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How to Avoid Burnout in Travel Nursing

No one’s immune from burnout. It can sneak up on you. At first, you’re hitting the snooze button too many times. Then you’re realizing you don’t remember the last time you enjoyed a day in the hospital. Then, you’re feeling tired all the time, wondering what your greater purpose is, and how to reignite your passion. There’s no way around it: burnout sucks.

Burnout’s nothing to be ashamed of, though. Nursing is a very challenging career — and you wouldn’t have picked it if you didn’t like a challenge. With enough awareness, though, it’s possible to avoid burnout completely. Read on to learn how to keep burnout at bay.


The first step in avoiding burnout is recognizing its symptoms. Watch for warning signs of burnout by considering some self-reflective questions regularly:

  • How am I feeling? Has anything happened recently to influence these feelings?
  • Are any ongoing situations bothering me?
  • Am I stressed out? Anxious? Do I feel more stressed or anxious than is typical for me?
  • How’s my attitude? Am I feeling cynical, irritable, or unenthusiastic? Are there reasons for this?
  • Do I feel healthy? Energetic? If not, why? Am I paying attention to my body?

If you reflect and become aware something’s off, it’s time to take action. But, don’t worry — you can turn it around!

Practice self-care

Maslow’s triangle is a well-known psychological theory that suggests we need to take care of our most basic needs first to work toward fulfillment. At the bottom of the triangle are our required needs. If you’re feeling burnt out, prioritize self-care first and foremost:

  • Food. Good nutrition is linked to happiness and reduced stress. Pay attention to what’s best for your body — and stick to it.
  • Water. Dehydration can increase stress, disrupt your health, and even affect your mood. Keep a water bottle handy to stay hydrated all day.
  • Sleep. Get enough of it (the CDC recommends at least seven hours) and create a restful environment free of distractions.

For more ideas on some fun ways to practice self-care, check out Treat Yourself! 23 Ideas for an Amazing Summer of Self-Care as a Travel Nurse.

Set and maintain boundaries

Boundaries are the emotional, mental, and physical limits we set with others. People who go into the helping professions are often wired to give. While that’s a wonderful trait, it also opens you up to being depleted by others’ needs.

For those who struggle with boundaries, adopting them can feel selfish at first. But, a certain amount of selfishness will protect your self-esteem and help you avoid burnout. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true: the more we protect ourselves and our boundaries, the more compassion we have to give.

Talk to your support system

Keeping things bottled up can often strengthen negative emotions and feelings of exhaustion and isolation. Though it may be tricky to open up, talking to the people who love you can really shed some light and clarity on what you’re feeling. Remember that your family and friends want you to be happy — and they can help you find a solution that you might not think of on your own.

Guard your time

A big part of burnout comes from working long hours. When you self-reflect, you might notice that burnout comes from a lack of personal time. It can be tempting to take on extra work because it’s lucrative and rewarding. Consider flipping your perspective and focusing on claiming personal time first.

Take a vacation …

You can use your time off to rest, catch up with personal tasks, or travel.

As a travel nurse, you may think you do plenty of traveling. But tackling new assignments is pretty much the opposite of a vacation.

Traveling can give you a new perspective. It can be just the reset you’re looking for — allowing you to come back to your work refreshed and rejuvenated. Plus, traveling abroad is linked to better health, stress reduction, increased creativity, and more.

As a travel nurse, you can take advantage of your flexible location to explore new parts of the world. And remember: you don’t have to be a millionaire to create a great vacation.

… or take an assignment close to home

If, on the other hand, you’re traveling too much or if you’re feeling homesick, you may want to consider taking a travel nursing gig that’s closer to home. You can take a break from the traveling part of your travel nursing life while still reaping the benefits of your flexible career. Some time working at home, near your family and friends, may be just the thing you need to reinvigorate your love of your career.

Pursue professional goals

Sometimes, burnout is caused by feeling stagnant in your career. Professional development can reinvigorate your passion for your vocation — and give you the satisfaction of setting and achieving goals. Plus, you’ll keep your skills sharp and provide even better care to your patients.

Periodically review your priorities to decide which skills you want to develop and any certificates you want to earn. Consider your strengths, interests, and the activities you find most rewarding — and commit to pursuing them.

Try mindfulness

Research shows those who practice mindfulness have better responses to stress and lower levels of cortisol — two horsemen of burnout. Meditation also increases our compassion for others.

You don’t need anything fancy to “do” mindfulness. It’s as simple as being aware of feelings and thoughts. Take time to focus on your breathing, taste your food, or observe the colors, scents, and sounds of nature. You can also find a good book or app to help you learn more about mindfulness practice. See our post on How to Get Started with Mindfulness as a Travel Nurse for a full guide.

Focus on gratitude

Negativity may be the biggest problem associated with burnout. We all know from experience that negative thought loops deplete joy and general satisfaction.

One way to counteract negative thought loops is to focus on the positive. Savoring positive emotions and experiences, like watching a beautiful sunset, actually changes your brain activity. Gratitude creates job satisfaction and a sense of community. To put it into practice, try out these tips:

  • Keep a gratitude journal and write down three things you’re grateful for each evening.
  • Make it a habit to mentally note beauty, kind gestures, or happy feelings.
  • Share your gratitude with your friends, family, and colleagues. If someone helps you out on the floor, be sure to thank them.

Looking for more on avoiding burnout? Check out our blog on how to beat stress as a travel nurse.

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