Becoming a nurse takes a lot of hard work and dedication. People only choose this career path if they want to make a difference in the lives of people who are trying to recover from injuries or illnesses. Because of this, compassion is an important trait for people who are considering becoming nurses.
However, that compassion and empathy can actually lead to stress and even mental health challenges for nurses over time. Here’s how mental stress can affect nurses.
Seeing Illness and Trauma Close-Up is Stressful
Every day, nurses take care of people who are struggling with physical or mental illnesses. Additionally, every nurse has to deal with the reality of patient deaths. It can be hard for empathetic and compassionate people to see others in pain day after day, especially long-term. Over time, that mental health stress can add up.
Nurses can even develop “compassion fatigue,” which is the result of secondhand trauma and causes a range of symptoms, including trouble sleeping, inability to feel empathy, depression, and more. Compassion fatigue has caused many nurses to leave the field, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, up to 57% of nurses leave the field during their first three years as an RN.
Nurses Work Long Hours On Their Feet
Generally, nurses work 12-hour shifts in a hospital setting. This is standard in the field, but it’s exceptionally grueling. Additionally, since a certain number of nurses need to be on shift 24 hours a day, many nurses work long shifts overnight, disrupting their sleep patterns and affecting their mood, health, and well-being.
During these long shifts, nurses have to work on their feet and perform physically demanding tasks. This takes a toll on their physical and mental well-being and causes most nurses to leave their 12-hour shifts completely exhausted.
Patients & Doctors Are Sometimes Demanding and Rude
While many patients and doctors are grateful for all the hard work nurses do for them, others are impatient, demanding, or rude. Many nurses have experienced discrimination or abuse on the job, especially verbal abuse. While some patients do not realize they are being abusive, that doesn’t diminish the impact of their actions on a nurse’s mental stress.
Nursing Can Be Surprisingly Dangerous
Lots of people are shocked to learn that nursing is actually one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. While many unhappy and out-of-control patients limit their abuse to verbal remarks or yelling, many nurses have been attacked on the job. Nurses have been beaten, stabbed, pushed, and even held hostage by patients who are scared, angry, or otherwise primed to lash out at those around them.
It’s extremely unfair and upsetting for nurses to be put at risk by the very people they are trying to help. Unfortunately, that’s the current reality, and the threat of violence or the trauma from past violence takes its toll on nurses.
Aside from patient assaults, there are other dangers for nurses as well. During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses were in close contact with infectious patients, and many did not have access to the correct protective gear they needed to stay safe. This led to many nurses and their family members getting infected or experiencing anxiety about getting infected with the virus.
Nurses Are Overworked and Underappreciated
Many nurses eventually become burned out by the work that they do. Unfortunately, due to staffing shortages and budget cuts, nurses are overworked. Although nursing unions can help, they can’t fix all of the workplace issues nurses face.
There’s a lot of pressure to perform tasks quickly, which can lead to errors and even more mental stress. Nurses who are rushed usually feel like they can’t provide the highest level of care to their patients. They are also frequently underappreciated for all of the important work they do.
Nurses Need Rest & Support
It’s important for nurses to have access to mental health support, adequate rest, and protection from dangers in the workplace. Hospitals need to improve their safeguards for nurses and give them enough time between shifts to rest and recover. Nurses need to prioritize self-care and create boundaries between their work life and personal life to reduce mental stress.
Additionally, nurses need easier access to mental health services. Nursing can be an extremely fulfilling job, but it’s also very stressful and challenging. Nurses are critical to the success of our healthcare system, and they deserve both appreciation and support.