How To Manage Nurse Anxiety Naturally
Anxiety and Nursing, where do I begin? Nurse anxiety is REAL! I am getting anxious thinking about it! Okay, just kidding. But in all seriousness, it’s a real issue. I want you guys to know a little about the history of my personal struggle with anxiety and depression before I jump into ways to help you support yours. The reason I throw in depression is because anxiety IS depressing when you struggle a lot with it!
The chemicals affected within your body are similar for both issues. Looking back on life, it was evident that I struggled to manage anxiety from a young age. I remember always having this “impending doom” feeling whenever something would go wrong. If I forgot my homework, if I got a bad grade, or if I was late for class, I would start having these mini panic attacks. They would pass with time, but as I got older they became more severe.
I was learning a negative way to think and respond to circumstances in life and creating a negative thought pattern and response. This a HUGE concept that I am going to address later on that will help you manage anxiety naturally. If You are a nurse with anxiety, you will want to read to the very end, I promise!
(THIS WAS ME! Struggling to Manage Anxiety Every day)!
Symptoms of Nurse Anxiety
During my freshman year of college, I struggled a lot with body image. I would work out twice a day, and I was an olympian calorie counter. I was religiously up at 6 am to work out and if class lasted until 9pm, it was straight to the gym after! It got to the point where if I didn’t work out, I would start having terrible anxiety. I would get this hot feeling that came over my body, my heart would start racing, a lump in my throat would develop, and I just couldn’t sit still or breathe. It was truly so scary!
I had no clue how to handle it! I would experience anxiety for many reasons. I would obsess over working out, not studying enough, not eating good enough, clinicals, worrying about what others thought, and so much more. But the fear and anxiety progressed as I became more scared of the symptoms of the anxiety than the actually thought or issue causing my anxiety. It was the fear of not feeling “in control.” The things that made me anxious were triggering a physiologic response within my body. Those physiologic symptoms can be VERY scary:
•The feeling of losing of control
•Lump in throat
•Shortness of Breath
•Lips and Limbs tingling
The list goes on…..
I’ve experienced them all and they can truly get in the way of life!
I was never able to properly manage anxiety during this time and it carried it over into my career as a Nurse! Nursing is a WHOLE other world. We’re dealing with stressful and anxiety provoking situations all day long! I’m kind of convinced that nurse anxiety is so prevalent because well, we care A LOT! Not just about our patients, but we care a lot about what people think of us. We are in our nature emotional people. Nurse anxiety happens for these reasons below:
- Feeling inadequate or incompetent as a new nurse.
- Being reprimanded by a supervisor or manager about something you did or didn’t do.
- Having a nurse at change of shift make it difficult to give report to.
- Not being able to complete all of your tasks in time.
- Dealing with a declining patient when you have multiple others to take care of.
- Dealing with difficult families that are never pleased.
- Taking care of demanding patients!
- Feeling belittled by your patient or supervisor/manager.
- Bullying within this profession.
- Being afraid to ask questions.
- Dealing with difficult doctors.
- Receiving report on a hard patient!
- Going to bed and dreading going to work the next day because of a negative environment
- Feeling like you have no control of your schedule.
- Being floated to another unit.
- Not getting enough rest, to name a few.
Why Do So Many Struggle with Nurse Anxiety?
There are a ton of things in this profession that can give us anxiety on a daily basis. We lose sleep over it! I remember my first 6 months of work. I asked SO many questions because I was afraid to do anything wrong! I had the skills and knowledge, but my nurse anxiety got the best of me! I experienced this anxiety early on as a nurse and sought professional counseling. I also learned some really amazing ways to cope and learned to work through these emotions.
They have literally saved my life! Nurse anxiety is more common than you may think. I would guess that 70% of this profession is on some sort of medication for their “emotions.” What bothers me about this is that we all struggle with anxiety, but we’re given a pill, not skills. While medication is not bad, I do feel that we are quick to mask the symptoms of anxiety and fail to equip people with skills to cope, CHANGE their thought processes, and heal longterm.
The skills and tips that I’m about to share with you have been life changing for me! Nurse Anxiety simplythe fear of the unknown! We anticipate the worse case scenario before it even happens. If we can learn to simply capture these thoughts before they turn into irrational fears, we WILL overcome! Your mind controls EVERYTHING! Your movements, your thoughts, when you pee, when you poop, when your patients get bored and feel the need to push the call light and ask for something just because. WE CONTROL OUR THOUGHTS! Nurse Anxiety does NOT control us!
