Preventing and mitigating nurse fatigue in healthcare is a pressing concern for many hospitals. It is important to note that everyone is affected by a nurse’s fatigue. This condition doesn’t only affect the nurses themselves but also their patients and their workplace at large. Nurse fatigue is directly attributed to a nurse’s lack of sleep. Lack of sufficient sleep stems from overexertion during back-to-back shifts in the hospital and strenuous hospital duties.
Surely, nurses are exceptional with the level of dedication their nature of work requires; but they are not exempted from experiencing fatigue. They are human, too.
To avoid nurse fatigue, nurses must properly assess themselves before every shift. Nurses should also be the ones looking out for themselves. Self-care must always come first.
Know more about how to avoid nurse fatigue here: Managing and Mitigating Fatigue: Tips and Tools for Nurses.
“It is going to be just another night shift,” you mutter to yourself. However, you also know that every shift is vastly different from the one before it. More often than not, you have to adjust to new faces for every room visit. You have to adjust to every demand by another family member. Truth is, it is NOT just another shift. You sigh while entering the hospital with the biting reality.
How many times did you try to ignore the existence of nursing stress and its effect to you? Or how many times did you complain about it? Perhaps, you can hardly count it by now.
The American nurses are experiencing serious stress. One U.S. report cited that one-third of all nursing population in U.S. are suffering from emotional exhaustion. A study conducted by researchers from the Ball State University, Lock Haven University, and the University of Toledo in an unspecified Midwestern community hospital also showed that 92% of their nurses have been reported to have moderate-to-very high-stress levels.
Becker’s Hospital Review revealed that nurses are included in the list of most overworked professionals. Most of them often have episodes of nurse burnout, thus leading them to leave the profession completely. 
Causes of Nursing Stress and Strategies to Cope
Citing a study by Khamisa and Oldenburg, et.al., some of the main causes of nursing stress and nurse burnout include “poor supervision, conflict with peers and patients, high job demands and overtime.”  among others.
Stresses in nurses can be lethal. It cannot be taken lightly as it can cause decrease and absence in their qualification, isolation from patients, and depression. Hence, knowing both the causes and the strategies to cope and counter the stress is crucial to keep you productive and healthy as a nurse.
Below lists the common causes for nursing stress and the proven coping strategies to combat each one:
1. Long Work Hours
Long work hours can bring unnecessary stress to anyone, including nurses. It is even found out that long work hours have a possible correlation with depression.  Moreover, working long hours has a direct relationship to having more work errors than normal.
Nurses often have long work hours due to the nature of their work. A nurse’s usual shift lasts for 12 hours. They meticulously need to endorse their cases to the next shift. Sometimes, they have to even work overtime to cover the needs of the unit.
How To Cope:
A tried-and-tested technique to cope if you are having non-stop shifts in a week is by negotiating your shift with your supervisor. Explain your situation to your supervisor. They should be the ones to first understand your predicament.
If working double shifts is unavoidable, be sure to take care of yourself first. Take health breaks in between your shift. Take a nap or eat a snack if need be. Ask help from a co-worker to cover for you to make the rounds in the meantime.
There are some hospitals that do a tandem approach per shift. This way, the workload is spread out between the pair of nurses.
2. No Time For Personal Growth and Development
A nurse’s nature of work is very taxing, not to mention, a major common cause of stress! Usual nursing shifts have avoided them from interacting with their former circle of friends. As a nurse, you may even have to miss family reunions and other celebrations. It’s part of the profession’s call for sacrifice.
Having no time for personal growth and development is one of the key factors leading to burnout. According to a study by Manzano-Garcia and Ayala-Calvo, personal stressors such as having scarce availability for social interaction can lead to burnout. 
You are already burnout if you constantly feel fatigue and prefer to just spend your time at home, usually alone. Most of the time, you would choose sleep rather than exhaust yourself in doing social activities. After all, you would have to physically prepare yourself for another grueling time at the hospital. Enthusiasm on things especially about work significantly lessens.
How To Cope:
To address this, dedicate a time when you can engage in activities that sets your soul on fire. These can include hiking up a mountain or biking off a rough road. Think long and hard about these activities. If need be, write them down and tick them off the list by trying them one by one. Soon, you will be looking forward to days when you will be doing these activities after your shift or during your off. Eventually, days in the hospital will feel just like a breeze.
3. Nursing Duties Entail Everything Under the Sun
The official duties of a nurse include reminding and helping patients take their prescribed medicines on time. Official duties also include taking the patient’s vital signs. These data, in turn, will aid the doctor in monitoring the patient’s recovery.
Actually, more than those stated, nurses actually do everything in their power to alleviate a patient’s suffering. They sing songs to pediatric patients, clean up after an old patient’s mess, and they even help in changing the diapers of both young and old.
How To Cope:
In retrospect, ask yourself the reasons why you have joined the nursing profession in the first place. Know your deep why. Your deep-seated reason will propel you to rise up and suit up every day. Nursing duties that are beginning to lose appeal to you are again starting to make perfect sense. Your desire to help others has been ignited once more.
