How to avoid burnout in nursing

Published by Jessica Suito
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The rise in stress and the various causes of exhaustion have been much discussed in recent years. As a result, tips for preventing burnout in nursing are becoming more valuable. Undoubtedly, the current situation has shown that as stress increases, burnout increases, too, so it is necessary to find the most effective advice to treat it. In this article, we want to provide you with information about what burnout is and the factors that favor it since some everyday situations can lead you to suffer from it. And above all, tips for burnout in nurses with which you will be able to take care of emotions that are altered to the point of exceeding the effectiveness of your natural mechanisms of adaptation to stress.

What is the Burnout Syndrome?

Burnout syndrome, or also known as professional burnout syndrome, emotional overload, burnout or fatigue at work, was declared in 2000 by the World Health Organization as an occupational risk factor, due to its ability to affect quality and was categorized as a disease in January 2022.

The most accepted definition for burnout is that provided in 1986 by the psychologists Cristina Maslach and S. Jackson, who described it as an inadequate way of coping with chronic work stress. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional reactions that occur when the demands of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker.

Hans Selye: father of the concept of stress

Hans Selye, founder of the Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery at McGill University in Montreal, was the creator of the stress theory. In 1936, he was able to show that different noxious influences induce the same “nonspecific” response in the body (ulceration of the stomach and colon, atrophy of immune system tissue, and increased adrenal mass) and he called it “stress.”

Stress is the way in which the body responds to any demand that is made of it, regardless of the nature of the stimulus, with identical biochemical changes, destined to face an additional demand imposed. This happens to maintain a state of balance or homeostasis, but when stress is prolonged, undesirable psychological and physiological manifestations can be caused.

Hans Selye called the “general adaptation syndrome” to the stress response model he had discovered, and he has also detailed three specific phases:

  • The alarm: it is the time of preparation, with mobilization of resources to face stress, everything under control.
  • The resistance: resources are used, and normal resistance is exceeded.
  • The depletion: different somatic problems appear and burnout occurs.

If the magnitude of the stressful event does not exceed the normal response capacity, the organism will not suffer consequences.

However, if you can’t cope with the amount of stress you have to manage, the adaptive system becomes exhausted and consequences such as irritability, insomnia, headache, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and escalate.

How does burnout increase in nurses?

Burnout is considered when there is emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal fulfillment, accompanied by physical and behavioral disorders, and interpersonal relationship problems. Stress symptoms can range from mild to extreme.

  • Mild: there is mild muscle discomfort, mood and mood disturbance, lower performance, anxiety, ulcers, or minor pain. The person is not very operative, and has difficulty getting up in the morning, or pathological fatigue during the day.
  • Moderate: there is insomnia, attention and concentration deficit, more self-medication, estrangement, irritability, apathy, loss of idealism, depression, hypertension, appetite changes, and abandonment of healthy behaviors. The individual is emotionally exhausted and has feelings of frustration, incompetence, guilt and negative self-appraisal.
  • Serious: increased work absenteeism with aversion to the task, frustration, adjustment problems and conflicts, abuse of toxic substances, pain becomes chronic, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, dermatological diseases.
  • Extreme: Sustained exposure to stressors can lead to isolation, existential crises, psychosis with anxiety and/or depression, and the impression that life is not worth living, with frank thoughts of suicide.

Tips for burnout in nursing

To combat stress, you must first know what type of stress you are facing:

  • Nutritional

Choose foods with few stressful substances for the body, avoid as much as possible those with high glycemic indexes, which are more difficult to metabolize.

  • Emotional

Avoid continuous contact with bad news because it negatively impacts your immune system, altering the function of the thymus organ, responsible for generating your defenses. Have someone close to you with whom you can express what you really feel, this is not the time to act strong, or to think “I’m not saying this so I  don’t bother you”. You need to be authentic with your emotions, and give them a proper outlet, to prevent them from coming out in an inappropriate way. Listen to those who handle the situation better than you. Their strategies can work for you. Do not believe the most affected, or that theirs has no solution, because that is not true. It is your mind that makes you think so.

  • Watch your sleep and your digestions

If you start to feel more tired, your adrenal glands, responsible for producing the cortisol that keeps you active, may be altered. It’s time to give yourself priority without excuses, and regulate your sleep routine. When you don’t rest well, you wake up tired, your ability to concentrate decreases, you get more confused, your results are worse, and you generate another stress factor.

Give your body time to repair itself. See if your digestion is worse, if you notice increased acidity, reflux or other gastric disorders, you may have ulcers, consequences of severe stress causing increased acidity in your body. Given this, drink water with sodium bicarbonate 1 glass of water with 1ch of sodium bicarbonate, 2 times a day, to alkalinize the body. The acidity starts to go down, and with the sodium you have more energy. If you take baking soda, include magnesium and potassium in your diet, with green juices, to balance the extra sodium intake and avoid problems with blood pressure.

  • Mental

Watch your thoughts. The way you interpret the facts can be very destructive. To do this, keep track of yourself, writing in a notebook what you think throughout the day. Watch if irrational or exaggerated thoughts are repeated a lot, with which you anticipate a bleak future, or with which you fear reliving things from the past. If it happens to you, try to identify the negative interpretation you make, and strive to make an interpretation of the facts that favors you more.

  • Love and calm

Surround yourself with people with whom you can exchange active positive reinforcement messages, who connect you to an attitude of overcoming. Learn to take conscious, deep breaths. This favors calm, increases oxygen in the blood, and also the energy of the body. Repeat the breaths for a while until you start yawning, and that is the time the nervous system that repairs is activated, and the alarm trigger is deactivated. Sunbathe, because vitamin D also calms the nervous system.


Educate yourself emotionally and nutritionally so that your immune system is activated and strong. Acquire the healthiest habits, help your body not to get sick, reduce the consumption of medications and other toxic substances.Take care of sleeping to increase your energy and desire to do things that you enjoy, such as exercise, or other hobbies and interests outside of work time that allow the mind to disconnect. Apply the skills that have helped you handle difficult situations and overcome barriers and fears before to implement all the changes you need to include in your habits.

Disclaimer: These are the views and opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect Nexus University’s official policy. Sources cited were accurate at the time of publication.

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