Surviving Nursing School and Beyond: Mental Health Edition

By: Hannah Lease BSN, RN

Have you made the decision to go to school for nursing and are worrying about how you’re going to survive?  You are not alone, my friend!  

A quick little backstory about me… I recently graduated from a 16-month accelerated BSN program in December and took my NCLEX in early February.  My nursing program was designed for those who already have a previous bachelor’s degree (in anything) and have decided to go back to school for nursing.  I left my full-time job that I was at for four years and made the decision to chase after my big dream of becoming a nurse!  If there’s one thing that I can say to sum up these past 18 months: it has been quite the whirlwind, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Was it tough?  You bet!  Did my mind play the biggest tricks on me that made me doubt myself constantly? Oh yes.  There’s a lot that I could say about surviving nursing school when it comes to the classwork, but I want to take a moment to focus on something that should have just as much importance throughout school and as you begin your nursing career: your mental health.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t struggle with my mental health throughout nursing school, especially since over half of my program took place in the middle of a pandemic.  Right off the bat, I immediately struggled to take time for myself outside of studying.  Once I started nursing school, I could not even FATHOM the thought of taking time away from studying. It truly gave me anxiety thinking about doing anything other than school related things. Throughout the beginning of school, I was hardly working out, was studying for hours and hours without any type of break, definitely was not making eating healthy a priority, drank more caffeine than water, wasn’t really doing any of my favorite hobbies, and overall was just in such a mental funk. Clearly none of this was healthy and my mental health started to go downhill.  Although I was loving all that I was learning from school and being in the hospital with patients, at the end of the day my brain was fried, and it was largely due to not taking care of my mental and physical health.

We put all this pressure on ourselves to be great nursing students and then to be great nurses upon graduating, but I think we can all agree that we don’t really take into consideration the importance of how our mental health affects our role as a nurse.  Listen, I know I’m still new to this whole nursing profession, but I know that there are going to be some tough days that will undoubtedly take a toll on my mental health.  So why not try to get ahead of those tough days and make sure that our mental health is a priority right now and for all the days to come?  I challenge you to really set aside some time to think about what will work best for improving your mental health.  Does that include therapy sessions?  Working out?  Journaling?  Taking medication?  Meditating?  Reading?  Bible study?  Whatever is going to help you decompress is 100% worth looking into!

It’s our job as nurses to show up and provide safe and quality care for our patients, but it’s time we start putting that same effort into ourselves.  Now more than ever, we must make our mental health a top priority, not only for ourselves first and foremost, but also for our family, friends, co-workers, and our patients.  In my own little world, I like to think that if we can take care of our mental health then we can potentially help lower the dreaded “nursing burnout”.  Maybe that’s me shooting for the stars or maybe I just made you roll your eyes so hard, but you guys…this is so important!  I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to enjoy this journey as a nurse as much as I can, and I want to be able to enjoy life outside of nursing.  So, in order for me to truly do this, I need to continuously work on my mental health.  We all do.  The nursing community has been through the ringer this past year, to say the least, but what better time for us all to rally together and support one another?  Whether you’re a nursing student, new grad nurse, or an experienced nurse, you and your mental health matter.  Although you will be or may already be an amazing nurse, you are also more than a nurse, so make sure you’re living a life that fills the cup of the other amazing roles that you have.  And it all starts with taking care of your mental wellbeing.  

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