Dealing with anxiety as a nurse

10 Ways to Deal with Anxiety as a Nurse (On and Off the Job)

Anxiety is a word that gets thrown around a lot anymore, but what does it actually mean? Anxiety is a normal human emotion where inner stress casts a sense of dread over future events. It can become a mental health disorder when it becomes excessive or persists beyond appropriate times in a way that may interfere with your life.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This makes anxiety the most common mental health disorder in America. To take it even further, a Human Resources for Health study indicated that nearly 20% of physicians and 23% of nurses suffer from anxiety. This statistic has only grown higher since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nurses are leaving the profession in droves, many of whom cite workplace stress, burnout, or mental health concerns as the cause. While COVID-19 brought some of these issues to light, it’s nothing new. Healthcare workers, especially nurses, have always dealt with stressors and have been subject to increased anxiety levels as a part of the job.

Does this description sound like you? Many nurses would answer YES. We’ve pulled together 10 tips on how you can deal with anxiety as a nurse, so you can do your job without sacrificing your health and happiness.

Everyday Tips for Anxiety

1. Practice mindfulness 

Mindfulness means being present in the moment. You can do this during activities like eating, walking, cleaning, etc., where you only pay attention to what you’re doing. You can also practice mindfulness in a more structured manner through meditation, yoga, or breathwork.

2. Spend time on things you enjoy 

Making time for hobbies and other things you enjoy can impact your mental health in general. Things like crafts, puzzles, or a sport help focus your attention on that activity and away from whatever is making you anxious. Making a regular plan for your hobbies helps keep you in that headspace.

3. Move your body 

Exercising, stretching, walking, dancing, and other forms of movement helps keep you grounded and releases those happy endorphins! Make time for your endorphin-boosting activities on a consistent basis and you’ll notice yourself feeling that way more often.

4. Journal 

Having a consistent journaling practice helps you reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Journaling can be especially helpful with anxiety because you can reflect on those thoughts and feelings of fear and help yourself reframe them. In addition, this allows you to train your brain not to feel anxious more consistently.

5. Spend time with loved ones 

Spending time with friends and family is a huge mood booster. Also, having a solid support system helps you feel less anxious, especially during moments of high anxiety that nursing can bring.

On-the-job Tips for Anxiety

6. Practice mindfulness

Again, our first tip is to practice mindfulness, but in a specific way. During different times throughout the day, just take a few deep breaths, notice how it feels in your body, and allow yourself to relax. Some examples of when you can practice this technique include:

  • In your car or on your commute, both to and from work 
  • On bathroom breaks 
  • During your lunch break 
  • Between patients at your desk

Incorporating these little mindfulness breaks throughout your shift, especially when you’re feeling anxious, can help you reset your mind for the rest of the day.

7. Set boundaries 

Setting boundaries at work can be tricky but is necessary. Be clear on your assigned duties and how you are expected to spend your time. For example, if you have a busy shift, prioritize your most important tasks and leave others for the next shift. Understand that hospitals and other healthcare facilities run 24/7 and sometimes it’s necessary to pass along an unfinished task. Another example of setting boundaries is making it a habit to leave on time, every shift. Knowing these are your boundaries and being clear about them helps reduce anxiety around the situation before it even happens.

8. Ask for help when you need it

Your hospital shift is staffed with technicians, other nurses, charge nurses, and assistants. Don’t put all the work on yourself! Instead, ask for help with things that these other people can help with or do themselves, so you don’t overwhelm yourself trying to do too much.

9. Practice good time management

Don’t spend a lot of time trying to do one task perfectly; it’s not realistic. Time management is especially important for nurses and their charting. Suppose you spend too long trying to chart everything perfectly. You’ll end up being behind and will become overwhelmed with all your other tasks, which increases your anxiety. Do what you need to do and move on so you stay on track.

10. Find a coworker to confide in

Having a few coworkers you know you can trust to confide in is extremely important. Your coworkers know what you go through every day better than anyone, and can empathize with your worries and anxieties. Having them to turn to in moments of pressure can help you feel more supported.

Now that you have 10 new tips to prevent or lessen your anxiety, are you ready to start trying them? Start with one and continue implementing new techniques over time. Eventually, you’ll notice you feel less anxious about work and are able to better enjoy being a nurse.

Alison Shely, DNP, FNP-C

Alison Shely, DNP, FNP-C is a nurse practitioner, nurse coach, yoga teacher and nurse writer. She’s been a nurse since 2014, working as an RN and FNP in intensive care, women’s health and primary care. She also serves as a mental health coach to other nurses and healthcare workers, concentrating on healthy lifestyles and mental health.

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