When I say that CNA and nurse burnout is a significant problem in this country, I'm not exaggerating. The truth is, burnout affects nearly 40 percent of all nurses every year.

Let's put that into some perspective. What I'm saying is that nearly 4 out of 10 nurses are going to work today completely dreading their shifts.

That also means that 4 out of 10 nurses will have little or no empathy for their patients today. And it means that 4 out of 10 nurses will hate the job that once brought them joy and purpose.

As bad as those statistics are, they don't even scratch the surface of the problem.

Identifying CNA And Nurse Burnout

In the 1970s, the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term burnout. He used the term to describe the consequences of extreme stress in the helping professions. It's also often used when talking about being overworked and having poor working environments.

When we talk about nurse burnout or CNA burnout today, we're talking about mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged and excessive stress.

What over-engagement is to stress, disengagement is to burnout. Nurse burnout can also have the components of depersonalization and dissatisfaction in personal achievements.

It's important to point out that everyone occasionally feels exhaustion, negative emotions, and lack of motivation. We all have bad days. Sometimes we even have a lousy week.

But when you're feeling those things day after day, week after week, then there's a problem. When stress goes on for a long time, it becomes distress. Distress can then quickly turn into burnout.

And there's more. Burnout is a terrible feeling for you, that's true, but it can also be dangerous for your patients.

Believe it or not, studies have shown a link between nurse burnout and an increased likelihood of infection in their patients. On top of that, hospitals that have high rates of burnout also tend to have lower patient satisfaction rates overall.

The Startling Stats On Nurse Burnout

In 2013 the Department of Professional Employees put out an alarming report saying that nearly half a million registered nurses had left the profession.

In that study, 60 percent of the nurses and CNAs surveyed reported being forced to work "volunteer overtime," and about a third of those surveyed had an emotional exhaustion score that identified them as a "high burnout" risk.

Another study in 2017 found similar results. They found that 63 percent of the nurses and CNAs surveyed suffered from nurse burnout.

Even more concerning is that 44 percent of them said they were worried that their tiredness on the job could cause their patient-care to suffer. In addition to that, 41 percent admitted that they considered changing hospitals in the last year because of nurse burnout.

With stats like that, there's no denying that nurse burnout is a significant problem.

In fact, a recent study found that nearly half of the nurses surveyed were considering leaving the profession because of burnout. It is causing a nurse shortage that 62 percent said had "strongly impacted their workload."

The Symptoms Of Nurse Burnout

With nurse burnout, there are three main areas that are of concern: physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, detachment and cynicism, and lack of accomplishment and feelings of ineffectiveness. Those three problems can produce many different symptoms.

Some of the symptoms associated with emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion include insomnia, chronic fatigue, memory and concentration problems, increased illness, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, and even anger. Frequent headaches and muscle pain are also common.

Symptoms associated with cynicism and detachment include isolation, a negative attitude, loss of enjoyment, self-doubt, and detachment from patients, family, and friends.

And the symptoms associated with feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment include irritability, feelings of hopelessness or apathy, and poor performance or lack of motivation and productivity.

The Behavioral Signs Of Nurse Burnout

  • Withdrawn
  • Poor judgment calls
  • Isolation
  • Excessive procrastination
  • Frustration
  • Skipping work
  • Substance abuse

Recognizing The Causes Of Nurse Burnout

Several causes contribute to burnout in nurses. For most cases, the exhaustion comes from a combination of factors. Here are some of the biggest problems.

Long Shifts

One cause of CNA and nurse burnout is long shifts. When you think about the high-stress, hectic workload, even an eight-hour shift can feel like an eternity. But nurses often work longer than eight hours. Most nurses have done their share of 12-hour shifts too.

I suppose there is a case to be made for 12-hour shifts. For one thing, they mean less patient turnover and less commuting. The longer shifts are also easier to schedule, and some nurses believe that the four-day weekend following 12-hour shift work is worth it.

However, study after study shows that 12-hour shifts lead to higher rates of nurse burnout. One problem with the long shift is that it leads to more significant fatigue.

