capacity, nurses were expected to care for more patients during their shifts. Sixty percent of nurses report a high patient load as a reason for their fatigue.

Increased patient to nurse ratios have several negative effects on patients and nurses. These include:

  • Less attention to each individual patient
  • Decreased emotional capacity to support patients’ families
  • Increased patient mortality rates
  • Increased patient infections/lower quality of care
  • Nurse detachment/depersonalization
  • Increased stress on nurses

Staffing issues should be addressed by management. It’s also important for nurses and nurse managers to respectfully communicate the effects of staffing shortages.

4. Lack of Support

Before COVID-19, many nurses felt as though they didn’t have support in their jobs. This was exacerbated by COVID-19. 

With PPE in short supply, nurses often felt as though they were being asked to make do in unsafe conditions. 

A lack of support in one’s job leads to low morale. Continued high-stress situations paired with lack of support is another reason nurses are experiencing burnout.

How to Manage and Mitigate It

There are several ways nurses, employers, and nurse managers can combat nurse burnout. Managers and hospital administrators should be on the lookout for signs of nurse burnout. By doing so, they can help engage solutions to mitigate nurse burnout risk.

1. Promote Self Care

Sometimes, nothing can be done about the number of patients or the amount of PPE. However, employers can promote a culture of self-care.

Having social workers and mental health professionals on-site for nurses before, during, or after their shifts is a great idea. Many nurses don’t have time to book an appointment with a counselor or psychologist. Encouraging the use of mental health professionals on-site will allow nurses to utilize their services during the workday.

On-site support also sends a message that management cares for nursing staff. This will help nurses feel more supported and less isolated. 

Offering chair massage, yoga classes, and meditation rooms can help nursing staff de-stress. On-site services let the nursing staff know their wellbeing matters. This increases overall morale and decreases isolation and detachment.  

2. Involve Nurses in Decisions

Give your frontline nurses a seat at the table. Allowing nurses to have a voice in decision-making meetings, surveys, and even hospital design is a great way to mitigate nurse burnout. 

Nurses see patients more than any other health care professional. Why not utilize their experience when making decisions about treatment and schedules?

Involving nurses in decision-making processes will also help keep them engaged. This will decrease detachment tendencies and increase teambuilding practices.

3. Check-In Regularly

When nurses feel heard, they feel supported. Taking inventory of nurse job satisfaction can be a great way to identify potential problems and increase good practices. 

Asking nurses what the average patient to nurse ratio is will help hospital administration a better idea of hiring needs as well. 

A nursing staff that feels heard will be more likely to promote respectful communication. Checking in with nurses will also increase engagement and decrease feelings of isolation.

Where to Find Help

Are you experiencing nurse burnout? Here are some things you can do to help yourself.

1. Healthy Coping Methods

When your brain just can’t turn off, coping with your emotions and thoughts is a healthy way to deal with them. Journaling can engage your brain and help you counteract negative thoughts.

Deep breathing is also a great way to cope with stress. Deep breathing has been proven to increase lung function and lower blood pressure.

Learning how to cope with stress in a healthy way prevents destructive coping behaviors. If you think you’re already in a pattern of unhealthy coping mechanisms, it’s important to seek a professional’s help in reversing them.

2. Talk to Someone You Trust

Keeping open and honest lines of communication decreases feelings of isolation. Reaching out to a friend, colleague, or professional is vital to creating the support you need.

Nurses carry many patient and family burdens throughout their days. Speaking with a supportive person you trust will help you process and mitigate stress leading to nurse burnout.

Many find group therapy to be a helpful option as well. Group therapy can instill hope and help vent stress in a safe space.

3. Keep Other Relationships Strong

Making sure you have outside relationships is crucial to your mental health. While work support is important, strong non-work relationships help keep your work from becoming your entire life.

Connecting with others through mutual hobbies, book clubs, or trips is a great way to find community.

4. Set Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are a must with any functional relationship. The relationship with your job is no different.

Sometimes, saying “no” to that extra shift is worth the rest your mind and body need.  

Avoiding Nurse Burnout

If you find yourself on the brink of nurse burnout, reach out to someone who can help you. Once you’ve recognized symptoms, you’ve got a great start!

Speaking with a professional and connecting with others are great ways to kick isolation. Taking care of yourself through breathing, journaling, and exercise helps keep your mind healthy as well.

Let us partner with you on your mental health journey. Give us a call or visit us online

Without nurses, healthcare simply wouldn’t happen. If you are a nurse or love a nurse, find ways to help support one another in avoiding nurse burnout.