It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why nursing students get stressed during school. Pressure to invest in a quality degree program, achieve high grades and pass industry exams are only the beginning—then there is the looming trepidation of one day working on living, breathing patients!
Needless to say, there is a lot weighing on the mind of a typical nursing student. There is no way to completely eliminate stress from your life—and in some cases it can actually help you. But there are ways to help alleviate some of the pressure.
Who better to learn from than those who have made it through? We gathered advice on relieving nursing school stress from the graduates themselves and boiled it down into seven tips to help you get through nursing school without caving into the pressure.
7 Tips for surviving nursing school stress
1. Practice an after-class-recap
“No matter how many times faculty tell students NOT to do marathon study sessions- they simply do not listen,” says nurse educator Marilyn Stoner, RN-BC, PhD. She believes consistent, short periods of study beats cramming any day.
“Cramming for exams creates more stress,” says Michelle Katz, LPN, MSN. “To avoid getting stressed, I would review my notes right after class and a little every day.”
Find an interim time after class to get in the habit of a quick review. Pull your notes out for a few minutes on the bus, waiting in line at the grocery store or even on a bench outside your classroom. Katz cut cramming from her routine this way and was able to get a good night’s sleep instead.
2. Find a solid study group
“One of the things that kept me sane during nursing school was my study group,” says RN and nurse recruiter Ashleigh Taylor of Tailored Healthcare. Taylor met with a study group every week to compare notes, demonstrate skills and practice NCLEX-style questions. This routine of reviewing and studying kept the information fresh.
“Studying with a group was the only way to keep me on track, and it was fun,” Taylor says. “I actually looked forward to getting together every week!” She advocates the importance of having other students to lean on through nursing school.
“It’s a crazy time in your life when you laugh, cry, scream and cry some more,” she adds. “You find out what you’re made of. I met some of my best friends in nursing school!”
3. Mix exercise into your study sessions
When you feel your stress levels spiking, get moving! While exercise has long been proven to help relieve stress and anxiety, it also boosts your ability to retain the information you’re studying. Harvard Medical School credits regular exercise for the memory-enhancing release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
Katz picked up on these perks early on. She and her friends used to take study breaks to discuss notes for their exams while walking or jogging. If time or space limitations make running or walking problematic, Katz also suggests jumping rope.
4. Begin a study session with simple meditation
Devoting some time and deliberation to the little things can pay dividends. Nursing students find a lot of solidarity in the collective stress they feel, and taking steps to abate that stress together will only increase camaraderie.
Stoner suggests beginning study sessions, whether alone or in a group, with a simple meditation like Stop, Breathe & Think to increase your focus and mitigate stress.
5. Journal before bed
If you catch yourself lying awake at night, frantically reviewing everything you have to do the next day, give journaling a try. Nancy Brook, Stanford Hospital nurse practitioner, mentor and author, recommends taking just a few minutes before bed to jot down your thoughts, experiences or concerns in a journal.
“It has been shown to decrease feelings of stress and anxiety,” Brook says. And all those little things your brain suddenly remembers at night? Write them down and dismiss them for the night. You can sleep easier knowing you don’t have to remember everything thanks to the record of reminders on your bedside table.
6. Figure out what enhances your mood
Even when you feel like you’re rocking nursing school, bad vibes from a colleague or a negative interaction can quickly ruin your mood. And since nursing is such a people-oriented field, learning what brightens your bad days will come in handy after graduation as well.
For Katz, it’s aromatherapy and her favorite tea with a splash of milk. “I used to have lavender plants in my back yard and would cut a bouquet for myself during the most stressful times in nursing school,” she explains. “The scent alone had a calming effect on me and looked beautiful in my living room.”
Figure out what your preferred mood boosters are and incorporate them into your daily life for a more optimistic (and less stressful) routine.
7. Eat well & nurture your body
Nursing school is a marathon, not a sprint. While your health and sanity might be able to endure a short period of exhaustion, caffeine and on-the-fly meals, your performance will plummet as the months add up. “The single most important thing nursing students can do is to care for themselves physically, mentally and spiritually,” Stoner says.
She says eating well is crucial, encouraging students to arrange healthy potlucks when they gather to study. If you feel too strapped for time to put a healthy dish together, think of it as part of your studies. You study for good results on your tests, and investing time in your health will also lead to good results on your tests. It will help you bring your best game, sustainably, throughout nursing school.
You Can Get Through Nursing School
Although stress is frustrating, it can be useful if it causes you to evaluate how you might be able to make things a little easier, healthier and more efficient for yourself. Whether you are still considering a career in nursing or you are halfway through your program, follow these seven steps to help diminish nursing school stress.
Nursing school is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stressful situations you’ll encounter. Learning how to handle the pressure now will serve you well throughout your entire nursing career.
Prepare yourself by reading our article: Nursing Burnout: Why it Happens & What to Do About it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in January 2014. It has since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2016.