18 Effective Ways to Deal with Nursing School Stress
Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN
If you are a nursing student, you know how stressful it can be, especially if you are trying to balance school with other responsibilities. To be successful in nursing school, it is necessary to learn how to deal with nursing school stress. In this article, I will share some of my personal experiences with stress from nursing school and as a nursing instructor tell you 18 effective ways to deal with nursing school stress.
Is Nursing School Stressful?
Is nursing school stressful? Yes, without a doubt, nursing school is stressful. As a nursing student, you will learn something new every day. You will learn to deal with patients of all ages and from diverse backgrounds, to communicate with patients and colleagues, and skills necessary to function in a safe, competent manner. While nursing school stress may be inevitable, you can learn to cope with stress and become successful in nursing school and as a nurse.
Is It Normal For Students To Be Stressed In Nursing School?
Stress in nursing school is completely normal. Whether you are worried about a big test, laboratory demonstrations, or clinical rotations, stress as a nursing student is real and normal. Once you realize it is normal to feel stress or anxiety in nursing school, you can develop methods of dealing with stress and become successful as a nursing student.
7 Reasons Why Nursing School Is So Stressful
Everyone experiences stress differently. The things that make you feel stressed may be what another student uses to help drive them. Recognizing reasons and the triggers that may lead to nursing school stress is the first step in learning effective ways to cope and succeed. The following are seven of the most common reasons you may experience stress while in nursing school.
1. Transitioning to student life:
As exciting as going to nursing school can be, the transition to student life can be pretty stressful. Do not beat yourself up if you feel overwhelmed at first. Take your time to adjust to your new routine and remember you are not alone.
2. Financial Responsibilities and School Expense:
Nursing school is an investment of more than time. Your education on the path to becoming a nurse can be expensive. Even with financial aid
, like grants or loans, it does not take long to feel the strain of changes in personal finances. If you worked before nursing school, you might have decreased the amount of time you work, which means less income and increased financial stress.
3. You feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster.
As a former nursing student and now a nursing educator, I can honestly say I would not trust anyone who says nursing school does not cause you to feel like your emotions are a total wreck at times. There will be days you feel like you are on top of the world and breezing through classes. Then, there will be days you feel like every question your instructor asks is about something totally foreign. You will pass a test and feel like you can do anything, and you will perform poorly on a test and feel as if you will never "get it."
4. Failure to plan:
If I could tell you one thing that leads to stress in nursing school, it is failing to plan. One of my nursing instructors said something to me, and I made it a point to share it with every nursing student I ever taught, "Failure to plan is planning to fail." It is impossible to plan every moment of every day in nursing school and expect things to work perfectly according to that plan. You can, however, plan for the expected. I will share more about this later in the article.
5. Lack of sleep:
It is no secret that many nursing students seem to live off caffeine and super-charged energy drinks. Although it is okay to have a cup of coffee (or more), nothing should take the place of a good night's sleep.
6. Studying too much:
Yep, you read that right. Studying is essential and the only way to succeed in nursing school. Our brains need a break from time to time. Studying too much can lead to burnout, impacting your performance and increasing stress in nursing school.
7. Feeling like you do not have a support system:
Many people underestimate the importance of relying on a support system while in nursing school. If you try to go it alone, you can quickly feel overwhelmed. Later, I will give you some tips on developing a solid support system to help reduce nursing school stress.
7 Ways Nursing School Stress Can Affect Your Performance And Well Being
Some stress can be expected whether you are in nursing school or not. However, stress that is not managed can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional well-being and your academic success. Here are some examples of how nursing school stress can affect your performance and wellness.
1. Stress can lead to difficulty remembering and processing content.
Cortisol is a hormone in the body that is released in response to a stressful event. In normal circumstances, cortisol does not cause problems. However, when you experience chronic or uncontrolled stress, your body will make more cortisol than it can release. High levels of cortisol can slow the brain’s ability to process new information or recall previously learned content.
