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New Study: Meditation Really Does Help Reduce Nurse Burnout

Ann Feeney, CAE
Updated September 22, 2023
Edited by
    Can meditation help you address nurse burnout? Learn about recent studies and how you can use meditation to ease stress and symptoms of nursing burnout.
    Nurse taking a break outside and meditatingCredit: Getty Images
    • Nursing burnout takes a terrible toll on nurses and affects patient care.
    • September is Suicide Prevention Month, and nurses are more likely to commit suicide than people in the general population, with burnout playing a factor.
    • A recent study confirms the many benefits of meditation in nursing, reducing the factors that lead to burnout.

    We hear a lot about meditation and similar practices as tools for improving well-being. These techniques have gained special attention in the nursing community for their purported benefits in combating nurse burnout — a well-established problem across the profession.

    But does meditation really work, or is it just another self-help buzzword, an exercise in motivational box-checking? A recent study provided more evidence of its benefits.

    The paper, published in The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN), found that healthcare clinicians who practiced transcendental meditation or TM twice daily saw improvements in emotional exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and mental well-being — all key triggers for burnout — after just one month.

    “There is a critical need for evidence-informed interventions that are practical and have meaningful impacts on emotional health and well-being,” the study authors wrote. “This study contributes to the growing body of evidence supporting the use of TM as an effective self-help practice to reduce burnout and provide support for the ever-increasing demands of providing clinical care. Instruction in TM early in one’s professional career should be considered. The TM technique is easy to learn and sustain and should be considered in a clinician’s toolbox of self-help practices.”

    Because nurses are more likely to consider and commit suicide than the rest of the public, addressing nurse burnout and depression can literally save lives in the nursing profession. Burnout is strongly associated with suicidal ideation among nurses.

    With September being Suicide Prevention Month, now is as good a time as any to learn more about how to cope with nurse burnout — and improve your mental health risk factors — with meditation.

    Nursing Burnout: What the Numbers Show

    What is nurse burnout? According to the American Psychological Association, burnout is “prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job. It is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and professional inefficacy.”

    Almost two-thirds of nurses experience burnout, especially younger nurses. Nursing burnout is associated with negative outcomes for both patients and nurses, including lowered:

    • Patient safety
    • Quality of care
    • Patient satisfaction
    • Nurse organizational commitment
    • Nurse productivity

    Nurses who experience burnout are much more likely to leave their job or nursing, resulting in even more pressure on the existing workforce and fostering a vicious cycle.

    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses were at higher risk of suicide. Between 2007 and 2018, nurses were 18% more likely to die by suicide than the rest of the population, and in 2018, 5% of nurses experienced suicidal ideation.

    Meditation: Does it Really Help?

    In the OJIN study, which was conducted during COVID-19, a group of 32 clinicians received formal training in transcendental meditation and were encouraged to meditate twice daily. After one month, the study group saw statistically significant improvements, with benefits sustained over the next month. Nurses experienced not only improvements in well-being but reported a meaningful sense of accomplishment.

    The participants reported high daily engagement in meditation, which also indicates that even busy clinicians can participate in mindfulness exercises.

    Other studies have found similar results. A hospital-based study found that meditation training and sessions increased nurse mindfulness, self-compassion, and serenity. Another study found that using a meditation app four times per week for eight weeks improved compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, and mindfulness, as well as nurse burnout levels.

    Meditation in nursing by itself is no substitute for systemic change to address nurse burnout. But, it is a tool for nurses to deal with stress while they work with their organizations on the issue of preventing nursing burnout and reducing its impact on nurses.

    Using Meditation to Reduce Nurse Burnout: Common-Sense Tips for Getting Started

    Like any other healthy practice, it can be much easier to plan on daily meditation than to accomplish it. Start with an incremental approach and a healthy dose of flexibility and self-forgiveness to temper that newfound motivation.

    Some things you can do to make room for meditation in your schedule include:

    • Start small and take opportunities for mini-meditation sessions (just a few minutes can be enough).
    • Set a schedule for meditation.
    • Share what works for you with your colleagues.
    • Do not blame yourself or give up meditation practice if you miss a few sessions.
    • Set a time limit, possibly a short one such as 3-5 minutes as you begin.
    • Pair it with other work habits and routines to make it latch onto an existing habit, such as a coffee break.
    • Advocate for making it an organization-wide practice and normalize taking a meditation break.
    • Consider professional training or using an app designed by mental health professionals.
    • Have a meditation buddy or group to provide support for practicing regular meditation.

    If you find yourself experiencing burnout, there are other things you can do. Organizations and nurse leaders can address nurse burnout by taking steps like:

    • Managing team conflict in respectful and healthy ways
    • Not tolerating bullying, hazing, or other negative behaviors
    • Ensuring enough staff and fair work schedules
    • Reviewing benefits and optimizing the ones that have the most impact
    • Recognizing and developing leadership potential
    • Supporting professional growth and career development.

    Supporting and modeling meditation and other mental health practices is a vital part of individual and organizational nurse burnout intervention.