This is the HUGE concept I want you to understand. YOU are in control of your thoughts. As I mentioned before, we have LEARNED our way into anxiety. We have taught our mind to fear the worst. Just as we have learned this negative thinking pattern and response overtime, we can create and learn new rationale healthy thought patterns and new healthy habits to overcome. It takes time, I promise, but with the tips below I hope you begin your healing journey!
How To Overcome Nurse Anxiety
1. Capture Your Thoughts
When you start to feel those anxious feelings in a sticky situation, I want you to stop and take a deep breath. Think about what’s making you anxious. Is it reality? Is it really happening? Are your current thoughts helping or hurting the situation? Reassure yourself that what you’re thinking about is NOT reality. It hasn’t happened. A lot of us who struggle deeply feel anxiety from thinking about having the symptoms of anxiety. TELL YOURSELF IT’S GOING TO PASS! IT’S JUST ANXIETY! Really. I want you to speak that phrase to yourself and I want you to let that fearful thought pass. Visualize it passing behind you. It is JUST a thought, and it’s going to pass.
“ I am safe, I am strong, and I am overcoming these feelings.”
By practicing.PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE these thought patterns, I promise in time you will see improvement. It’s a slow progression. If you struggle with anxiety as a nurse, you won’t believe these things at first. I didn’t, but then one day, I remember thinking to myself, “ Oh my gosh, here it comes” and I quickly halted that negative thought. I identified it was just a fearful thought, not reality. I spoke those words above to myself, and I was able to “think” and talk myself out of it! It was beautiful! It gave me hope!
YOU are in control of our thoughts. YOU thoughts dictate how you feel. When you can learn to create new healthy thinking patterns and practice them over and over again, we will break our old negative thinking patterns and ultimately HEAL from anxiety.
2. Seek External Help
I had a therapist during my first year of nursing and I did the Lucinda Basset anxiety program (Yes, that crazy lady with the sensual voice on the radio)! Both were helpful to me! A lot of people feel insecure about getting professional help or they feel it’s too expensive. DON’T LET THAT BE THE REASON YOU DON’T GO! There are resources out there and therapists who will work with your budget! My hospital insurance at the time offered quite a few paid sessions yearly with someone within their network!
Do your research with your benefits and search around! Having someone (unbiased) to talk with is so therapeutic and helpful. You wouldn’t believe the healing that can happen with just someone simply LISTENING to your struggles. Not only do they listen and hear your heart, but a good therapist will give you skills to cope, and allow you to just simply vent! I needed that! I am 100% an advocate of “paying to dump!” Yes girl! Dump those thoughts! It’s healing. Nurse anxiety SUCKS! Therapy is worth it! Every dime! I am totally an advocate. GET help. I know it’s a sacrifice of time and money, but it WORTH IT.
3. Surround Yourself With Good People
Make sure the people you are “doing life” with others supporting you and promoting good healthy habits. The people we do life with, day in and day out, have a huge impact on our behavior and how we feel. Positive people will only bring encouragement and love in your life! If you need to cut off some negative relationships, do it. Those relationships can 100% be a source of anxiety. Make that change! It can affect you at work and contribute to your anxiety there in more ways than you realize.
Unhealthy & unsafe relationships outside of work will certainly influence your daily emotions even when away from them. If the group around you at work is negative and it’s not a helpful and supportive environment, then you may need to leave. I don’t believe in sticking it out in a chronically negative and stressful environment for any reason. Your emotional health affects your physical health. If you feel negative energy in your body and your heart when you come into work, then it’s time to take a look at your options. And coming from someone who’s taken a pay cut to leave a negative environment, I’m here to tell you it’s worth it. You’ll make it work.
YOUR EMOTIONAL HEALTH IT EVERYTHING
I know you hear this all of the time, but it’s SO important! Listen, anxiety is built up energy that becomes negatively fueled. When we can use all of this beautiful energy that our bodies hold in a good way (exercising and moving), we become more emotionally balanced. When you exercise, work out, and FEEL good about yourself, life feels better. This includes your mind! Exercise is part of my rx for managing anxiety naturally. It’s truly medicine.
I don’t obsess over the amount of minutes I work out or calories I burn. That is CONTROL, and control can lead to anxiety. I simply move my body daily. Whether that be yoga, running outside, or simply walking to the coffee shop…..I move my body. I express gratitude towards myself for moving. I move FOR my anxiety. My goal isn’t a 6 pack ab or a size 2 model figure. My goal is EMOTIONAL wellness. I’ve identified that anxiety is a lot of built up energy and the way that I can help manage it is by releasing this energy in a positive way. This allows my body and brain to become more balanced, calm, and focused.