2. Stress can cause changes in your social skills.
Researchers from the Brain Mind Institute at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne have conducted studies that indicate increased stress can disrupt synaptic mechanisms in the brain. The alteration in synaptic function is believed to support a connection between stress and cognitive impairment and the loss of social skills. One of the most essential skills nurses use is communication. When stress affects social skills, it can impact your performance in the clinical setting and could result in an inability to progress in the program.
3. Stress may cause you to experience burnout syndrome.
Burnout syndrome is a form of extreme exhaustion caused by stress. Burnout syndrome can cause emotional, physical, and mental symptoms and can have a negative impact on not only your grades but your overall health and wellness.
4. Unmanaged stress can lead to poor academic progress.
Stress in nursing school can cause a multitude of physical and mental symptoms that can negatively impact your academic performance. It is crucial to recognize when you feel stressed and implement stress management techniques before your grades are affected.
5. Stress can lead to alterations in your immune system’s ability to resist illness.
The hormone cortisol affects more than cognitive functioning. High levels of cortisol can suppress the immune system making it difficult for your body to fight off illness or infection.
6. Stress, when left uncontrolled, can lead to health issues such as hypertension (high blood pressure).
The body naturally responds to stressful stimuli with physical symptoms such as changes in respiratory and heart rate or stomach issues. If symptoms are not controlled, it is possible to develop chronic health issues like high blood pressure, heart disease, or stomach ulcers.
7. If stress remains unmanaged, it can affect your self-esteem.
Nursing school is what many call a "battle of the wills." To succeed, your desire to work hard must outweigh your desire to take a break or call it quits. When you experience stress in nursing school, and it affects your academic performance, there is often a rebound effect of declining self-esteem. Without proper stress management measures, you may find yourself in a downward spiral of poor performance and dwindling self-esteem. Do not despair. There are things you can do to cope with stress and improve your success.
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY DEAL WITH NURSING SCHOOL STRESS?
There are times in nursing school when even the most average day can come with enormous stress. If you want to be successful in nursing school, it is imperative to learn effective stress management skills. Everyone deals with stress differently, but if you are unsure where to start, here are 18 ways to help you effectively deal with nursing school stress.
1. Get organized! Nothing screams "STRESSED" like being disorganized in a program where success demands it.
If you take the time to organize your personal and academic life, you will experience a sense of relief and less stress. Having a good planner to keep up with important dates for assignments, bills, or other activities will help you stay on top of your schedule. Erin Condren planners
are a great option if you prefer a paper planner. The My Homework App
offers digital student planners that can be personalized to include personal appointments and goals.
2. Form a study group with classmates.
No one understands stress in nursing school like your classmates. Find a group of students who take the same classes as you and form a peer study group. You can share your thoughts and ideas about the information you learn in class and encourage one another during difficult times.
3. Make sure you have a support system outside of school.
I cannot stress how important it is to have friends and family to rely on while you are in school. Whether you need someone to talk to and vent your feelings about a hard day at school or someone to help out with errands, children, or household chores, a solid support system can make a huge difference.
4. Ask for help!
It is okay to want to be independent or self-sufficient, but you do not have to push yourself beyond what you are capable of handling. Nursing school is hard
. Please do not make things harder on yourself by refusing to ask for help when you need it. Whether you need a classmate to help you talk out something you do not understand from class or need a friend to babysit for you while you study, letting someone else help you can relieve stress and allow you to refocus.
5. Utilize your instructors and academic advisors.
Even the toughest nursing instructors have one goal, and that is to see you succeed. Please take advantage of every opportunity to learn from them, and when you feel overwhelmed or stressed, reach out to them for help. Your academic advisor is also a great resource to call upon when you feel stress related to school. Sometimes you need to talk with someone who wants to see you succeed.