4. Having To Adjust To Teammates And Doctors
Another source of nursing stress and burnout is the fact that you also have to adjust to your teammates and doctors as well. The hospital is just like any other workplace. You will have to adjust to various personalities…toxic people included.
If the demands from the workload are not stressful enough, you will still have to acclimate yourself to your similarly stressed peers. Stress can bring out the worst in people. You will have to contend with that fact of life until you retire.
How To Cope:
Don’t take every snide comment to heart. It could be borne out your co-worker’s frustration with yet another patient.
If you cannot change the situation, try to adjust how you would respond to it. If you are dealing with constant negativity at work, try self-soothing strategies that can alleviate your work-related stress. Ask yourself why are you agitated. Discuss constructively with the people involved when all emotions boiled down already.
Maintaining effective interpersonal communication within your team can bridge communication gaps. As a team, you can go on meals together to strengthen your bond. Being friends with your co-workers is one of the easiest ways to mitigate tension in the workplace.
5. Unreasonable Demands From Families Of The Patient
The patient’s immediate family members are often the ones who stay in the hospital. They aide in caring for the patient after the nurses leave. However, they are also the ones who are often more demanding than the patient. Sometimes, unreasonable demands from these family members are one of the causes of work-related stress for nurses.
How To Cope:
Most family members only want to expedite the healing of their loved ones. You cannot blame them for being agitated from several sleepless nights in the hospital.
Firstly, you can address this concern by befriending the family. Get to know them and establish rapport. Get their assessment of the issue and acknowledge them. After which, you can inform them of the doctor’s findings and ask for their participation.
In doing this, they will feel that they have an important role. They will be less fussy with their demands as well. 
If this proves to be futile, it could be time to bring your supervisor in the situation. Your supervisor can act as an impartial judge in this context. First, by listening to the demands of the family and then by giving an authoritative response to the request.
If the family members still have unreasonable demands that are beyond your control, you may have to establish boundaries from the family members.
Other Proven Effective Coping Mechanism To Nurse Stress
Effective stress management starts with the awareness of the concept: work-life balance. Many nurses are swamped with work that they tend to make work their life. This should not be the case. Nurses have to maintain a healthy distance between their work and their personal lives.
- Increase your physical activity. You can consider enrolling yourself in a gym membership. Engaging in regular exercise can induce happy hormones. These will keep your stress levels at bay while increasing your physical activity.
- Consult a psychiatrist. If you are already at your wit’s end and you’re already considering to leave the nursing profession, seek professional help first. Most of the time, consulting a psychiatrist can help process the negative emotions that you are harboring. Psychiatrists can provide a game plan for you to bounce back quickly to a more positive state. They will also be able to give you medication if needed.
Generally, consulting a psychiatrist has a negative connotation. But if it will help you to respond to the situation in a calmer and smarter way why not give it a try?
To manage the situation on an institutional scale, seminars on proper stress management for nurses are a must. You may have a general idea of what you can do to alleviate your stress. But is it applicable to your situation? These seminars can increase your knowledge of what needs to be done. More importantly, you and your co-workers will have similar knowledge and awareness. This may be the solution to bringing down the level of tension in your team.
Nursing As a Profession of the Heart
Nursing is a profession of the heart. It means that there’s more to having the skills needed for the job. Essentially, nurses need to be genuinely interested to help other people. The ultimate solution to successfully combat nursing stress is to change your mindset in approaching the problem.
You have to go back to the reasons why you were interested in the profession. Knowing your reason will help you in the long-run.
To address your problems in the short-run, however, you will have to pay attention to your body. Know your stressors. If it is work-related, focus on hobbies outside of work. If it is due to personal problems, consult a psychiatrist in order to cope well.
Nurses are the ones providing the human touch to patients. They provide primary care to the patients to speed up their recovery. Nurses are in the front lines of healthcare providers. Without nurses, everything will be in disarray.
In order to provide quality care to patients, which the patients rightly deserve, it should entail a collective solution. Nurses, including hospital administrators, doctors, and governments, should recognize this growing problem and address it at an institutional level. Nursing stress and nurse burnout should not be taken lightly.
- Gooch, K. (2018). Study: 92% of nurses report moderate-to-very high stress levels. Becker’s Hospital Review. From: https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/human-capital-and-risk/study-92-of-nurses-report-moderate-to-very-high-stress-levels.html
- Khamisa, N. & Oldenburg, B., et.al. (2015). Work related stress, burnout, job satisfaction and general health of nurses. National Center for Biotechnology Information. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25588157
- Working Hours Linked To Depression. Nursing Times. From: https://www.nursingtimes.net/roles/mental-health-nurses/working-long-hours-linked-to-depression/5040988.article
- Manzano-Garcia, G., & Ayala-Calvo, J.C. (2013). New Perspectives: Towards an Integration of the concept “burnout” and its explanatory models. Anales de Psicologia. From: http://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0212-97282013000300019#f1
- Hinz, C. (2016). How to Deal with Difficult Family Members of Patients. From: https://dailynurse.com/how-to-deal-with-difficult-family-members-of-patients/