Statistically, nursing school is stressful. Psychological studies have found it’s more stressful than just about any other academic program—including, some studies say, medical school. The reasons why makes sense. Like with any medical program, you have to learn a huge amount of information fully and quickly, in addition to juggling personal/family responsibilities. The clinical experience on top of all this, though, is what makes nursing students stand apart. After classes, after homework and studying, after taking care of your kids or parents or both, you have clinicals, which can demand all of your mental, physical, and emotional energy.
Nursing school requires a lot, so avoiding stress entirely just isn’t always realistic. Some days you have to accept the reality of nursing school stress, but you can always stress less, and sometimes defeat it entirely with a few techniques.
“Self-care” doesn’t mean what it’s sometimes used for—skipping class to watch rom coms in bed. Though that indulgence might relieve a little stress in the moment, in the long-run, trying to catch up on missed material will only exacerbate the problem.
Real self-care isn’t an excuse to be irresponsible, but a reminder to attend to your own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. This is always important, and somehow it seems to be easiest to forget when you’re immersed in the study and practice of caring for others. Nursing students have to remember to take care of themselves and making that a priority.
Given your time commitments, new demands, and a hundred new terms to memorize every week, you may not be able to “take care of yourself” by doing things like drawing a hot bath for an hour every night, but you can and should sleep enough, eat right, and exercise in the midst of nursing school. In fact, this proper self-care will help alleviate nursing school stress, or at least can keep it from getting worse.
Related Resource: How to Prepare for Nursing School
People organize their lives and work in myriad ways, and no one way is better than another—but some kind of organization is essential for reducing the stress of nursing school. Whether it’s with Google Calendar, sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, or a color-coordinated daily planner, you need to create and stick to a schedule for managing your study, class, sleep, and personal time. Nursing school stress often arises from feeling like you have a million things to do, and worrying that you won’t get them done. You might actually have close to a million things to do, but you can get them done, and a visible, functional schedule will assure you of that.
Clinicals tend to be the most stressful part of nursing school. The moment the information you learned is put into practice, you’re going to feel the weight of responsibility, the fear of making a mistake, and all the stresses that nurses have to deal with on a daily basis. As you’re learning a new role, you’re also learning how to tactfully deal with angry and demanding patients, how your current hospital or field site operates, and how to work alongside staff. It’s demanding, but instead of buckling under the pressure, one way to stress less is by forgiving yourself.
You’re not going to be a perfect nurse overnight. You won’t even be a perfect nurse by the end of your first clinical rotation. Nursing is a profession that requires a lot of knowledge and experience, and clinicals are a time to provide both. You might be expected to be perfectly patient and knowledgeable in your first nursing job (but even there a lot of administrators have some grace). In clinicals, you’re there to learn, and so it’s important to forgive yourself for the small errors you make and the things you forget.
If you feel completely exhausted and brain-dead at some point during nursing school, you may start to question why you’re even there, and if the education is worth it. This is natural, but despairing can make stress worse, not better. The real solution is to answer that question: Why did you decide to become a nurse?
Was it to provide for your family?
Was it to have a career that helped and sometimes saved lives?
Was it because a nurse positively affected your life—or a family member’s?
Every nursing student will answer this question in a different way, but no one decides to go to nursing school because they think it will be a breeze. Everyone expects hard work and yet chooses to become a nurse anyway. Remembering your choice will keep you motivated and keep things in perspective, which helps combat stress.
It’s tempting to go into isolation when you’re stressed. With a full class schedule, clinical, sleep, and the looming NCLEX, nursing school stress will make you feel like you never have time for anyone, but this is not the case. While it might be harder to carve out the time for others, time with loved ones and peers is as essential as ever. You need emotional support when you’re in nursing school, and you need some camaraderie that only comes from talking with other students. If you’re feeling a lot of stress, there’s a good chance they are too. Just knowing you’re not the only person who feels overwhelmed can bring some relief and reduce some of that stress.
If you’re ready to start your journey toward a fulfilling career in nursing, read more about our associate of science in nursing program, where you can become a registered nurse in as little as 20 months.