6. Do not procrastinate.
One of the biggest causes of nursing school stress is waiting until the last minute to get things done. If you are given an assignment, take a little time each day to work on it and spend a dedicated amount of time daily studying. You will find it is easier to accomplish lesser amounts of work or learn in small increments of content over a period of time than it is to wait until the last minute and try to cram information.
7. Find a nursing mentor.
Some of the best support while in nursing school comes from those who are already nurses. Reach out to friends or family who are nurses and ask them to be your mentor.
8. Get into the habit of doing an “after-class recap.”
There is no better time to go over information from class than the period after the class has ended. Make notes about the content you would like to discuss with your peer group or instructors. By taking five or ten minutes to write down thoughts or questions, you will be less likely to overlook things later.
9. Recognize your stressors.
The first step in learning to manage nursing school stress is to identify what causes you stress and find ways to control them. The most minor things can seem like big things when feeling overwhelmed or stressed. If you take a class with someone who talks during lecture, move to another seat. Perhaps your study group is doing more playing than studying. Find a new study group. Take control of the things in your life and remove distractions. You may be surprised how quickly stress begins to resolve.
10. Learn to say, “No.”
There is nothing wrong with being the nice guy or doing things for others. However, you will eventually feel the effects when you are busy taking care of things for everyone else or your schedule is so full of outside activities that you cannot focus on your studies. Be clear with others about how important school is to you. Do not beat yourself up when someone asks you to go somewhere with them or do something for them, and you cannot do it. Learn to say "no" now so you can say "yes" to things later.
Some of the most important things you can do to help relieve nursing school stress involve self-care. I have always stressed to my nursing students that it is difficult to care for others if you do not take care of yourself. Here are a few more ways to deal with stress while in nursing school.
11. Eat a well-balanced diet.
Many mental and physical health issues stem from problems in our gut. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of adverse, stress-related issues on your body and mind. A well-balanced diet full of necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients builds a solid foundation for your body by reducing inflammation and oxidation in cells and helping to reduce weight gain. If you feel the need for comfort food, choose wisely. A warm bowl of oatmeal can stimulate the release of serotonin, which is a calming brain chemical. Fish, poultry, vegetables, and whole grains help counteract the effects of elevated cortisol levels, resulting in reduced stress.
12. Integrate exercise into your daily/weekly routine.
Granted, not everyone runs marathons or goes to the gym five or six times a week. However, if you want to experience decreased stress and an overall improvement in your sense of well-being, you need to get your body moving. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, also referred to as your brain's "happy hormones." The name endorphins is derived from the term "endogenous morphine," which means internally produced morphine. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain, creating the effect of pain relief and triggering a feeling of positivity and reduced stress, like the effects of the drug morphine.
13. Make sure you get plenty of rest.
Adequate rest and sleep are such an essential part of wellness that even the slightest alteration in healthy sleep patterns can affect your judgment, mood, memory, and concentration. Lack of sleep can result in slow reaction time, leading to poor or mediocre performance, especially on timed tests. One of the best ways to accomplish nursing school stress relief is to get adequate sleep every night. Establish a bedtime routine that includes some time to unwind. Turn the television off and put electronics away, so you are not distracted or awakened by notifications.
14. Take a bubble bath.
Sometimes you just need to light a candle and soak your cares away. Bubble baths are excellent ways to relax your body and your mind. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil, coconut oil, and Epsom salt for the best effects.
Whether you have kept a journal for years or are just now considering it, journaling is a terrific way to free your mind of all the thoughts that pile up throughout the day. You do not have to write endless pages. Some people choose to write down a daily affirmation and think about how they can apply it to their daily lives. Others choose to write down things that have happened in their lives that they want to remember for years to come. Remember, these are your thoughts and feelings. There is no right or wrong way to journal. Just do it.
16. Practice deep-breathing exercises.
Deep breathing is an excellent way to relax and lower stress in the body. Deep breathing can help reduce muscle tension, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and relieve stress when done correctly.
