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Managing Anxiety in Nursing School

*Original post released on 10/3/2022

Let’s face the ugly truth that nursing school is one of THE most anxiety-causing choices/actions someone can choose to do. In this article, we’ll discuss shed light on some of the reasons as to why nursing is one of the most anxiety ridden career pursuits. Then, we’ll talk about a multitude of ways to adapt and overcome the anxiety as it happens, whether you’re a nursing student or a new nurse. Lastly, we’ll cover a few resources available for you to access in cases where you feel as if you need a little extra support.

So why is nursing one of the most stressful degree and/or career choices? Well, trust me, there are plenty of reasons. First let’s begin with the fact that, in nursing school, there aren’t just your typical class exams…you also have skills lab test offs and one or more standardized exams to take, which may or may not occur at least semesterly. Also, don’t forget that there’s a national board certification exam that you have to pass in order to prove that you can practice as a competent nurse before you’re allowed to actually be a nurse. As if that weren’t enough, nursing students are expected to attend lectures, labs, clinical sessions, and still study in their “off time.” On top of assigned homework, there is also assigned pre-clinical work expected to be completed so that we don’t accidentally harm our patients. We easily put in a full time job’s worth of hours per week just at school, if not more.

Next, let’s add in the normal everyday stressors the typical person experiences with family, friends, significant others, jobs, etc. While we’re at clinicals, we have to deal with the stress and weight that accompanies caring for at least one patient, if not more. At times, nursing program staff and clinical preceptors can be unsupportive and/or promote an overly competitive environment. Furthermore, the patients themselves can be an unnecessary stressor. Let’s face it, there’s the disappointing fact that violence, abuse, and disease exposure from patients is an all too common occurrence nowadays…which is something that needs to change, but that’s a topic for another discussion.

Now that we’ve addressed many of the actual and potential stressors while in nursing school, let’s move on to discuss some ways you can take control of the situation and manage your anxiety. If your anxiety comes from school and the overwhelming feeling from the sheer amount of material you’re expected to learn and commit to memory try:

  • Be on time, or even early, to lecture sessions, labs, and clinicals.
  • Make friends and reach out to others within the program so you have someone to talk to who knows exactly what you’re going through.
  • Use your time wisely to practice and study while at school so that you can find ways to decompress and enjoy your off time. Have a routine that works for you , your schedule, and your needs but also promotes a sense of consistency.
  • Avoid procrastination an cramming; set deadlines in advance.
  • Ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Sufficient sleep can help reduce stress levels, helps your body and mind recover and retain information better.
  • Set aside a specific amount of time for studying/completing homework or preclinical work, give it all you’ve got during that time, and tell yourself you’re going to accept the outcome given the effort you’ve just invested. With that being said, give the task 100% of your effort so you can’t say later on that you didn’t do everything possible with the time set aside.

For things outside of nursing school that contribute to your anxiety, there are some other approaches you can take. Evaluate your habits and hobbies and find what helps you decompress and destress. That might include listening to music, watching a favorite movie or tv show, participating in some form of physical activity, meditation, cooking, baking, etc. You can also try meditating or following along with some deep breathing exercises (YouTube and Google have plenty of search results for guided relaxation techniques). Take a hard look at every aspect of your current life and try to isolate the things that trigger your anxiety. Is it work? Family? Stress? Living in the future? Living in the past? Identify it; take away its power by overcoming it.

Also take a look at your consumption habits in terms of alcohol, caffeine, junk food, etc. Alcohol and caffeine can alter your central nervous system and can exacerbate the signs and symptoms of anxiety because they are depressants and stimulants. It can be all too easy to get into the habit of using drinks/foods with high caffeine content to jump start your day and energy levels, then to use a drink in the evening to unwind. This stimulant-depressant cycle can easily snowball and leave you feeling dependent on those substances for help throughout your day. Try to stay hydrated with water and eat healthier food options, limiting those fried and heavy foods that can make you feel weighed down and sluggish throughout the day. Try taking small snacks in more frequently.

If you’re already doing these things and still feel as though your anxiety is out of control, you can try looking into your campus resources to find counseling. They likely offer a certain amount of free sessions or sessions at a heavily discounted rate to make it affordable for students. Having a cohort group on social media can also help serve as a source of peer support when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious about something school related. You can also turn to your primary care provider to see if medical management with an anxiolytic medication is warranted. They can also assist you with referrals to counseling as needed.

Feel like you’re in a pinch with your out-of-control anxiety? There are some emergency resources you have access to. For instance, there’s always the option to call 911 in the event it becomes escalated to an emergency situation. Another number to call in the event of suicide/crisis is 988. You can also utilize a crisis text line by texting “SIGNS” or “HOME” to the number 741741. If you’re struggling with substance abuse and mental health, there’s a service line for that and their phone number is 1-800-662-4357. If your stress is related to a disaster you can call 1-800-985-5990, if related to domestic violence call 1-800-799-7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 22522, if related to sexual assault call 1-800-656-4673.

Anxiety in nursing school is nearly inevitable but it doesn’t have to uncontrolled and unmanageable. There are many ways you can help yourself or seek help from others. Don’t let yourself struggle, because there is no shame in admitting you may need a little help or pick me up in your mood. You’ve got this! You wouldn’t have been accepted into such a competitive degree program like nursing if the administrators didn’t believe you had the qualifications to excel in their program. Remind yourself of that, give it your best, and rest easy knowing you wouldn’t have done anything differently after giving your best effort.

Until next time, happy studying!

Andra Alyse

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