15 Reasons Why Being A Nurse Is Stressful (PLUS How To Overcome)


Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA


If you are a nurse, considering becoming one, or know a nurse, you may have heard that it is a tough job. You may have wondered, "Why is being a nurse stressful?” or, "What makes it so bad?” Having been a nurse for more than 25 years, I can tell you there are many things that cause nurses stress, but I also believe there are ways to identify stressors, address them, and reduce their impact on your health and career.

In this article, I will share the 15 most common reasons that make being a nurse stressful and how to overcome them. As you continue reading, you will learn that by implementing some simple measures, you can reduce or alleviate a lot of the stress associated with being a nurse and have an enjoyable career.



WHY BEING A NURSE IS STRESSFUL?

(The following are the 15 most common reasons that make being a nurse stressful and how to overcome them.)


REASON #1: Nursing is Emotionally Taxing


About the Reason:

One of the things that makes being a nurse stressful is that it is emotionally taxing. As a nurse, you will work with patients and their families during some of the most critical times of their lives. Anxiety and fear related to illness and injury cause emotions to run high, which can impact you as much as it does your patients.


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How to Overcome:

It is normal to feel empathy for your patients. However, as nurses, it is essential to recognize when we feel emotionally drained and need to recharge. If you are working a long shift, you may need to take more frequent breaks. When possible, take a walk outside to clear your mind. Also, practicing self-care is essential to maintaining good emotional well-being. You can practice self-care by getting plenty of rest and sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, and exercising.


REASON #2: Nursing is Physically Exhausting


About the Reason:

It is common for nurses to spend hours each day walking hospital halls and moving heavy patients or equipment. The job can be physically exhausting at times, which can leave you feeling more stressed than usual.

How to Overcome:

While you may not be able to change the physical requirements of your job, you can prepare yourself to meet the physical demands. Implementing simple steps, like using two-person assistance when transferring heavy patients and wearing shoes with good arch support to help prevent leg and back strain, are helpful in preventing or relieving fatigue. Most importantly, it is essential that you get enough sleep and rest so your body can recover from the demands of your job.


REASON #3: Some Patients Are Difficult


About the Reason:

No matter how understanding you are, there will be days when your patients try your patience. When you have several patients who require care and a few of them get out of sorts, it can make your day quite challenging. Difficult or demanding patients can leave you feeling very stressed.

How to Overcome:

The most important step in overcoming this challenge is to understand that you are one person, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot please everyone or accomplish every job at once. Prioritize the jobs that need to be done and do them accordingly. Sometimes patients become difficult or demanding because they are afraid. In that case, taking a few extra minutes to talk to your patient may be enough to alleviate some of the stress. In other cases, if you have patients who are demanding, talk to them and let them know that you are there to assist them and care for them.


REASON #4: You Are Constantly Exposed to Illnesses


About the Reason:

As nurses, our job is to provide care to others. Unfortunately, in our quest to help patients recover, we are at risk of exposure to illnesses. The risk of becoming ill due to exposure is one of many reasons being a nurse is stressful.

How to Overcome:

The simplest way to manage the stress of being exposed to illnesses is to implement safe nursing practices, such as using universal precautions. Washing your hands before and after patient care, wearing gloves and other personal protective equipment when there is a risk of exposure to blood or body fluids, and implementing respiratory precautions when indicated can help reduce your risk of becoming ill, therefore reducing the stress associated with patient care.


REASON #5: You May Have to Work Short-Staffed


About the Reason:

It is not uncommon for nurses to have to work overtime or to work short-staffed due to other nurses calling in sick or not showing up for work. Being short-staffed and feeling overworked is one thing that makes being a nurse stressful.

How to Overcome:

Unfortunately, we cannot control whether other nurses show up for work. You may also feel that you cannot decline working overtime or working a shift when there are too few staff. Instead, when you are faced with this situation, it is better to work smarter, not harder. You may have more patients to provide care for or more phone calls to return, but if you manage your time wisely, you can accomplish your tasks. Take a few minutes to prioritize the tasks you must accomplish before you begin your shift. Also, if you feel overwhelmed or feel as though you are falling behind, reach out to your team leader or supervisor for help and guidance. Remember, their job is to see your team succeed in providing high-quality patient care.


