Unhappy Nurse Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

Unhappy Nurse Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

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Nurses are feeling more stressed than ever before. Following the pandemic, healthcare workers have suffered declining mental health and rising rates of nurse burnout. Discontentment or job dissatisfaction can lead to an unhappy nurse and increase the risk of burnout. This blog will explain the causes, symptoms, and prevention strategies for nurse burnout.


Are More Nurses Unhappy Today?

Nurse unhappiness is nothing to take lightly. Nursing professionals administer 90 percent of the world’s health care. With the passing of the Affordable Care Act, hospital emphasis has turned to patient satisfaction, which is great, but nurses are struggling to adjust.

Researchers have suggested that the work environment and staffing levels for nurses affect both nurse burnout and job satisfaction. The following are the types of nurses (providing direct patient care) surveyed in a study and the percentage of nurses dissatisfied with their jobs:

  • Hospital – 24 percent dissatisfied
  • Nursing Homes – 27 percent dissatisfied
  • Other Settings – 13 percent dissatisfied

Nurse dissatisfaction can lead to a much more serious issue, nurse burnout. In a survey of registered nurses working in New York and Illinois from December 2019 through February 2020, more than 40% reported high burnout. One in four was dissatisfied with their job. The prevalence of burnout is higher now, in the post-pandemic era of healthcare.

Research shows that healthcare workers, particularly nurses, have experienced high levels of burnout since the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of the public health emergency, many nurses found themselves working in facilities with inadequate general healthcare resources, increased workloads, dying, quarantined patients, and having experienced verbal abuse where they dont feel safe. One study on nurses’ mental health during the pandemic highlighted these disturbing trends:  

  • 80.1% of nurses reported moderate stress
  • 43% of nurses reported moderate to severe anxiety
  • 26% of nurses reported moderate to severe depression

These alarming stats show just how much the profession has struggled in the past few years. Job stress that is not dealt with, or mismanaged, can lead to nurse burnout and more serious matters.


Nurse burnout is a state of exhaustion caused by chronic work stress that is ineffectively managed. It is a widespread phenomenon characterized by a reduction in nurses' energy and may lead to reductions in work efficacy. Nurse burnout is characterized by feeling extremely overextended and depleted of one’s emotional and physical resources in response to chronic job stressors.

The three hallmarks of nursing burnout syndrome are:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism or depersonalization
  • Low sense of personal accomplishment

The process can develop slowly. And at first, the feelings may be subtle, yet over time, stress compounds, until eventually burnout syndrome develops.

Nurse burnout can feel intense. It is a personal experience and a social problem, caused by the workplace.


According to the World Health Organization, healthcare workers face unique challenges in the workplace that contribute to high stress. Some of these nursing-related stressors include:

These factors can trigger or cause nurse burnout over time if they aren’t managed effectively.

In addition to the nurse’s work life, factors in their personal life, such as lifestyle, habits, and choices may also be causes or triggers. For example, inadequate sleep can make a nurse more prone to burnout. Likewise, nursing professionals who do not have a strong support system may find it harder to manage job stress and may succumb to it more easily.

Some research suggests that working more than 40 hours per week and working longer shifts are strongly correlated to increased reports of burnout. Many nurses have experienced verbal abuse from patients and dont feel safe anymore at work. All of these factors can lead to nurse burnout and unhappy nurses.


When you know the symptoms of nurse burnout, you can better identify problems and act early to address the causes before it escalates. Common symptoms associated with nurse burnout include:

  • Malaise and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing at work
  • Feelings of dread or anxiety about going to work
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Change in appetite, eating more or less than normal
  • Disinterest in helping others
  • Frequent self-doubt
  • Detachment
  • Headaches and muscle pains
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Physical aggression

Each nurse’s personality characteristics, coping skills, and support systems will affect how nurse burnout is expressed. In other words, overwhelming exhaustion will look and feel different from one nurse to the next.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is heading down the spiral of burnout, face the issue head-on with gentleness, compassion, and respect. IIf left unchecked, unhappy nurses will only grow wearier and may face dire consequences in their nursing careers.

Eventually, they can suffer from serious mental, physical, or professional effects.