5. Clean Nutrition
Oh man. I could go on forever with this one. Our diet contributes GREATLY to our emotions. Think about it. When you eat a greasy meal with refined processed bread, cheese, and a sugary beverage on the side, chances are you are not feeling your best after. Most likely you’re feeling overstuffed and tired from that carb and sugar overload. You’re on edge, irritable, and possibly dealing with achey joints, a headache, and/or a stomach ache from the inflammatory ingredients you’ve just consumed. You’ve jacked up the integrity of your gut from chronic consumption of gluten, processed sugar, and dairy over time and all of that serotonin production (that feel good chemical in our brain in which 95% is produced in our gut) is not functioning optimally because your microbiome is inflamed and now leaking. Leaky gut is a whole other ball game, but it’s not good. It can affect both how your brain and body feel and function.
Now lets factor in all of the coffee and caffeine we as nurses tend to consume in a day. All of these processed, sugary, greasy, caffeinated and salty foods and beverages that we consume 100% contribute to anxiety. They make us jittery and on edge. When our hormones within our body are out of whack, we don’t function optimally (Insulin and Glucose are going crazy, and inflammation starts). When we also fuel our bodies with foods that are packed with all of the junk I just spoke about, we don’t feel good. When we don’t physically feel good, emotionally we aren’t well either. A diet that lacks phytonutrients from plants and vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals from fruit is one that is not conducive with healing anxiety. Our brains NEED this nutrition to heal and function well. A diet full of processed sugar, gluten, alcohol, and processed dairy will 100% put you on edge and make you more predisposed to responding negatively to an anxiety provoking situation. Our gut and our brain are so intimately intertwined and we need to support it not only for physical wellbeing, but emotional vitality too.
So what does an Anxious Nurses Need to be Eating?
•PLANTS/ VEGGIES (Start with green leafy veggies and all of the colors. Load up on your dinner plate)!
•FRUIT (Berries are SO good for your brain and body!)
•CLEAN GRASSFED MEATS (Organic if possible)
•SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD (Salmon – Omegas are INCREDIBLE for brain health).
(Remember, our processed Western Diet is packed full of omega 6’s. Excess of Omega 6 causes inflammation! You want to limit the amount of processed oils and stick to omega 3 rich oils such as avocado, olive, and coconut. A healthy ratio of omega 6’s to omega 3’s 1:1 is important! I take a fish oil supplement mentioned below in my multivitamins)!
-SPROUTED LEGUMES & GRAINS (Sprouted legumes & grains decreases “anti-nutrients” (lectins and physic acid). This process helps with digestion and optimal nutrient absorption).
-FERMENTED FOODS (Kimchi, Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Apple Cider Vinegar-natural probiotics = good gut health)
-SUPPLEMENTATION (Probiotics, Multivitamin)
A few starting steps for clean eating:
•Taper off sweet drinks. Don’t go cold turkey. Even diet soda. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between sugar or fake sugar. It just knows SWEET so you will always crave SWEET! This isn’t good because this psychological response will keep you addicted to sweet forever. We want control and moderation.
•Drink WATER (even when tapering). This is what our cells need to function optimally. Not soda, diet soda, juice, or any other sweet beverage. They need WATER. Your goal is to get to drinking just water. YOU CAN DO THIS and it’s the healthiest change you could make.
•Switch to grilled foods (from fried) and load your plate up with fresh clean veggies. MORE color.
6. Prayer & Meditation
I always like to start my days off with something inspirational. Whether is be listening to some good worship music on the way to work or reading an online devotional, it helps prepare my mind. Sometimes I’m able to think back on it during hard parts of my day. You may like to do affirmations. Affirmations are a great way to create a mantra for your day. I reassure myself that I’m going to struggle, but it’s okay. I have a strong faith in God, and clinging to scripture or affirmation in some situations can be extremely comforting!
“This is JUST anxiety, and it is going to pass”
“I am strong and I am safe. Healing takes time.”
“These thoughts are not reality. I am safe, okay, and healing day by day.”
‘I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I also kept essential oils on me at all times. These have been so helpful in my journey with supporting my anxious feelings naturally. They’ve helped with breath work and having something safe and natural to deescalate anxious tension! The best oils for feeling anxious:
Bergmot – uplifting and calming, great for halting panic attacks
Vetiver – earthy, grounding, and calming, blends well with bergamot
Peace– a beautiful grounding oil, apply to wrists
Lavender – great for sleep and calming emotions and mind chatter before bed (I apply 2 drops on hands and rub all over my pillow and sheets).
