Highly Sensitive People in Nursing: Stress & Burnout - Research

  1. Highly Sensitive People make up roughly 20% of any given population. Given this group is more sensitive to internal and external stimuli, those that are highly sensitive might consider how this could affect their work as a nurse. My study aims to offer some insight into this question.

    Highly Sensitive People in Nursing: Stress & Burnout - Research

    Highly Sensitive People make up roughly 20% of any given population. Given this group is more sensitive to internal and external stimuli, those that are highly sensitive might consider how this could affect their work as a nurse. My study aims to offer some insight into this questions

    Hello Everyone!

    I'm an RN and am wondering if anyone would be willing to help me with my graduate thesis by taking my online survey. It is on stress and burnout in nursing, and I am researching some newer aspects of personality and cognition. I would really appreciate it! Everything will be kept anonymous and confidential.

    The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete, and you need to be a practicing RN, LVN or LPN within the U.S. The number of times allowed for survey participation is one. Thank you all for your help! I have included a more formal description of my study below, but if you would like to go ahead and take the survey, here is the link:

    https://angelo.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe...m9RwEJMiAcG5BX

    Highly Sensitive People

    To date, Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) have never been researched within the context of nursing stress and burnout, or even nursing in general. Although this is true, Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS), the temperamental trait that characterizes one as a Highly Sensitive Person, has only existed since 1997, and more widespread research on the construct did not begin until several years later. This refers to this particular construct, which is specifically defined within the literature. HSPs make up roughly 20% of any given population (Aron, 2012). This group can become more overwhelmed by internal and external stimuli, which stems from certain physiological processes within the brain. Examples of these stimuli are loud noises, too much social or emotional stimuli, or stimuli from the moods of others, strong smells, bright lights or new or changing situations (Aron & Aron, 1997; Acevedo et al., 2014). When overwhelmed, those with the trait of SPS can experience heightened levels of both stress and burnout at work.

    Stress in Nursing

    In addition, the nursing profession has been ranked by the US National Institute as one of the top 40 most stressful careers to have (Heim, 1991). Out of a study among physicians, pharmacists and nurses, Wolfgang (1988) found that nurses ranked the highest in stress levels by a significant degree. Also, research by the American Nurses Association (ANA) revealed that nurses ranked being overworked and the effects of stress as the most serious concerns in their profession, which has not changed in nearly a decade (Roberts & Grubb, 2013).

    Burnout in Nursing

    According to one study, burnout accounted for the largest explanation in mental health as well as physical health disparities of nurses (Maria, 2012). Cooper, Dewe & O'Driscoll (2001) describe burnout as the result of being exposed to stressful working circumstances for a protracted period of time, reflecting a state of both emotional and physical exhaustion. Burnout is divided into three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low personal accomplishment (Renzi et al., 2012).

    Lastly, knowing that both HSPs and nurses are affected by stress and burnout, I believe this research is vital. Although different forms of sensitivity have been measured in the past in different ways, these previous tools did not measure what we know it today to represent, which includes a more defined set of criteria. We are still lacking insight into things that lead to stress and burnout (other than work-related causes) in some of our most vulnerable populations, such as nursing. Therefore, my goal with this research is to find more answers concerning the backbone of the healthcare industry: nurses!

    Thank you for reading! When my thesis has been completed, I will post the conclusions of the study for you all to see, most likely under the same title. If you are interested in my thesis research survey, here is the link again:

    http://angelo.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/...m9RwEJMiAcG5BX




    References:
    Acevedo, B., Aron, E., Aron, A., Sangster, M., Collins, N. & Brown, L. (2014). The highly sensitive brain: an fMRI study of sensory processing sensitivity and response to others' emotions. Brain and Behavior, 4(4), 580-94.
    10.1002/brb3.242

    Aron, E. & Aron, A. (1997). Sensory-processing sensitivity and its relation to introversion and emotionality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 345-368.

    Aron, E., Aron A., and Jagiellowicz, J. (2012) Sensory processing sensitivity: A review in the light of the evolution of biological responsivity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16, 262-282.

    Cooper, C. L., Dewe, P. J., & O'Driscoll, M. P. (2001). Foundations for organizational science. Organizational stress: A review and critique of theory, research, and applications. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.

    Maria, N. (2012). Burnout among staff nurses: Examining the causes, coping strategies and prevention. Arcada, 1-51.

    Renzi, C., Di Pietro, C., & Tabolli, S. (2012). Psychiatric morbidity and emotional exhaustion among hospital physicians and nurses: Association with perceived jobrelated factors. Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, 67(2), 117-123. doi:10.1080/19338244.2011.578682

    Roberts, R. K., & Grubb, P. L. (2014). The consequences of nursing stress and need for integrated solutions. Rehabilitation Nursing, 39(2), 62-69. 10.1002/rnj.97
    Wolfgang, A. P. (1988). Job stress in the health professions: A study of physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. Behavioral Medicine, 14(1), 43-47.
    10.1080/08964289.1988.9935123
    Last edit by tnbutterfly on Nov 23
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    Robert Redfearn is a RN who is currently earning his graduate degree in industrial/organizational psychology in order to solve broad problems within organizations, including those within nursing. He is currently applying for Ph.D. programs and is working on his master's thesis on the topic of nursing.

