8 Tips for Surviving the Stress of Nursing School

By Glenn Fredenburg, April 2016

This should come as no surprise, but whether you’re a new student or a returning graduate, I can guarantee one thing: you will experience stress.

As an adult learner with a house, wife, job, children, and bills, adding in project deadlines, school readings, and research is quite daunting. The key is having strategies to adapt, and I’d like to share some of my favorites.

1. Take a day off.

This sounds basic, but structure your week so that you have your weekly projects done, your reading started, and your tests done. Then plan…nothing. Leave time to decompress, because like a deep-sea diver, you can’t stay down forever and you must plan time to come up for air. See a movie, have dinner with your loved ones, and most importantly, laugh!

2. Reduce distractions.

I am amazed that my 20-something daughter, finishing her college experience with two majors and two minors, studies and writes papers while curled on the couch with one headphone in her music player, with Netflix on the television, and while texting with her friends simultaneously. Please, don’t. Find a quiet room, set up your desk, and write your paper. I even bought a “closed” sign to put on my bedroom door when I’m working.

3. PLAN.

Read your rubric, know your syllabus, and plan ahead for due dates on papers and major tests. Try to start your work so as to finish a week before it’s due. Remember, online courses are only eight weeks long, so that pretty much means you should start assignments as soon as you start the reading.

4. Be a note-taker.

Not everyone has total recall of information, so use 3x5 cards or a notebook and highlighter to make notes of important facts from your texts. There is no shame in using a pen and paper in the digital age.

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5. Remember to take care of yourself.

When I was younger, I could pull an all-nighter, go to class, and then turnaround and drink until dawn. Now, not so much. Get your rest so you don’t catch what the kids bring home from school—there is no shame in a Sunday afternoon nap. Also, eat regular, well-balanced meals to maintain your health. If you’re younger, withhold from drinking or do so in moderation. Your body will thank you when you get older.

6. Exercise.

Regular physical exertion is good for the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and exercise releases natural endorphins like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and other “feel-good” chemicals. Stay healthy, feel better, and feel good about yourself. When combined with your day off (see number 1), it’s the daily double of fun! Feel free to bring your family along and make a day out of feeling better.

7. Stay grounded.

School is school, it’s not life-or-death. One bad grade will not make you a failure, nor will it scar you in such an indelible way that others shun you publicly. Keep context and stay focused, but take the opportunity to reflect on our issues and ask for help if you need it. You’re not in college alone, even if you are sitting alone at a computer. Your guidance counselor and professor are always eager to lend an ear and help you get back up.

8. Finally, relax.

You chose to come to school because you wanted to widen your horizons. If you feel as if the walls are closing in on you like the trash compactor in the Death Star, step back and call for your own R2D2—your friend, spouse, your counselor, your advisor, a classmate, SOMEONE. Alone, you’re a student. Together, we are Utica College.

About the Author

Glenn Fredenburg has been a registered nurse for over 13 years, coming to the profession after a career in sales. His experience in nursing has been primarily in the critical care setting, with over 10 years in the emergency room and intensive care areas. His mother is a retired nurse and urged him early in life to "become a nurse" because it's rewarding helping others heal and using your complete "toolbox" of skills to aid in the recovery of body and mind. In hindsight, his mother was right. Don't tell her.