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Saturday, April 4, 2015

9 Tips to Conquer Anxiety in Nursing School

Anxiety, nervous, panic attack, stress, tense, numb, tingling, nursing school, student, overwhelmed, nurse

Dealing with Anxiety in Nursing School

I'm only anxious about once every 4 minutes. Usually about midway through a semester I have a lot of anxiety due to midterms, projects, papers, etc. This usually leads to numerous panic attacks. I'll admit to not being invincible. I'm not iron man (though he too has panic attacks). I have many Achilles Heels. I feel like I've been dumped in kryptonite.  I can't move. I can barely breathe. I'm overwhelmed. I feel as if I'm lost at sea.... even though I'm lying down on the couch.

"The best use of imagination is creativity; The worst use of imagination is anxiety." -Deepak Chopra.

I have scoured the web many times, each semester, and have compiled a list of things I do to try to calm myself when these inevitable panic attacks strike. From humor, to meditation, to loving on my human; these are my top secrets to conquer my anxiety.
You guys are peaches!! I haven't been posting as much as usual because it's been a high stress time for me. My capstone project has went live this week. I've been applying to jobs, which sends me whirling into the depths of fear. I had to go to New Orleans last week to help out at a national convention. That nearly sent me over the edge because I love/hate traveling to new places. On one hand it's fun. On the other hand it's terrifying.

I get so nervous sometimes when my human leaves me that I throw up. I have an irrational fear that she'll never come back home so I stop eating my food. Then my stomach gets so empty that I throw up bile. She's a good human, though. She never yells at me for it. She comes home and sees it on the floor. She understands. She gives me a tight hug and then begins to clean it up. 

She has anxiety too. She said two days last week her arms and hands went almost completely numb, as did her mouth. She made sure she had been drinking enough milk and taking in enough calcium that it wasn't signs of hypocalcemia. She knew it was her anxiety and stress levels making her feel so retched. 

What Are the Different Types of Anxiety?

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
    • Long lasting feelings of anxiousness with no specific cause. 
  • Panic Disorder
    • An episode that might be expressed by trembling, tingling, numbness, fear, or difficulty breathing.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
    • The need to perform repetitive acts.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
    • Fear from social interaction that is managed by avoidance.
  • Phobias
    • Fear from something specific. Like spiders, or feathers. 
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    • Anxiety following a traumatic experience.

I would say that I possibly have generalized anxiety disorder. I almost always feel some sense of anxiousness, but that may be due to nursing school. It's a high stress time in our lives as we go from week to week taking tests that I describe as sudden-death situations. If I bomb this test then I've just wasted XX,XXX dollars that I don't have in the bank to pay back my loans. I'm going to end up homeless. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god...... That's usually my brain before a test.

I absolutely have panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. Like I said last weeks trip to New Orleans was a lot to take in. A new city. A high crime rate. Surrounded by strangers in a strange place. It's easy for me to feel overwhelmed. Especially while receiving cryptic emails from nursing instructors. 

Coffee, beignets, breakfast, New Orleans, French Quarter, Cafe Du Monde

I did enjoy these cocaine laced funnel cakes...... err, Beignets I mean. At the Cafe Du Monde.

I also gained 3 pounds on my trip. Whoops.

What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?

A panic attack can feel like many things. For me personally, I can either be completely frozen and unable to move and feel like I can't breathe. Or sometimes my extremities are tingling. Like my hands and feet are asleep-- but it lasts a lot longer than that should.

It's like that feeling when you almost slip, or miss a step and your stomach shoots up into your throat. It's like that but it lasts for minutes to hours.


Nursing school is a high stress zone. So is the profession of nursing. It's something that us students need to become familiar with and develop our own techniques to combat those emotions. 

For some people anxiety makes them eat more. They put on weight. For others they pull out their hair, their eyebrows. Some nervously tap their feet, or develop muscle twitches. I like to bite my nails.... a lot. It's kind of disgusting. And then I start to panic about accidentally contracting something like HIV from the exposed flesh around my nail beds. 

nail biting, anxiety, stress, overwhelmed, panic attacks

This isn't nearly as bad as I usually get with my nails. I will sometimes bite them down so badly that they start to bleed and I can't even write because my nails hurt so much.

It's stupid. It's silly. It's irrational. But that's my tick. I destroyed these nails over the course of four hours while I had to go back to my high school (I haven't set foot inside since I graduated) and watched a ceremony honoring some family friends. While I wanted to be supportive, I didn't want to be there. In a room full of people. Some people that like and love me as if I'm one of their own, and some people who aren't supportive, who are negative, who take pleasure in seeing others fail. No. I didn't want to sit in a room full of people I've known since birth. I wanted to be alone.