Balance – a beautiful grounding, slightly sweet earthy blend. This oil I kept in my scrub pockets at ALL times.
Serenity– a restful blend for helping hault those spinning nightly thoughts, she application as Lavender (blends well with Balance).
These oils can be diffused in a diffuser (3-5 drops) or apply a drop or two with a tsp of carrier oil mixed and apply to your wrists and neck for aromatic diffusion. You can also mix 25 drops of oil with a carrier oil and put in a 10ml Roller Ball. Apply to wrist and neck conveniently on the go!
Learn a little more about my journey with anxiety and oils here!
Books that Have Helped Me With Nurse Anxiety:
It Starts With Food
Battlefield of the Mind
How To Love Yourself Cards
Anxious For Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World
Listen, Nursing is HARD work! This job is not for the faint & weary! I encourage all who struggle with nurse anxiety to have a plan in how you are going to heal. Many doctors will push you towards medication (and there is a time and place), but that can’t just be your only approach if you choose. Medication can help you feel less anxious and not so down and it can help give you the ability/energy to take steps to heal, but what is TRIGGERING that anxiety is a result of your learned imbalances in your thoughts, diet, and lifestyle, and environment.
Those chronic negative thoughts may have created an imbalance of “feel good chemicals” in your brain, leading to worsened anxiety and depression. Medication can help build those chemicals back up, but they don’t fix the problem causing it. The problem can be a circumstance, a situation, and/or your thoughts in repose to those things. There’s a REASON for those chemicals being depleted. We need to agrees that. When we can support our body and life from ALL angles, we will become WHOLE & HEALTHY and guess what? HEALTHY & WHOLE people can FULLY help others!
Set up a plan full of HEALTHY steps that you can take throughout your day and week. That may involve planning your meals, setting up counseling, journaling (this is a GREAT journal), an exercise schedule, enjoyable hobbies, etc. Get support! Set yourself up for success! Nurse Anxiety doesn’t have to own you.
Some last thoughts:
•NEVER feel bad or weird for asking questions.
-It is SAFE and NORMAL to ask questions. How that person feels on the receiving end is NONE OF YOUR BIZ! You have to do whats right for you. NEVER feel bad for wanting to safely and effectively take care of your patients or do something right.
•Don’t feel bad saying NO.
-NO, I can’t work extra
-NO, I can’t stay late
-NO, I cannot switch shifts
-NO, I do not feel safe with this assignment
Saying no is not a bad thing. It’s HEALTHY. Practice saying no and do NOT feel bad! You have to do what’s right for YOU, not in the eyes of someone else. PERIOD.
•Don’t feel bad asking for help.
-If you need help, ASK. Again, who cares what anyone else thinks. You’re doing what’s right for YOU, your license, and your patients. Ask a million questions sister!
•Don’t take stupid people personally.
-They’re everywhere. They’re angry. They’re hurt. They’re dissatisfied with life. Hurt people hurt people. Period. You can’t control how they talk and respond to you, but you CAN control how to respond to them. Let them be dumb. Let they’re comments fly by. Don’t argue with them. If necessary, bring it to your supervisor, but in doing so, please don’t take anything personally. I love calling these people out….”I’m so sorry, are you having a bad day? Your words and energy are super negative right now, is there anything you want to talk about?” But seriously. I’ve treated people like Kindergartners and it throws them off. To be honest, these people act this way because they’re hurt. Something in life hasn’t gone well for them to be this nasty. So just be mindful of that. Don’t take anything personally. And keep loving.
•Do what’s best for YOU & Don’t be afraid to CHANGE!
-I’m ending on this. NEVER stay in a position for money or fear. I hear so many people complain about their jobs. They talk about the stress and anxiety to the point that it’s physically interfering with their life and health. Do you think an extra $4 an hour is worth your health? I think not, sister. If your miserable in your job and you need to change, make that move. Even if that means a payout. There is a LOT you can do to make up that money if it’s necessary, but compromising your emotional and physical health is NOT worth and dollar amount. And if you’re afraid to leave or more the move simply because change scares you, DIVE IN. It won’t get better until you dive into that fear. Check out this blog on the 6 Best Side Hustles for Nurses!
YOU are in control of YOUR emotions, not the other way around.
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