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    22 Comments

  3. by   traumaRUs
    Done! Thanks.
  4. by   Kitiger
    Done.
  5. by   VivaLasViejas
    Done!
  6. by   37changes
    Thank you for bringing this up. My sister recently told me about a documentary she watched, about highly sensitive people. She feels that she is definitely one of them, and I would say I probably agree with that.

    She went on to say that I probably was also. "Don't you think?" ...Not having watched the documentary, a part of me was resistant to that idea. I don't necessarily like labels, although I know sometimes it can be a huge help to finally know what you are dealing with. And to know that there are so many others out there like you. I know it made her feel less like a freak, because she communicated that to me.

    After reading your post, I went to Amazon to look for the documentary. I don't think I'm going to watch it, but I did find a book with over 1000 reviews ~ pretty positive. Probably one you are citing here. I put it in my cart and I think I am going to try to read it soon. I will be graduating in just a few weeks, and not sure what direction I'm going to go. I think reading it might be just what I need to do right now. It certainly can't hurt to be more educated on the matter. Thanks again!
  7. by   RNliveoak
    Hi 37changes, thanks for writing. What a timely thing to do before you decide where to work! You should get great information out of that (by E. Aron)! There are great things about being highly sensitive too, I just couldn't include both in my study. Maybe one day. Congratulations on graduating, and good luck.
  8. by   TriciaJ
    I've recently retired (but still work very occasionally) so I'm not eligible for your survey. But I can certainly relate to having sensory overload and had a sensation two years ago of having hit a wall. I hung on by the nails and retired one year ago and am still feeling extremely relieved that I did so. A lot of nurses are still working who are older than me and God bless them. But I. Just. Can't.

    I find the topic of your thesis to be extremely timely and interesting. Best wishes.
  9. by   Serhilda
    I'm somewhat of a sensitive person and couldn't be happier with my job. But I'm also optimistic and unfazed by grumpy, noncompliant patients. Interested in what these results will show.
  10. by   JKL33
    I participated.

    I dearly hope, though, that some day we will turn our attention more to the environment and its specific factors, rather than continually and incessantly focusing on nurses and our coping or purported lack thereof. Exceedingly few people thrive in the type of environments that many healthcare environments have become for staff nurses in recent years. Thousands+ of nurses are not "burned out" (if so, the concept itself should be more closely examined/questioned, IMO) and our frequent discussion about burnout have not led to positive changes in the environment.

    Signed,

    Debbie D.
  11. by   nutella
    I am not sure why a highly sensitive person would consider nursing????
  12. by   traumaRUs
    After doing the survey, I'm about as sensitive as a brick wall - lol!

    However, I work with some very sensitive people. They are wonderful, personable people and I enjoy being with them because they see things I don't always see. Empathy is not always a trait that can be taught, you kinda have to have it already, don't you think?
  13. by   37changes
    Quote from nutella
    I am not sure why a highly sensitive person would consider nursing????
    When my sister first presented the term to me, my gut reaction was to be repelled by it. "Nope, I'm going to be a nurse. I can't be a highly sensitive person."

    I pictured crying over the smallest things, being very high-strung and unable to relax. Maybe ruminating too long over things and not being able to handle criticism. I pictured things associated in my mind with weakness. And I just couldn't go there.

    But as I am beginning to read this book, I realize that -- first of all, there is no "one size fits all" set of criteria. Yes, of course, there are common characteristics ... but we are all unique. Each person's life experiences are different, we have developed our own coping strategies to get through the hurdles in life, and we will react differently to our own unique circumstances.

    A highly sensitive person in nursing can be one kick-ass nurse, and I imagine there are many. Why? They pick up on small details and nuances that others may not. They are constantly aware of things that others don't even see. That can be the difference between a life being saved ... or not. Sounds pretty useful to me. I imagine they do it for a variety of reasons -- just like all nurses -- including feeling that they have a good ability (and drive) to help others in their time of need, even if it takes a toll on them personally.
  14. by   Luchador
    Quote from RNliveoak
    Hi 37changes, thanks for writing. What a timely thing to do before you decide where to work! You should get great information out of that (by E. Aron)! There are great things about being highly sensitive too, I just couldn't include both in my study. Maybe one day. Congratulations on graduating, and good luck.
    I didn't take the survey because I'm an student RN at this point. But I have a question- how do you know if you are a "highly sensitive person?" I suspect I am and nursing probably draws quite a few empathetic types.

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