17. Take a day off from studying.
I know, I know... What is she thinking, right? While your success in nursing school depends on how much effort you put into learning, you also need to take care of yourself. When you feel stressed, consider taking a day away from the books. It may surprise you to see how much relief from nursing school stress you feel after a day of rest and relaxation.
18. Stay focused on the end goal.
Keep in mind, there will be a day when you can set your nursing textbooks aside. Until then, stay focused, practice the stress relief methods mentioned above and keep pushing forward.
What Are The Best Stress Management Resources For Nursing Students?
There are several resources to help you learn to manage stress in nursing school. There is something for every nursing student from Facebook Groups & Pages, Reddit Communities, YouTube Videos & Channels, Podcasts, and Books. Many groups, communities, pages, podcasts, and books take a light-hearted approach to nursing school. The following are examples of some resources you may find helpful as you seek ways to find relief from nursing school stress.
• Surviving Nursing School with Nurse Angie
is a Facebook platform where nursing students can engage in conversation, learning, mentoring, and tutoring. The group/page offers NCLEX prep, weekly live feeds discussing topics relevant to nursing students.
• Straight A Nursing
offers resources, study guides, online courses, and support for nursing students in all levels of nursing school. You can also access their website
for links to their blog, podcast, and nursing shop.
• Student Nurse
has been active since 2012 and has more than one hundred nine thousand active community members. This Reddit community is dedicated to addressing topics of particular interest to nursing students and others considering a career in nursing.
is dedicated to helping nursing students study more efficiently to improve their chances of success in nursing school.
• Simple Nursing
offers hundreds of videos for nursing students to view. The content of their videos ranges in topics from pharmacology, pathophysiology, NCLEX-prep, and the list goes on.
• Speed Pharmacology
has videos that last from a few minutes to more than twenty minutes on a wide variety of pharmacology topics. Whether you want to learn about classes of drugs, drug actions and interactions, or disease-specific treatment, you are likely to find a video with the information you seek with this YouTube Channel.
• Real Talk School of Nursing
is a podcast presented by two nursing students who discuss the struggles, trials, and frustrations nursing students experience. The hosts say they "talk about the stuff you don't learn in nursing school."
• Nurse Study Net
offers listeners an overview of clinical information, including content about pharmacology, pathophysiology, and NCLEX-prep. They offer access to sample NCLEX questions with rationales and tutorials for pathophysiology and nursing care plans.
• Nursing School Survival Guide: Stress and Time Management:
The Nursing School Survival Guide is written from the perspective of a full-time nurse and nursing school instructor. The book is designed to help nursing students navigate through nursing school by learning effective stress and time management techniques.
• Nursing School: What I Learned May Make Your Life Easier:
Talonda S. Rogers, MSN, RN, presents practical advice to help nursing students become organized before entering nursing school. She offers guidance from her personal experiences about discovering one’s learning style, developing a solid support system, and choosing a career path after nursing school.
• How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Nursing School: A Guide for Students by Students
offers a light-hearted, fun view of nursing school for nursing students by nursing students. The book is filled with practical information to help students get the most out of nursing school while dealing with issues like stress that every nursing student faces.
Is Nursing School Worth The Stress?
I have been a nurse for twenty-eight years and have had the privilege of teaching countless nursing students throughout my career. Asking me if nursing school is worth the stress is like asking if childbirth is worth the baby. My answer is unequivocally, "Yes!" All jokes aside, if you have a genuine desire to care for others and help improve the quality of life for others, nursing is worth every moment of nursing student stress.
My Final Thoughts
If you are in nursing school or considering going to nursing school, you have probably wondered how to deal with nursing school stress? Although some level of stress is inevitable, you can get through nursing school when you learn to recognize triggers and implement techniques for stress management. I encourage you to take and put the 18 effective ways to deal with nursing school stress featured in this article into practice and see what a difference it can make as you navigate your nursing school journey.
Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).