The Effects of Work-Related Stress on Nurses

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the healthcare system on its head, exacerbating the nation’s current nurse staffing crisis, nursing was consistently ranked among the top most stressful occupations. Nurses are faced with an exceptional amount of physical and emotional difficulties on a daily basis, which makes avoiding stress nearly impossible. And yet, the effects of work-related stress and burnout on nurses are rarely talked about.

The emotional and physical demands of nursing can lead to compassion fatigue, which is characterized by feelings of apathy, hopelessness, and isolation. When left unchecked, compassion fatigue can result in nurses feeling detached from their patients and disengaged with their work. In extreme cases, it can even lead to depression and suicidal ideation.

In this article, we hope to explore the effects that work-related stress has on the nursing staff of any given medical practice. Let’s cover some causes that lead to this, as well as what can be done and stress management tips for nurses and medical staff alike.

How Hospitals and Practices Cause Stress on the Medical Staff

The causes of work-related stress among nurses are multi-faceted and complex. In addition to the challenges that come with providing direct patient care, nurses also have to contend with the increasing demands of hospitals and other healthcare organizations.

For example, many hospitals require their nurses to work long hours, often without breaks. This can lead to fatigue, which can in turn impact a nurse’s ability to make sound decisions and provide quality care. Additionally, hospitals are often understaffed, which puts an even greater strain on the nurses who are working. This can result in nurses feeling overworked and undervalued.

Departmental disorganization is another common source of stress for nurses. When nurses have to work in chaotic and disorganized environments, it can impact their ability to do their jobs effectively. This can lead to errors, missed treatments, and other problems that can jeopardize patient safety.

Finally, the ever-changing nature of the healthcare industry means that nurses have to constantly adapt to new policies and procedures. This can be difficult to keep up with, especially when nurses are already stretched thin.

Effects and Consequences of Nursing Stress and Burnout

Nursing burnout can be defined as the chronic state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion that happens to nurses after prolonged periods of stress or frustration. Chronically stressed or burned-out nurses face higher risks of becoming disengaged, detached, and even depressed. And what’s more, research suggests that unaddressed burnout can become severe enough to compromise patient safety and influence organizational outcomes.

Having an unconventional work schedule can also lead to the same issue hospitals are trying to prevent, which is staff shortage. Turnover rates are higher among nurses who are experiencing burnout, which can negatively impact the quality of care that a hospital or practice is able to provide.

Occupational stress can affect nurses and healthcare workers physically, emotionally, and professionally in the following ways:


  • Low energy and daytime fatigue
  • Obesity and/or eating disorders
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as gastritis, GERD, ulcerative colitis, and IBD
  • Cardiovascular problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes
  • Hair and skin issues
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Weakened immune system
  • Respiratory weakness


  • Increased risk for mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety
  • Anger, irritability, or sadness
  • Substance misuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, or cynicism that won’t go away
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Absenteeism
  • Increased risk of hospitalization for mental health disorders


  • Lower patient satisfaction
  • Increased likelihood of medical errors
  • Having trouble engaging positively with patients
  • Worsening patient safety

Why are Nurses So Stressed Out?

There are many reasons why nurses experience high levels of stress. For one, the job is physically and emotionally demanding. Nurses are on their feet for long hours, lifting and moving patients, and dealing with the constant demands of a fast-paced work environment. They also see sick and injured patients every day, which can take an emotional toll.

In addition, nurses often feel like they don’t have enough time to do their jobs properly. They are constantly being asked to do more with less, which can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy. And because of the current nursing shortage, many nurses are working overtime or taking on extra shifts, which can further contribute to burnout.

Do Certain Types of Nurses Experience More Work-Related Stress Than Others?

There is some evidence to suggest that certain types of nurses may be more prone to stress and burnout than others. For example, one study found that critical care nurses were more likely to experience burnout than nurses in other specialty areas. Other studies have found that nurses who work night shifts or long hours are also at increased risk for burnout.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) may also be more susceptible to burnout than other types of nurses. This is likely due to the fact that NPs often have more patient contact than Nurses working in other roles, as well as more administrative duties. In addition, NPs may feel like they have less control over their work lives than other types of nurses, which can lead to feelings of powerlessness and frustration.

Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) are another group of nurses who may be more likely to experience burnout. This is likely due to the fact that CNAs often work in high-stress environments, such as nursing homes and hospice care facilities. In addition, CNAs may feel like they have little control over their work lives and few opportunities for career advancement.

In contrast, a traveling nurse position, or in general any traveling medical position, may pose less stress than a more traditional nursing role. This is because traveling nurses often have more control over their work schedules and can choose to work in a variety of settings. In addition, traveling nurses may feel like they have more opportunities for career growth and development than other types of nurses. That’s not to say this career path isn’t without its own level of pressure.

Is Healthcare More Stressful a Job Than Others?