But that's not all. Nurses who consistently work 12-hour shifts make more on-the-job mistakes than nurses who work 8-hour shifts. They also get injured more often. On top of that, research has shown that 12-hour shifts can be detrimental to a nurse's health.

Sleep Deprivation

Another problem with nurses working long hours is that they end up suffering from sleep deprivation. Not only does sleep deprivation lead to more mistakes on the job, but studies show that it also can lead to disorders like depression in nurses.

Sunlight Deprivation

It's also prevalent for CNAs and nurses to suffer from the seasonal affective disorder. SAD is a type of depression caused by sunlight deprivation. Nurses who work 12-hour shifts can often go days or even weeks without seeing much sunlight.

Always Putting Others First

The thing about nurses is that they tend to be very selfless people. Nurses notoriously put others first. Many believe that it's their calling to take care of others. The problem is that people who always put others first have a much higher rate of burnout.

It can be a beautiful thing to be selfless. But between caring for patients and family and everyone else, nurses often neglect themselves. Doing this over long periods can lead to nurse burnout.

Hectic, High-Stress Or Poor Working Environments

Believe it or not, one of the top reasons cited for nurse burnout is a poor work environment. Nurses have a lot on their plates. And thanks to advancements in technology and documentation, nursing responsibilities have increased over the past 15 years.

Some of the poor working environment complaints include management issues, poor leadership, short-staffing, and lack of teamwork. All of these things can cause CNAs and nurses to feel overwhelmed or out of control. They can also create a whole lot of stress. That stress can quickly lead to nurse burnout.

Coping With Death And Sickness

A lot of people have a hard time leaving work at the front door at the end of the day. But it's particularly a problem with nurses. The daily exposure to death and sickness can cause grief and emotional baggage to build over time.

Nurses get attached to their patients, and it can be extremely tough when that patient dies or is suffering. They deal with this kind of stress every single day with very little time to decompress or grieve in between the stressors.

These emotions can have a way of wearing you down if you don't deal with them in a healthy way. We'll talk more about this in a minute.

Steps To Combat Nurse Burnout And CNA Burnout

Okay, now let's talk about how you deal with the burnout.


This one might seem like a trivial thing. But when the stress is building it's crucial that you stop for a second and take a deep breath. At times when we are super stressed, we forget to really breathe. It's a human nature thing. So you have to make a conscious effort to stop and breathe.

When you feel that stress and pressure, just stop what you're doing for a second, take a nice deep cleansing breath, and collect yourself. Instead of spiraling out of control, think about how you can better handle the situation.

You can try this right now.

Take a slow deep breath and allow your stomach to push out so that you get maximal use of your diaphragm. Hold it for two seconds and then try to inhale a little more. Hold it for two to five more seconds and then slowly exhale as you think "relax."

Pin-Point Your Stressors

Another thing that you can do is to take inventory. Write down everything that is giving you anxiety. And then try to brainstorm to find at least one way to combat each stressor. Sometimes the solution can be as simple as talking to a coworker or asking for help.

Writing it down will help you get a grasp on where you are when it comes to burnout. It will also help you identify the core areas of stress.

In addition to that, you should learn how to say no. It's a common problem for nurses to take on too much. If you're already feeling overwhelmed and stressed, don't take on anything new. Get whatever you're dealing with under control before you overextend yourself and venture into something else.

Take Care Of Yourself First

You know how when you're on an airplane the flight attendant tells everyone that in case of an emergency people should put on their own oxygen mask before placing one on their child? Well, that holds for nurses too.

You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of your patients. In the nursing profession, it can be easy to forget about yourself. But by learning how to take care of yourself first, you can avoid burnout.

One of the most important things you do as a CNA or nurse to avoid burnout is to love yourself first. If you're not used to putting yourself first that can feel like a selfish thing to do. It's not though.

In fact, when you love yourself first, you can recognize when you've had your fill. That will allow you to readjust and live your best life. Not only will that help you, but it will also help your family, friends, and patients.

You probably recognize this advice because you've likely given it to your patients, right? Well, sometimes you have to take your own advice, my friends.

Practice what you preach and take some time every day to do something that you enjoy. It's time to prioritize your mental health. Intentionally scheduling a time to relax and unwind is not selfish. It's critical if you want to avoid burnout.