REASON #6: You Cannot Fix Everyone


About the Reason:

If there is anything that makes a nurse feel stressed, it is the true realization that no matter how hard we try, there are some things we simply cannot fix. No amount of nursing theory or clinical instruction can prepare us for diseases that ravage bodies with too little strength to fight them. No amount of compassion or empathy can force a person to have the will to live if they have made peace with dying.

How to Overcome:

It is a nurse’s natural instinct to want to heal. So, letting go can be difficult. One of the toughest lessons for me as a nurse was learning when to let go and accept things for what they are. As stressful as it can be, the only way to overcome this stress is to try and understand the process of what your patient is going through. Let them talk and be willing to actively listen, acknowledging their feelings and supporting them, even if you wish you could change the circumstances.


REASON #7: There Never Seems to Be Enough Time in the Day


About the Reason:

As long as I have been a nurse, and as much as I like to think I am good at managing time, I must admit there are days when I feel like there is never enough time to get work done. Nurses in both administrative and clinical settings can feel like there is more work than time to accomplish it, which is another one of the main things that makes being a nurse stressful.

How to Overcome:

The first step in relieving the stress of time constraints is to know your limits. It is admirable to want to get everything done without asking for help. However, the safety of your patients and your team members is essential. If you rush through things trying to accomplish tasks, it increases the risk of errors, which could be detrimental. Therefore, if your patient load is too heavy or you are falling behind on your work, reach out to your nurse manager or team leader right away.


REASON #8: Heavy Patient Loads


About the Reason:

Nurse/patient ratios vary depending on the setting where you work and level of care your patients need. Whether related to widespread illness, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or staffing shortages, the number of patients a nurse must care for each day can be quite stressful.

How to Overcome:

Having worked in bedside nursing for years, I understand how stressful it can be when you have several patients who need you. Some days, it seems like everyone needs you at the same time. Although you cannot change the demands that come with a heavy patient load, you can alleviate some of the stress by practicing good time management and prioritization skills. You can do this by tending to priority patients first, then moving on to patients who are more stable. Also, when possible, document as soon as you complete tasks instead of waiting until the end of your shift. Sometimes, the simplest steps make the biggest difference in reducing stress.


REASON #9: Your Decisions Literally Impact Others’ Lives


About the Reason:

As a nurse, the decisions you make can impact your patient’s health outcome, sometimes to the point of life or death.... But no pressure, right? Even the most confident nurses can feel overwhelmed and stressed, especially in crisis situations when split-second decisions could mean the difference in a patient living or dying.

How to Overcome:

In all my years of being a nurse and a healthcare educator, I have never grown complacent enough in my role to think that I know enough to make decisions light-heartedly. In fact, I believe there is a fine line between having confidence and being reckless, and a wise nurse knows the difference.


REASON #10: Dealing with the Grief of Patient Loss


About the Reason:

In a perfect world, we would be able to take care of patients and nurse everyone back to health. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. As nurses, we may be at the bedside of a patient who has died and, within just a few minutes, be caring for someone else. The feeling that we must be in constant motion and always caring for others often makes it difficult for us to process traumatic events, such as a patient's death. When this happens, it can cause a buildup of stress or anxiety.

How to Overcome:

For some reason, nurses seem to come wired with this thought process that says we must appear invincible or that crying and feeling overwhelmed is unacceptable. That is simply not true. You pour yourself into your patients, and when they die, the grief you feel is real. If you feel overwhelmed, it is important to reach out to others. Many employers offer bereavement services to their employees. Consider talking to your nursing peers or supervisors and try to recall good memories of your patient. Most importantly, remember that it is impossible to provide good care for anyone if you are not caring for yourself. So, take time to rest, relax, and unwind. You may consider journaling or even joining a grief support group for healthcare professionals, such as PeerRx, Death Over Dinner, or The Emotional PPE Project.


REASON #11: Family Members Can Be Demanding or Rude


About the Reason:

As if the stress of caring for very ill or injured patients, keeping up with paperwork, and communicating with your team were not enough, there is also the stress of dealing with family members. While some of your patient’s loved ones may be appreciative and courteous, others can be demanding and quite rude. Most nurses will tell you they would prefer to deal with a demanding patient than a demanding family member because their behaviors usually stem from different reasons. Patients often come across as demanding when they are afraid and do not want to be alone. Family members may feel fear, but they also become demanding when they feel like they have lost control of a situation. Either way, their behavior can make your day frustrating and is one of the many reasons being a nurse is stressful at times.

