The day has finally come, and you’re about to embark on your long-awaited journey as a nurse. You’re excited and nervous as ever. After all those years of school and then searching for a job, the moment has come at last: Day 1 as a nurse. As you pull up your compression socks in the morning and put on your freshly ironed scrub set, your stomach is filled with butterflies, your mind has a million questions marks, and your hands are shaking from nervousness. How will you get through the first day?
Yet, somehow, you did. You made it through the first day! And yet, you may have come home with a splitting headache, and feeling more worried and nervous than ever. You are ready to quit. Sound familiar?
This uneasy feeling you are experiencing is called anxiety. You may have heard that anxiety is on the rise, but don’t worry! Almost all new nurses suffer from this. It is almost abnormal not to have some sort of anxiety. And great news to you — it will pass! It usually peaks at the beginning, but goes away after about a year.
Anxiety is a condition that causes obsessive thinking, along with feelings of tension, restlessness, and the inability to set aside a worry or fear.
Common symptoms of anxiety include: constant worry, excessive sweating, knots in your stomach, constantly questioning and re-questioning yourself and your decisions, racing thoughts, unwanted thoughts, and insomnia.
It mostly comes from a lack of confidence, which comes from a lack of experience. You are thrown into a new environment with a new routine that you are totally not used to. Besides a few clinicals and beginning orientation, you are utterly on your own. You have to care and provide for sick patients while being overwhelmed by all the tasks you are required to finish while learning the ropes. This is all a huge challenge, and the fear of messing up on a patient just tops it all off. From time to time, you will have to deal with Code Blue situations, which require rapid response and your brain has to quickly remember all those critical skills you learned. Your lack of experience and the fear of the unknown can make anxiety-provoking situations even more stressful.
How to Deal with New Nurse Anxiety
To avoid experiencing burnout, it is crucial for you to deal with this almost unavoidable anxiety. You have spent so many days and years working for this stage of life — don’t let all that work go to waste!
When you are aware of your problem and how normal and common it is, you’ve discovered half the solution already! If you are reading this, chances are that you know the problem and are looking for the second half of the solution. Read on…
2. Ask for Help!
Plain and simple as that. Although you might feel self-conscious at the beginning to constantly ask for help, just find yourself one go-to nurse. Explain to her you need someone to fall back on for all your questions and ask her if she minds. Most of the time, nurses understand how you feel and will be glad to help if they can. Just knowing you have someone to depend on will help your anxiety rate go down. When you need to scramble every time, trying to figure out who to ask your questions to this time, it can add much unwanted stress.
3. Find a Mentor and Support Group
The benefit of talking to peers who are going through the same thing as you can be two-fold. Firstly, you can vent your heart out. Sound foolish? But let me tell you: if you have a lot bubbled up inside you, it increases your anxiety. You feel alone, lost, and drowning in your own self. Talking it out will take lessen that uneasy feeling inside of you. Secondly, your mentor and support group will then be able to validate your feelings, and you will realize that what you are experiencing is normal. You’ll realize you are not alone, and together, you can come up with solutions. A mentor can give you tried and true tips for your specific nursing career, and can walk you through the beginning rough times.
4. Eat, Sleep, and Relax
Eating and sleeping well is a must! If you don’t eat and sleep well, you will simply not be able to focus and remember all of those skills you worked so hard to master. You will not have energy to deal with your patients and to stay awake during your shift. Make sure you take the time to take good care of yourself. Find the time to relax. Breath in and out a few times, and remember that this difficult time will pass. Repeat that over and over. It will calm your mind (and nerves) down.
If necessary, do it in front of a mirror. Breathe in, breathe out, and feel your whole body relax. Let your shoulders drop, and your fingers go loose, and repeat in your mind, “This too shall pass.”
In addition, limit caffeine intake since caffeine is a stimulant that causes the “fight or flight” response, and leads to unwanted anxiety. Although nurses are known to live on coffee, scrubs, and rubber gloves, avoid the coffee until you are used to nurse life and your anxiety has gone down.
5. Separate Work and Home Life
“One time I woke in the middle of the night panicked because I thought I had forgotten to give my husband insulin (he’s not diabetic),” recalls nurse Mack Marie. When at home, you should forget you are a nurse. Like I said before, focus on relaxing, eating, and sleeping well. Get in some exercise, and sweat out all the stress. Go out and spend time with loved ones, and forget all your work problems. Do the things you love, and leave your work at work.
6. Keep a Diary
Research has proven that writing helps alleviate stress and anxiety. Pour out your feelings and frustrations in your diary until you feel like a weight has been lifted from your heart. Initially, writing may upset you and cause you to get worked up, but eventually it will calm you down, and help get you through this difficult time period.
So, to conclude, you are human, and you will make mistakes. It will happen inevitably. Embrace your mistakes and don’t let them overwhelm you. You will grow and learn a tremendous amount from them. Realize what you are experiencing is so super normal. Try the tips, get yourself a support group, try to keep calm, and nurse on!