Speaking of prioritizing your mental health, it's also important to unplug. Most of us never leave our cell phones more than an arm's reach away. But everyone needs some downtime when you're not hooked up to technology. Yes, even nurses.

There is often a link between excessive technology use and anxiety, depression, and even screen addiction. Unplugging at the end of the day will help you to focus on yourself and recharge for the next day.

It will also force you to talk to some real people face to face. Maybe you'll actually venture outside. Imagine that! Shutting off the smartphone will also lower your stress level. We could all use that!

Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help

Just by reading this article you are taking steps to help yourself by learning how to avoid nurse burnout better. Now that you know the signs to look out for like exhaustion, disengagement, and alienation, you're better armed to deal with burnout.

But don't stop with this article. Talk to your coworkers and your supervisors. We are all in this together. So don't be afraid to ask for help.

Create A Positive Wellness Program

Why not do something for yourself that will also help other nurses and CNAs? Create a wellness program where you and other nurses that you work with can find real solutions to combat burnout.

Some of the things you can focus on are healthy eating, exercise programs, counseling groups, and team-building activities.

Studies have shown that social support groups promote positive feelings, improve respect and understanding of one another, increase your sense of freedom, and enhance your self-esteem.

Exercise Can Save You From Nurse Burnout

If I could give you just one piece of advice today on how to combat nurse burnout, I would tell you to exercise every day.

There are many benefits to physical exercise when dealing with stress. Not the least of them is neurochemical. Believe it or not, when you exercise you reduce the levels of your body's stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol.

That's pretty awesome. But that's not all.

When you exercise you also release endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that work as natural pain killers and mood elevators. You've heard of a "runner's high," right? That's endorphins. They are also responsible for those feelings of optimism and relaxation that you get following a tough workout.

You Can Do Mental Exercises Too

When I say that you need to exercise, I'm not just talking about physical activity. Mental exercises will help you to avoid nurse burnout also.

One mental exercise I mentioned earlier is writing down all of your stressors. Some other mental activities involve talking with another person. But you don't need a partner for this. You can do it all by yourself. Meditation is a prime example.

The beauty of meditation is that it reverses the effects of stress. First of all, it lowers your heart rate. And that's not all. It also lowers your blood pressure, reduces your breathing rate, diminishes your body's oxygen consumption, reduces blood adrenaline levels, and changes skin temperature. Not bad, right?

To try meditation, you should first select a time and place that are free from interruptions and distractions. Get comfortable. Close your eyes and take a few slow deep breaths to settle yourself into a passive, relaxed mental state. And then concentrate on a device.

Most people use a mantra, which is a word or phrase that you repeat over and over. It doesn't matter what word you use; it's the repetition that matters. The goal is to focus all of your attention and energy into a word or an object, thus blocking out all other thoughts and sensations.

This simple process can make a big difference when you're trying to combat nurse burnout.

Practice Gratitude

I know one thing for sure. Practicing gratitude makes you feel better. It really does. Take some time every day to appreciate the blessings in your life. Appreciate what is positive in your life and be grateful for the things that bring you joy.

You can try this right now. I promise you it will make you feel better. Close your eyes and think of 10 things that you are thankful for today.

See what I mean?

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that you have to be proactive when you're trying to avoid or snap out of burnout. You will be much healthier and happier if you do. You'll also be a better nurse.

Nurse burnout is clearly a problem. But the good news is that it's preventable once you recognize that you are at risk. One thing I recommend is using tools like the Well-Being Index. This anonymous free platform will help you monitor your well-being.

The Cleveland Clinic also offers a free app called Stress Free Now that you can download to get relaxation techniques, a stress assessment, daily strategies to combat stress, and much more. This app has a "healers" version explicitly made for nurses and CNAs.

Another tool that you can use is from MindTools. This site offers a 15-question self-test to find out if you're suffering from burnout.

Now we want to hear from you! Tell us in the comments section below if you've had experience with nurse burnout. And share with our readers how you dealt with it. We're all in this together. Your experience could help someone else.

Enjoy the rest of your day! And may it be as stress-free as humanly possible.