How to Overcome:

While you cannot change someone else’s behavior, you can try to understand it, which can help you determine the right approach to communicating with them. Although there are some people who truly have bad attitudes, I have found more often than not that family members tend to lash out because they are scared and do not know what to do. They may be used to providing care and suddenly feel helpless. When possible, take a few extra minutes to talk with the family member(s) to see if you can find the source of their frustration, and if it is appropriate, include them in care planning. It may surprise you how much of a difference it makes to some people just to feel like their voices are being heard.


REASON #12: Non-Compliant Patients


About the Reason:

Being a nurse is stressful enough on its own, but when you throw a non-compliant patient into the mix, it can take your stress level and frustration to a whole new level. It is understandable, as our job is to help patients get well, and non-compliance often leads to more health risks. It can leave you feeling as though your efforts are in vain.

How to Overcome:

As much as you may hope for all your patients to understand the importance of compliance and follow through with their treatment plans, you cannot force the issue. As a healthcare educator, I have always told nursing students and staff nurses alike that our job is not to force patients into compliance but to give them the resources and tools they need to make informed decisions. When you realize your job is to provide essential care and facilitate education, you can relieve yourself of some of the pressure that comes with feeling like a patient’s compliance is your responsibility, therefore relieving some of the stress of being a nurse.


REASON #13: Lack of Managerial Support


About the Reason:

While many nurses express high regard for and satisfaction with nursing administration and management, others cite a lack of managerial support as one of the main reasons that being a nurse is stressful. With hectic schedules and heavy workloads, when you need support from higher-ups but do not get it, it can be quite frustrating.

How to Overcome:

I would love to tell you there is an easy way to fix a lack of managerial support. Unfortunately, those fixes should come from management, and therein lies the problem. What I suggest is to develop a good rapport with your team leaders and managers. If your healthcare facility has team meetings, make every effort to attend them, as this is where you can discuss concerns and get feedback from supervisors. Some healthcare facilities have suggestion boxes in which you can anonymously leave your suggestions or concerns for management to review. Also, keep in mind that just because one manager or leader does not act supportive, that does not mean every manager you have will be the same.


REASON #14: Clash of Personalities


About the Reason:

In nursing, you may work with ten nurses on any day, each with a unique personality. In a job that is already stressful, when personalities clash, it can make a difficult day worse!

How to Overcome:

It is impossible to make other people change. Besides, what a boring world it would be if we were all the same, right? To be strong nurses and effective contributors to the healthcare team, instead of allowing differences to cause disruptions in work, we can choose to draw from one another’s knowledge and insight. It has been my experience that when other people feel valued, they tend to reciprocate the gesture. When this happens, we can create a work environment that is conducive to good teamwork and promotes positive patient, team, and organizational outcomes.


REASON #15: Risk of Injury


About the Reason:

Another reason being a nurse is stressful is there is a risk of being injured. Even routine procedures, like giving a shot, could result in a nurse being injured. I remember many years ago, I worked in a pediatric clinic. One day, I had to give a child an antibiotic injection. The child's mother was holding him, but when I inserted the needle for the injection, she let go of him, and he started kicking his legs. He hit the syringe, causing the needle to come out of his leg and then land straight down on the top of my shoe. Although it was a small puncture, because the needle broke through my skin, I had to have blood tests for infectious diseases and follow-up labs. That is just one story of how many nurses can become injured at work. From lifting patients and equipment causing back strain, having patients hit you when they are combative, or slipping and falling, there is always a risk of injury.

How to Overcome:

Some workplace injuries are simply impossible to prevent. However, you can reduce your risk of injury by implementing safe practices. For example, no amount of sharps safety could have prepared me for the child’s mother being unable to hold her child and him kicking me. On the other hand, if I were moving a heavy patient or equipment without assistance or without wearing a back brace and became injured, that injury would have been preventable. By using safe practices at work and reducing your risk of injury, you can also reduce the stress associated with injuries or injury risks.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


If anyone told me being a nurse is not stressful, I would know they have never been a nurse. Why is being a nurse stressful? Oh, let me count the ways! Several factors lead to stress for nurses. In this article, I discussed the 15 most common reasons that make being a nurse stressful and how to overcome them. I think it is important to remember that any job has days that are more stressful than others, but a job worth doing is worth the challenging days. If you implement stress management techniques and become self-aware regarding things that raise your stress level, you can find ways to reduce your stress levels and be happier at work.


Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).