While it’s certainly true that nurses experience high levels of stress, they are not alone. In fact, all healthcare workers are at risk for stress and burnout. A study of more than 5,000 Canadian healthcare workers found that nearly 60% of respondents felt “extremely stressed” by their jobs. And another study of U.S. physicians found that nearly 40% of doctors were experiencing symptoms of burnout.

So while nursing may be a particularly stressful occupation, it’s important to remember that all healthcare workers are under a lot of pressure. This is likely due to the constant demands of the job, as well as the high stakes nature of work in the healthcare industry.

What Can Be Done to Reduce Stress and Burnout Among Nurses?

Given the high levels of stress that nurses face on a daily basis, it’s important to find ways to prevent or reduce burnout. Some strategies that have been shown to be effective include:

Creating a positive work environment: A positive work environment is one that is supportive, collaborative, and respectful. It’s also important to make sure that nurses have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

Improving communication: Open and effective communication is essential for creating a positive work environment. It can help to reduce misunderstandings and conflict, and improve team cohesion.

Encouraging staff involvement: When nurses feel like they have a say in how their work is organized and conducted, they are more likely to be engaged and invested in their jobs.

Providing opportunities for professional development: Professional development opportunities can help nurses to feel challenged and motivated in their work.

Supporting work-life balance: It’s important to make sure that nurses have the time and opportunity to take care of themselves both inside and outside of work. This includes having time for family, friends, and hobbies.

Stress Management Tips for Nurses

Though it is impossible to avoid stress altogether while working as a nurse, finding ways to manage it is essential not only to provide quality care, but also to stay healthy and satisfied with your amazing profession. Remember, you’ve got to take care of yourself before you take care of your patients (and friends, family, and anybody in between). If your friend or partner is a nurse, these tips can help them find a balance between their work and regular life.

Consider meditation or become proficient in breathing techniques: there’s a reason why meditation and breathwork are the most recommended relaxation techniques for anyone struggling with chronic stress: it’s because they work! Consider making a habit out of meditating every day, or read up on mindfulness practices for healthcare professionals and incorporate it into your daily routine. Engaging in other healthy lifestyle habits, like exercising daily, eating well, and staying connected with loved ones, can also go a long way in reducing burnout levels.

Set personal and professional boundaries: just like you are trained to set and maintain professional boundaries with your patients, it’s important to be firm about your boundaries and ethical standards when it comes to taking on extra shifts, unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios, and working in dangerous/abusive environments or organizational cultures.

Seek help: although as a nurse you may understand that there’s no shame in seeking professional help, many nurses forget that this fact also applies to them. Whether it is scheduling an appointment with a therapist, reaching out to a mentor or colleague, joining a support group, or venting to a close friend, letting your frustrations out can help take off some of the weight. Many nurses also find that journaling helps clear their minds.

Consider per diem work or travel nursing: sometimes, there’s nothing like a change in scenery to hit the reset button when you’re burned out. Per diem and traveling work allow you to take charge of your schedule, giving you the opportunity to decide when and where to work. Plus, you will likely make more money than working as a traditional, full-time staff nurse, and you won’t have to get wrapped up in unnecessary workplace politics.

What Can Hospitals and Medical Practices Do To Help Their Nurses and Staff?

Hospitals and medical practices alike should take into account the importance of workplace culture in order to create an environment that is conducive to both quality patient care and employee satisfaction. Taking notice and improving some of the departmental or organizational factors that often lead to nurse burnout can have a positive domino effect throughout the entire facility.

Perhaps even providing mental health services or counseling on-site could help to address some of the issues that nurses face on a daily basis.

Additionally, ensuring that there is a healthy work-life balance for nurses should be a priority for hospitals and medical practices. This can be done in a variety of ways, including but not limited to:

  • Offering flexible work schedules
  • Giving employees the option to work remotely when possible
  • Encouraging staff to take their vacation days
  • Creating an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Implementing policies that prohibit excessive overtime

It’s important to remember that nurse burnout is not simply an individual problem – it’s a systemic one. In order to address the issue, hospitals and medical practices must be willing to take a good hard look at their organizational cultures and make changes accordingly. Only then will we see a decrease in nurse burnout, as well as an improvement in the overall quality of patient care.

Final Takeaway

Nurses play a vital role in the healthcare system, but they also face unique challenges that can lead to high levels of stress and burnout. There are a number of things that can be done to reduce stress and promote wellness among nurses, including creating a positive work environment, supporting work-life balance, and offering employee assistance programs. By taking steps to address the issue of nurse stress and burnout, we can ensure that nurses are able to provide the best possible care for their patients.

Categories: Health

Nicolas Desjardins

Hello everyone, I am the main writer for SIND Canada. I've been writing articles for more than 12 years and I like sharing my knowledge. I'm currently writing for many websites and newspapers. I always keep myself very informed to give you the best information. All my years as a computer scientist made me become an incredible researcher. You can contact me on our forum or by email at [email protected].