Nurse anxiety is common, especially if you are new to the field. The nursing profession typically attracts people with a high degree of empathy and a willingness to take on the responsibility of caring for others. Add in the element of unpredictability that comes with healthcare settings, and you have the perfect recipe for new nurse anxiety and fear.
You might have a lurking question: “Can I be a nurse if I have anxiety?” The truth is that many nurses have to deal with this issue, as nursing and anxiety often go together. In a certain sense, anxiety is part of caring.
Learn more about anxiety and what triggers it. And explore ways you can deal with anxiety in nurses so that you can thrive.
Why do nurses get anxiety?
Do not worry that you might be too anxious to be a nurse. It is incredibly common. First of all, you are working in a high-stakes environment where the life and well-being of another person is in your hands.
And that environment can be unpredictable. Someone who seems perfectly fine one minute could take a dramatic turn for the worst the next. Hospital environments with lots of people and lots of things happening are also unpredictable.
And the last factor that causes anxiety in nurses is that most are highly empathetic. You might be especially sensitive to how others are feeling, be they the patient, a doctor, or a coworker.
Types of nurse anxiety
Nurse anxiety generally falls into two categories:
- New nurse anxiety. New nurse anxiety comes from inexperience in interacting with patients and performing their job duties. You might worry you have done something wrong or caused a patient pain. You might fear you forgot something or wrote something down wrong. It is enough to make a new nurse scared to go to work.
- Pre and post-shift nurse anxiety. Even nurses with plenty of experience can have nurse anxiety before work and after. Perhaps a traumatic case came in. Possibly a patient passed away. Maybe patient family drama added to the medical difficulty. Understaffed locations add stress. Any number of issues can make it difficult to deal with your emotions after a shift—an anxiety that can affect your next shift.
Symptoms of anxiety in nurses
Nursing and anxiety have been linked for decades. During the pandemic, however, the awareness and prominence of anxiety gained more attention. A National Institute of Health study found that nurses experienced the highest anxiety levels of all among healthcare workers, ranging between 15-92 percent, depending on location.
Recognizing the symptoms of nurse anxiety is an important first step in dealing with the issue. The stress can manifest in many ways:
- Being quick to anger and easily irritated
- General feeling of nervousness, unease, and dread
- Denial, numbness, or disbelief
- Low energy and feeling unmotivated
- Feeling tired and burned out
- Unexplained sadness and depression
- Sleeplessness and nightmares
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cynicism and bitterness
- Misuse of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
Nursing and anxiety are normal. If you let the stress and negative feelings grow, they will affect your work and your quality of life. If you see signs of stress in yourself or your coworkers, take action.
8 tips for dealing with nurse anxiety
Learning how to get over the fear of needles as a nurse is part of the job. So too is handling anxiety. Here are some tips for your first day on the job. Whether you are a new and worry you are too anxious to be a nurse or if you have been in the profession for a while and find the stress is building up, here are ways to help you better cope:
1. Get enough sleep between nursing shifts
Adequate sleep is the foundation of good mental health for everyone. For nurses who may burn the candle at both ends or who may have difficulty falling or staying asleep, getting more shut-eye should be a priority.
Getting at least eight hours of sleep will lessen feelings of anxiety and lighten your outlook. If you can get in a few nights a week with more than eight hours of sleep, you will see steady and even dramatic improvement in how you feel and how you deal with stress.
2. Exercise regularly
Getting regular exercise is right up there with sleeping when it comes to your mental health. Even something as simple as taking a ten minute walk during a break can make a world of difference. Walking, biking, weights and yoga will relieve feelings of anxiety–and will help you sleep better, too.
3. Create a routine before and after your nursing shift
Create a routine that supports you before your shift and helps you to get ready and energized for your day. And when work is over, create a routine for how to destress after your shift, power down and relax. With good stress management for nurses, you will help yourself be in the right mental space for your patients at work and for friends and family after you are done.
4. Prioritize self-care
It is so easy to get wrapped up in caring for others that you can neglect yourself. Get your feelings out by committing them to a journal. Meditate to increase your peace. Indulge yourself in healthy pursuits, hobbies, your community and things that make you happy. Self care is important for avoiding nurse burnout.
5. Try cognitive behavioral therapy
You might be surprised how much it helps to talk to someone. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves working with a mental health counselor to become aware of negative feelings and see life situations more clearly. Together, you can develop strategies for reducing your anxiety.
In its review of studies, Cambridge University Press claims it “has more evidence supporting it than any other psychological therapy” in helping people with anxiety.
6. Consider medication
In some cases, medication can be an effective part of resolving anxiety in nurses. Your medical professional can suggest treatments that work with your therapy and situation. It is important that your anxiety medication does not interfere with your ability to do your job. Although medication may not be right for everyone, it can help in cases where behavior therapy alone is not effective.
7. Seek help from a professional
If you are not familiar with anxiety, particularly if you are suffering from new nurse anxiety, you may wonder if you are right for your role. Self doubt can make your anxiety feel worse. While following the tips above can provide some relief, getting professional help can save you time and suffering.
Nurse anxiety is not new, or even rare. A professional can help you with an approach that has a proven track record to get you relief that is faster and more enduring.
8. Remain positive about your situation
It can be difficult to stay upbeat if you are dealing with anxiety, but a positive attitude really helps. Try to keep perspective and use healthy techniques and strategies to deal with stress. It may not happen overnight, but you can take control over anxiety and not let it control you.
How does social anxiety affect working as a nurse?
You are doing yourself, coworkers and patients a real disservice if you ignore the anxiety you may be feeling. It can lead to long-term health problems for you and reduce your effectiveness on the job. Anxiety in nurses can cause:
- High turnover
- Weakened immune system
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired judgment and failure to perform job tasks
- Medical errors/accidents
- Reduced quality of patient care
You should not feel like you cannot work as a nurse if you experience anxiety. Many nurses with anxiety deal with their situations in positive ways that actually make them better nurses.
And given the variety of potential work environments, a job change may work wonders. You may find your anxiety is much less or disappears entirely with the right fit when it comes to the workplace.
Consider changing your workplace
Indeed, it is quite possible that your workplace is causing you anxiety. Some nurses find work in the emergency room to be highly fulfilling. For others, the stress is debilitating. Some nurses find palliative settings to be seriously depressing, while others find giving care at the end of life to be deeply meaningful. The key is to find the right nurse job for you.
Are you a nurse with anxiety? If so, we would love to hear how you dealt with the situation in a positive manner. Sharing your experience can be a big help to others who are struggling with similar feelings.