Tips to Combat Anxiety

  1. Surround yourself with supportive friends.

    It's important to have a good system of support. I use my friends and family, and one of the faculty members at my school to help me out when I'm feeling severely anxious. These are people that I can count on to understand what I'm going through and that they will be supportive. These individuals can calm me down and bring me out of the woods when I'm feeling extremely anxious.
  2. Laugh Out Loud. Seriously.

    Laughing will help ease the situation and decrease your stress. It's great if you can laugh about whatever situation you are in, but if nothing else just find something funny to laugh about in general. I have a "Laughter is the best medicine" board on my pinterest profile. Feel free to follow it for some extra giggles in your day.

    My favorite blog to read, though not updated often, is Hyperbole and a Half. If you ever need a great laugh, Allie Brosh is golden. My god. This girl speaks to me. Or you can check out another favorite source for laughter XKCD Comics. I'll be real. I come from a nerdy family. This is a comic written by engineers and mathematicians.  They are hilarious. One final website that can make you laugh is Cyanide and Happiness. I have a bit of a rotten side to me that laughs at truly awful horrible things. So my experience with most nurses is that they also have this devilishly sick and twisted humor as well.
  3. Get enough sleep.

    We hear this constantly. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. But really, we all could use a little more sleep. I was horribly nervous at my old high school get together. I had been up all day in New Orleans-- then drove through the entire night taking shifts with my comrades. I was exhausted. I got home only two hours before the ceremony started. No wonder I mutilated my nails.
  4. Eat healthy.

    Just like not getting enough sleep, often in stressed situations we choose high fat, high calorie foods to ingest. When our bodies aren't being fed the right nutrients it places additional stress and demands on it. Our body starts to secrete cortisol- the stress hormone. It's just not good. We're in healthcare. We all know how important it is to eat healthy. I think it's ok to indulge a little, but not a lot. Like everything in life we need balance.

    When I'm stressed out and need a pick me up I eat dark cocoa covered almonds. They're delicious. They're the healthy version of peanut m&ms. I also drink hot tea, coffee, or cocoa. It's like a nice warm hug, but on the inside. I love to eat popcorn and I find it to be a much more healthy option than chips-- unless your popcorn is loaded in butter. If I want something creamy like ice cream I go for greek yogurt. There are some fantastic brands out there now that really taste great.
  5. Exercise.

    It releases endorphins and gives you a sense of accomplishment. Just getting outside makes me feel better. While I love to stay in my fetal position and drill myself over and over about a conversation I had with someone and think of every horrible outcome it possibly could have had, I find being outside to be revitalizing. This is actually my first step when I'm experiencing a panic attack. Either this, or taking a hot shower. The beauty of the outdoors really seems to calm my nerves.
  6. Hot Shower/Bath.

    I think it's important to try to stop a panic attack or decrease anxiety as soon as possible. Taking a hot bath or a shower relaxes me. It soothes my muscles. If I have it, I use some epsom salts in a bath. Usually you can find these with some sort of aromatherapy. I like lavender. I just need to find a happy place and for me, this is a happy place.
  7. Read an inspiring book.

    I suggest reading something inspirational. I have many books about nursing in other countries. These stories really put into perspective that whatever I'm stressing over is NOTHING compared to what the vast majority of the rest of the world have to go through. It really grounds me and puts me in my place. I might also peruse through pinterest looking at inspirational posts/quotes.
  8. Play Some Music

    Whenever it storms outside I get extremely nervous and anxious. My human is awesome in that she either starts to play classical music on her piano until I fall asleep or she plays classical music from her phone/computer. One of my favorites is Chopin, or Beethoven. She also likes Mozart and Debussy. She uses Spotify, Pandora, or Youtube to find music that calms her down. It doesn't have to be classical, but that's my preference and she honors that.
  9. Have and Exit Plan

    I'm not the only one in my family to struggle with anxiety. Matter of fact, I probably contain my anxiety the best. We all like to have an exit plan in place for when we feel anxious. So when we go to events we often take multiple vehicles. This gives us all the power to exit whenever we feel threatened.

    I have several family members that are on the autism spectrum and being able to have a little bit of control in a situation is one of the most calming methods I have found, yet. We always let my cousins know that whenever they're feeling overwhelmed its ok. We can disappear in an empty room. Or if they're older and able, they can drive home. Some find comfort in being able to go outside and pace around in the yard. It's whatever you can do to present yourself with the option to exit. Just that little bit of control over a situation is amazing.

In Case of Emergency, Do This:

  • Breathe in for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale for 8 seconds.
I have discovered this recently. Next time you are feeling incredibly overwhelmed, say before a big presentation or a major test-- try this technique. I'm telling you it is soothing as can be. I have found it to be incredibly calming.


I hope that wasn't too overwhelming. Thanks for reading.

What are some techniques you use to calm yourself down or decrease anxiety?? Let us know in the comments below!!




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