Nurse burnout results in adverse consequences both for individuals who suffer, and the organizations in which they work.

Psychologically, burnout affects cognitive and emotional function. Studies have shown that burnout is associated with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, increased alcohol and tobacco use, and irritability.

Physical consequences of stress and exhaustion affect all of the body’s systems. Research demonstrates that workers who are burned out are more likely to suffer musculoskeletal pain, gastrointestinal upset, cardiovascular disorders, headaches, increased vulnerability to infections, and insomnia.

Within health care facilities, nurses who are burned out influence the rest of the organization, causing a ripple effect that leads to a bad work environment. Perils of nurse burnout within a facility can include:

  • Absenteeism
  • High staff turnover
  • Reduced patient satisfaction
  • Increased medical errors

Ultimately, everyone suffers when nurses become run down and worn out.


Fortunately, these problems are preventable. To prevent nurse burnout, individuals and organizations can assess their well-being and take action to reduce stress and improve job satisfaction.

How can we improve nurse satisfaction? We can start by addressing the nation’s nursing shortage. Remedies like international staffing and travel nursing are both safe recourse for the chief healthcare executive of the hospital to consider to fill clinical nursing jobs. According to a recent USA Today article, travel nursing demand has reached a 20-year high.

Providing better benefits is also a good way to improve nurse satisfaction. Benefit packages will vary by the hospital system, but international and travel nurses can secure incentives for themselves based on which agency they choose. Health Carousel Travel Nursing offers exceptional benefits.

When you are on the job, eating the foods that boost your energy and make you feel good is essential. This type of food is different for everyone, so take some time to figure out what food keeps you energized. For some, this might mean low carb, while for others, it could be dairy or gluten-free options. Whatever works for you, stick to it while working. Meal plan and prepare your meals on your days off, so you don’t have to worry about fixing dinner after a long day.

Writing your thoughts in a journal is an effective way to reduce stress and gain clarity about difficult situations. If you have a difficult or even traumatic event at work, writing can be a great way to let go and keep you from dwelling on it. In the long run, this strategy will strengthen your resilience and prevent burnout.

Getting outside in the sunlight boosts your vitamin D, which keeps your immune system up and prevents seasonal affective disorderduring winter. Hanging out around trees can also improve your mood and reduce stress. Trees actually produce a substance that, when inhaled, can enhance the health of people and creatures around them. You don’t even have to move. Just sit there.

Working up a sweat in any form can boost your mood and help you reduce stress. Whether it’s running, biking, hiking, yoga, or aerobics, it is essential to maintain some exercise routine to keep you strong and healthy.

There’s a reason that the demand for travel nurses has reached a 20-year high. The nursing shortage is taking its toll on nurses who are knee-deep in the trenches, working longer shifts and playing multiple roles to meet unprecedented work demands. Nursing professionals need help by way of reform. And until that happens at an institutional level, nurses should consider all of their options.

The study would suggest as much, ending with “It may be possible to improve patient satisfaction and avoid other adverse patient outcomes while also improving nurse satisfaction and retention by improving working conditions for nurses.”

What Are the Happiest Nursing Jobs?

Stepping away from the bedside and out of the hospital can help increase nurse happiness and satisfaction. Nurses looking to leave clinical nursing jobs may happiest in nursing specialties that allow for more flexible schedules and less stressful situations.

Some of the happiest nursing jobs include

  • Legal nurse consultant
  • Virtual nurse coach
  • Ambulatory surgery nurse
  • Public health nurse
  • Private duty nurse

Nurses can use their strong patient education skills in virtual health care coach positions. Nurses who serve as a virtual nurse coach often work from home and have flexible hours making it one of the happiest nursing specialties.

Legal nurse consultants can also work from home and apply their nursing skills while assessing charts for important health care cases. A public health nurse helps to share knowledge, prevent disease, reduce health risks and promote public wellness. Nurses who enjoy educating patients and interacting with the public may consider becoming a public health nurse one of the happiest nursing jobs.

