Home Health & Wellness Understanding the Mental Stress That Goes with an Extensive Nursing Career

Understanding the Mental Stress That Goes with an Extensive Nursing Career

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The profession of nursing, though a stable career that allows one opportunity to benefit the lives of others, is one that can come with a tremendous amount of stress. From gruelling schedules to staffing shortages, nurses face a number of challenges in their professional lives that can ultimately take a toll on their mental health. 

Gaining perspective on the different ways that a career in nursing can negatively impact one’s mental state can give one a more nuanced perspective on the profession of nursing and the obstacles that come with the role. 

Here is the mental stress that goes with an extensive nursing career. 

Compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is a phenomenon that many nurses experience at some point throughout their careers. Put simply, this phenomenon is characterized by experiencing a lack of empathy and compassion toward others. For nurses, this can cause them to be less effective in their roles and less comforting to the patients that they treat. 

This mental affliction is caused by prolonged exposure to sad and traumatic events, such as patients experiencing negative health outcomes and, in some cases, dying. For nurses, being exposed to these difficult situations consistently can cause feelings of overwhelm and anxious. Over time, nurses may develop a lack of empathy for others as a coping mechanism to make it easier to deal with such difficult situations. 

Nurse burnout

In nursing, burnout is a common mental ailment that many nurses experience at various points throughout their careers. In essence, nurse burnout is an experience of exhaustion and a lack of motivation that is caused by feeling overwhelmed by one’s work. This form of nursing stress is dishearteningly common and affects almost every nurse at some point in their career. 

Some factors that increase one’s chances of experiencing nurse burnout include working long hours, working in an environment that is understaffed, and working in a particularly stressful work environment. In addition, having a lack of emotional support can also contribute to one’s experience of burnout as processing emotions is a key facet of experiencing mental wellness as a nurse. 

Pressure to provide quality care

In almost every professional role, employees feel pressure to perform at a high level and be seen as an indispensable part of an organization. While this is also true in nursing, the pressure to perform at a high level is greatly exacerbated for these professionals. 

Unlike some other industries, the performance of nurses will have a tangible impact on the health outcomes of the patients they treat. This means that a mistake on the part of a nurse could result in a patient being harmed in some form or another. As one can imagine, this constant pressure can result in chronic stress for nurses who have long careers in the role. 

The toll of long shifts

What makes many professional healthcare careers markedly different from jobs in many other industries is the length of shifts. Twelve-hour shifts are typical at most healthcare institutions, making it a normal part of professional life for most nurses. 

While these long shifts may allow nurses to have more off days, it doesn’t necessarily make these long shifts any less stressful. Being in chaotic situations for such extended periods of time can take a significant toll on the mental health of even the most resilient nurses. For nurses with careers spanning decades, these long shifts can ultimately cause one to develop negative symptoms associated with frequent and chronic stress. 

Dealing with death

While not all nurses work in hospice care, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t treat patients who are dying. Though nurses can rest assured that they are doing everything in their power to help their patients, this doesn’t always make it easier to confront death in various situations. 

Having to see death in this way can have a negative impact on nurses’ ability to cope emotionally with their work. Over time, this can develop into emotional problems such as anxiety and depression. Ultimately, these symptoms can cause nurses to perform poorly in their duties, causing further stress and discomfort for them in their professional lives. 

Nursing is a mentally taxing career

Many nurses initially pursue a career as a means of engaging in a job that allows them to help and care for others. Unfortunately, many nurses step into the role unaware of how mentally taxing it can be, especially over the course of a decades-long career. 

Thankfully, many nurses build mental resiliency and work through the stress of their job in order to provide high-quality care to patients in need. As such, nurses are laudable professionals whose mentally taxing careers should be praised and appreciated.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.


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