Overcoming New Nurse Anxiety

Nurse in Blue Scrub Suit Smiling

Nurses are often seen as strong, confident, and able to handle any challenge, but the reality is they’re also human beings. They can suffer from the same dips in confidence on the job as anyone else, and this is especially true for nurses who are just entering the workforce.

Managing complicated health conditions while supporting patients through their healing journey amidst a myriad of regulatory requirements can stir up meaningful concerns regarding their performance. From day one, new nurses must navigate a series of orientations, preceptor oversight, and complete competency checklists to prove themselves, and that’s in addition to juggling new schedules, living situations, and their personal lives.

It’s a lot of pressure, and valuable educational content like Premiere’s Unlimited Nursing CEU subscription can help take the edge off by ensuring you always have the information you need at your fingertips.

However, new nurse anxiety isn’t something we need to simply accept as part of the job. By thinking about what contributes to anxiety and how to manage it, new nurses can overcome the fear as they start their careers. Keep these tips in mind throughout your professional journey.

Where Does New Nurse Anxiety Come From?

Fear and anxiety can be caused by a variety of issues, but in the world of nursing, it is often associated with a sense of lack of understanding or insecurity in a current role. The NLCEX is designed to ensure you meet the minimum standard for entry into practice, but the fact is, the daily experience of being a nurse can’t be taught in school. Throughout new nurse orientation, you will begin to acclimate to your new role, applying what you learned in nursing school as a foundation for continuous growth.

Professional growth as a nurse is accompanied by a spectrum of challenges that can easily lead to anxiety and even burnout. New nurse anxiety may come from a lack of understanding of serious medical conditions or as a result of administering high-risk medications without the watchful eye of a preceptor. New nurses may become anxious at the idea of not completing their work fast enough, or failing at an invasive and potentially painful skill like IV insertion.

The anxiety experienced by a new nurse may come also from a lack of support. Even after transitioning to independent practice, the guidance of more experienced colleagues and nurse leaders is critical to the development of knowledge, critical thinking, and competency.

Could You Be Experiencing New Nurse Anxiety?

Anxiety experienced by nurses has always been around, but it took the spotlight in the wake of the COVID pandemic where one-third of nurses surveyed reported being “not” or “not at all” emotionally healthy. This opened up a larger conversation about the importance of addressing mental health for healthcare professionals and the impact it has on a wide range of issues that impact the nation.

As with many things, the first step in getting help is realizing you have a problem. Here are some—but certainly not all—possible ways anxiety can manifest:

  • Being quick to become angry
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns
  • Feeling nervous
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased use of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Physiologic changes like rapid heart rate and hyperventilation

 

If you’re noticing any of these during the early stages of your career, you may be experiencing new nurse anxiety. Consider talking to a mentor, your peers, family, friends, or a therapist. There’s no harm in having a conversation, and it could be the beginning of a much healthier relationship with the healthcare profession!

Dealing with New Nurse Anxiety

A little bit of nervousness as a new nurse isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It keeps you humble and grounded in your role while you're learning the ropes safely. Anxiety, however, isn’t a healthy response to nursing. It can cloud judgment, paralyze growth, and become a constant distraction from the needs of patients. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are definitely things you can do to stay ahead of the game and boost your wellness and confidence.

Get Good Rest and Maintain a Self-Care Routine

Our emotions are closely tied to our current state of health, and taking time to prioritize self-care in between caring for others is essential. This includes getting enough sleep and maintaining good eating habits. These aren’t things that are going to just happen by chance—you need to be intentional in caring for yourself.

This is especially tough if you start out working nights like many new nurses. Humans aren’t really designed to be awake when it’s dark, and it’s not a given you’ll have an easy time sleeping during the day. Tips on surviving the night shift often include recommendations like blackout curtains, eye masks, and noise machines, and these little helps can do wonders for reducing new nurse anxiety.

Remember: you can’t allow caring for others to drown out caring for yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough exercise, eating well, and taking the time to engage in activities you enjoy. A healthy body and healthy mind run best in parallel.

Create a Routine

If you find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of anxiety before your shift even starts, stressing about what types of patients you will encounter for the day, or worrying about your shift long after it’s over, you may need some more structure to give yourself an ON/OFF switch. This is wasted energy that isn’t going to change anything, and if it builds up, it can lead to real drops in on-the-job performance.

If this tends to be you, structure your time before and after your shift to focus on preparing yourself for a good day and then decompressing afterward. Keeping your energy and your mind goal-directed will leave less room for those intrusive thoughts.

Don’t Be Late

This might seem obvious, but getting to work late isn’t a good way to start the shift no matter who you are. Apologizing to those waiting for you and rushing to get into the flow of things sets a negative tone, and if you're primed to be anxious that’s not going to help you or your patients.

Try getting to work early and with plenty of lead time so you don’t have to stress about every yellow light and slow driver. This is going to help you transition into that work mindset more appropriately, get organized before assuming care of your patients, and allow for a calm start to your day.

Get a Mentor

Being a nurse is physically and emotionally taxing and having someone to talk to so you can work through your anxiety can be huge. A mentor should not be your boss or your preceptor. A mentor represents a unique relationship and is someone who helps you navigate professional challenges, listens, is accessible, and offers feedback that is both supportive and constructive.

Of course, you don’t want to make this person your de facto therapist! Treat their time respectfully, lean on them for important guidance in your career, and don’t forget that friendship and support are two-way streets.

Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries so your professional life doesn’t completely overtake all other aspects of your life is important. You don’t need to say “Yes” every time you’re asked to work OT, and you don’t need to make every swap your colleagues ask you for. It’s also perfectly fine to leave your work at work—you aren’t obligated to check work emails when you’re at home and you should feel empowered to disconnect. Your time is exactly that, and limiting the impact work can have on it can significantly reduce your anxiety.

Reduce Your Anxiety, Be Prepared!

One major aspect of new nurse anxiety is knowledge insecurity or feelings of unpreparedness in the role. Nursing school sets the foundation, but there are many more things to learn and topics to refine. Continuing education in nursing is a professional responsibility, and it’s critical to developing your career and making sure you’re not facing the anxiety of the unknown.

If you’re worried you can’t keep up, Premiere has your back. Our Unlimited Nursing CEU subscription is a great option for nurses of any experience level and ensures that new nurse anxiety is never a result of a lack of resources. With a growing library of content, there are numerous learning opportunities to support your development.

Your nursing career is a journey that will reward you many times over. Premiere is here to help you along that journey with up-to-date evidence-based education at your fingertips.

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