Nurses still desiring to serve in direct patient care may find their happiest nursing specialties to include private duty nursing or ambulatory surgery nursing. Nurses will still care for patients in person but will most likely have set schedules and less stressful clinical situations. Ambulatory surgery nursing may be right for you if you still prefer bedside nursing, but more of a revolving patient caseload in surgical or recovery settings. Private duty nurses often make their schedules and enjoy bonds with one patient at a time. These nurses need to have strong clinical backgrounds but may enjoy more autonomy, and a more relaxed nurse-patient experience as a private duty nurse.

Nursing is such a versatile profession that nurses can find their happiest nursing jobs due to the many different specialties available. whether you prefer to become a virtual nurse coach, an ambulatory surgery nurse, or a legal nurse consultant, there are plenty of opportunities available for nurses to find careers outside of traditional bedside nursing.

How Can Health Carousel Travel Nursing Help?

While there is still a lot of work to do to restore nurse satisfaction and combat nurse burnout, working conditions can be improved by addressing the staffing shortage. One way hospitals can do this is by using alternative staffing methods like travel nursing. Full-time nurses enduring overly-stressful work environments might consider a change to travel nursing. Instead of feeling stuck in a rut of poor conditions and inner-hospital politics, travel nurses enjoy new scenery, make new friends, and enjoy the freedom to explore their nursing passions. They also earn excellent pay with matchless benefits. HCTN offers full circle support to ensure that our nurses are happy and have a great quality of life.

Click the button below to learn why nurses like you start traveling!  



The best treatment for burnout is relief from the stressors. Once you remove yourself from the environment that is aggravating your physical and mental health, you can manage nurse burnout by treating the symptoms. These can include headaches, muscle aches and spasms, stomach issues, and fatigue. Self-care including rest, hydration, nutrition, and light exercise will encourage physical and mental health.


Nurses can take steps to reduce stress and prevent personal burnout through awareness and education. Talking about coping techniques and stress management can empower nurses with tools to beat burnout. Talking about it openly can help remove some of the stigmas that nurses may feel when they just can’t handle the feelings of emotional and mental exhaustion. Nurses may also consider talking to a virtual health care coach to help process their feelings and frustrations.

Nurses may also consider switching to these 3 happiest nursing jobs: legal nurse consultants, virtual nurse coaches, or public health nurse positions to step away from the bedside and reduce burnout. If you still want to experience direct patient care you may consider a position as an ambulatory surgery nurse or private duty nurse. Many nurses consider these the happiest nursing jobs due to hours that are often more conducive to a better work-life balance and a less stressful environment.


It stands to reason that nursing positions that are high-stress and where nurses may feel inadequate, unprepared, or ineffective are prone to burnout. One survey among nurse practitioners, nurse managers, and emergency department (ED) nurses found that ED nurses experienced burnout the most. They also had less control of their environment. Nursing professionals with advanced nursing degrees were at lower risk. Other studies have found that healthcare providers in the most acute hospital settings (e.g. the ER, ICU, CCU) where patient mortality is higher are the most vulnerable.


All nurses are at risk since nursing can be stressful. Yet, some are at higher risk than others. Nursing students and new nurse graduates are at increased risk because they may find the job more difficult and might not have the tools to deal with challenges.


Dr. Robert Veninga and James Spradley qualified five stages of burnout in their 1981 book called “The work/stress connection: How to cope with job burnout.” The five stages of burnout are:

  • Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase- a time of job satisfaction, commitment, and creativity before stress
  • Stage 2: Balancing Act - awareness of job stress, job dissatisfaction, inefficiency, and fatigue
  • Stage 3: Chronic Symptoms - intensification of stage 2, marked by physical illness, anger, or depression
  • Stage 4: Crisis - symptoms become critical
  • Stage 5: Enmeshment - symptoms become embedded in life and you become labeled as having a mental or physical problem, you are a “burnout case.”

Nurse Bio

Lauren Rivera is a nationally certified neonatal intensive care nurse with over 15 years of experience. She serves as a nurse expert offering support and educational classes for women from preconception through childhood. Lauren is also a freelance health and wellness writer with works published on several nursing sites. She develops and curates content for various healthcare companies, and writes continuing education modules for other healthcare professionals.


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Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.

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Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.


Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.

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