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Experienced Nurses: Stress Management for Returning Students

Higher Education Articles November 4, 2013

For many nursing students, stress management might sound like an unattainable goal. With a shortage of advanced practice nurses in several states, experienced nurses returning to school may find excellent job prospects upon completing their degrees. However, returning to school as an experienced nurse may be harder than you remember it being when you first got your degree. With challenging coursework and demanding clinical responsibilities, returning students may easily feel overwhelmed. Finding stress management techniques that work for you is essential to keeping yourself physically and mentally healthy for the duration of your schooling.

Organize and Prioritize

Perhaps the most daunting part about going back to school after working as a nurse is the heavy schedule you face. Between lectures, homework, study sessions, exams, clinical experiences, work, and family life, you may feel stretched to the limit. Creating a detailed calendar that lists all of your work, school, and family obligations are a great way to feel less stressed. By visualizing deadlines and setting aside time to work, you can avoid the stress of last-minute papers or cramming for exams.

Also, remember to prioritize your activities, focusing on the ones that are most essential. One week, that may mean studying for several exams, practicing a presentation, and reading textbooks. The next week, your priority may be meeting friends for coffee or spending an afternoon with your family. Remember that school is not your only priority, balancing work and your personal life will make you feel less stressed.

Be Honest about your Fears

Going back to school can be scary. Perhaps it has been a few years since you have taken an exam for school, or you are stressed about implementing your new skills in a clinical setting. Being honest and forthright about your nervousness is a great way to feel less stressed. If you are worried about your first significant exam, talk to your professor or create a study group. Or, confide in your closest friends or family members about your worries. Vocalizing your concerns and getting an outside perspective can make stressful situations seem a lot less scary.

Take Time to Care for Yourself

Stress wreaks havoc on your body and mind, decreasing your immune response and increasing your risk of getting sick. Incorporating relaxing activities into your routine improves your ability to deal with stress. For example, make sure you get plenty of physical activity every day. Even when you feel busy, take 20 minutes to go for a walk or complete a workout video. Practicing yoga is another great way to de-stress and relax. Although it may seem a little silly to schedule “me” time, actually blocking off time in your schedule to perform self-care activities ensures that you will make it a priority. Think about what makes you happiest and most carefree – hiking, reading, catching up with friends, meditating, baking – and try to incorporate it into your busy schedule.

Set Manageable Goals

When you have a million things on your to-do list, you may find yourself stressing out because you simply don’t know where to begin. Instead, take a few deep breaths and jot down a few goals. Think realistically about what you have time to complete. For example, if you have a huge term paper looming, break the project into several chunks. Set separate goal completion dates for each portion of the project – from narrowing your topic, to revising and proofreading. Dividing tasks into more manageable pieces gives you a sense of achievement and prevents them from becoming too stressful.

One of the most important things to remember about going back to school as an experienced nurse is that you have a lot of valuable ideas to add to the classroom. Instead of focusing on the things you are most worried about, remind yourself of your strengths and any positive feedback you have received. Reframing your worries and discussing them with others makes school-related stress much easier to manage.

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