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Managing Stress For Nurses

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

Managing Stress in Nursing School



Before a student even gets their acceptance letter into nursing school, the student has probably been told a hundred times how stressful nursing school is. The problem is that it is hard to understand the type of stress that you will experience in nursing school, or as a working nurse, until you are actually in the program or hospital. Managing your stress will be something that, if you can master, you will have a much better mindset to excel, pass your courses, and be a great nurse.

If you are not in a nursing program yet, don’t let the talk of stress scare you into choosing another career. Nursing is a great profession, that has a broad area of work that you will be able to find a job that fits your lifestyle and stress tolerance. Because nursing is so broad and complex however, this is one of the reasons that make the schooling stressful.


In a relatively short amount of time, nursing students are expected to have proficient knowledge in many areas of nursing, and the NCLEX will test your knowledge and comprehension of many areas to make sure you will be a safe nurse, no matter where you end up working. With managing your stress in nursing school, first look at the school's perspective. The instructors have a responsibility to ensure that their students will be good nurses. The way that any given state within the U.S can evaluate if you are a “good nurse” or not is by the NCLEX. Nursing programs are designed to make good nurses, yes, but what they really want is to make sure their students pass the NCLEX. Nursing programs are graded on how many of their passing students pass or fail the NCLEX. If instructors have any reason to believe that a student will not pass the NCLEX, the nursing program will most likely want to "fail" the student before graduation, and before the student has the opportunity to fail the NCLEX, which would bring down the programs rating.


The nursing program will put a high amount of stress on their students to ensure a high pass rate for their institution. If you have this in mind, you will be able to start on working on your stress in nursing school in a concrete way. If you think that the school is “out to get you,” or that you are being picked on in any way, you will victimize yourself, and your stress will be hard to manage. Understand that nursing school is stressful, there is a reason that the programs are stressful, and it isn’t going to change while you are in your program.


As for working nurses, there are many unfortunate causes of stress within the american healthcare system that can cause stress. The stress of nursing is a real problem, and it is something that all nurses need to be aware of. But remember that just because a job may be stressful, it does not always need to be said in a negative way.

When talking about stress, remember that stress is good. In the story The Tortoise and the Hare, I doubt the tortoise would have won if there was another rabbit to challenge the other rabbit. The rabbit in this story had no stress, and procrastinated during the race. Going through nursing school with no stress would most likely bring shallow results and horrible nurses. The stress nursing students have with a large homework load and multiple tests per week, will give you the stress to be very productive throughout your program. The problem is when the stress level gets too high, and your productivity goes down.




When you start to see your productivity go down, work on your stress until your productivity increases. If you notice that you are stressed out to a point you are not productive, and you continue to power through your situation without having a release to your stress, large problems can result.


When you are stressed, you might not be thinking clearly enough to use good coping skills. If you find that you are not using appropriate coping skills during times of high stress. Make a coping skills toolbox. The toolbox does not have to be a literal toolbox of ideas or coping skills, but it should be something that you can have with you during any times of stress. Having reminders on your phone, or a list in your wallet of the coping skills that are specific to you, might help you during a stressful event. The coping skills toolbox needs to be specific to your personal needs, and they need to be available the moment stress starts to become overwhelming.


Motivational quotes are one helpful idea that can be a good tool for your toolbox. Other ideas may be Youtube videos, instagram feeds, music, letters from loved ones, or self affirmations.


Remember that there is a snowball effect with stress. The more you let your stress build up, the harder it will be to control. The moment you start feeling overwhelmed, you need to take a step back and get into a positive mood. Use coping skills that you know will work for you, and if those aren’t working, think outside the box and try a stress reliever that has helped someone else.


Finding appropriate coping skills can be challenging for nurses. If taking a relaxing walk is your go-to coping skill, this won’t be beneficial to you when you have an instructor behind you watching your every move in the lab, and you’re stressed out knowing if you make the slightest mistake you have the possibility of hurting a living human being. It is true that taking a walk will help you before or after a stressful experience in the lab or hospital, but it is helpful if you can learn to use mental coping skills that you can use no matter where you are. If you feel peace when thinking of a good quote you have memorized, or you feel good when you think of your last trip to the beach, these mental tricks can help you get through challenging times where you are in the middle of a stressful event.


With nursing, you will have a great opportunity to experience many stressful events. After these stressful events, find ways to reward yourself. Rewarding yourself during nursing school or work can be tricky. Teachers may tell the students to “reward themselves” after taking a stressful test, but it is hard in nursing school to “reward” yourself after a test when you have three more tests that week, a clinical the next day, and a care plan due the following day. With all of the responsibilities a nurse or nursing student has, however, it is still possible to find little ways to reward yourself and bring down your stress level. Going through stressful events without a reward to yourself for overcoming the stress, is like running a race and not drinking water at the finish line. Your mind needs enlightenment after a stressful event, and you won’t fail nursing school, or lose your job, if you take some time to relax and do something that will recharge your mind for the next stressful event.


Main points.

Remember that nursing is stressful, and that's not a bad thing. Use the stress to become a great nurse.

Make a coping skills toolbox. Whether you actually make a toolbox or just write down your coping skills, it doesn’t really matter. When you are stressed, your mind will be hyper-focused on your stressful event. Having your coping skills written down will help you remember the things that help you relax.

Take care of your stress the moment you realize you aren’t being productive. It is much easier to manage stress before it snowballs out of control.

Identify good coping skills you can use anywhere. Nursing school is very diverse, and students aren’t always in the classroom. Find coping skills you can use in the lab, at clinicals, and during your study time.

After you accomplish a stressful task such as a test, clinical, demanding patient, reward yourself, and build yourself up to tackle the next task.

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