You never forget your first year as a new nurse. The anxiety, always feeling overwhelmed – you are constantly questioning yourself. All this stuff, it’s normal. I want to encourage you and share some top tips for new graduate nurses – like you – that will help you feel more secure and confident in your role as a nurse.
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Every single nurse remembers the stress and anxiety from that first year. Which of these sounds familiar to you?
- Feeling Unprepared: Like you have to be at the same level as everyone else
- Feeling Bummed: You thought once you got through school and passed boards that you’d know what you are doing
- Intimidated: By the pace and all these people who know what they’re doing and expect you to do the same
- Overwhelmed: By all the educational requirements to meet and the meetings to attend
- Confused: Not sure how to balance it all
If this sounds like something you are going through right now, read on! I have some very important tips that will help you beat this first-year nurse anxiety.
Top Tips for New Graduate Nurses
This post is rather long so use the table of contents to jump to the section you want to read.
- Control your Worry
- Protect your Mental Space
- Don’t Overcommit
- Do Homework
- Be Honest
- Take Care
#1 New nurse stress: Control your worry
I know what it’s like. I was there. You graduate and you think, “Ok, I’m finally going to know what I’m doing!” But you show up to work and it’s so overwhelming. You feel you basically know nothing, even after all those years of hard work (and money).
My first tip for you is to relax. You aren’t alone. Every nurse has been where you are. We all know what it’s like, and it will get better.
Create space between your thoughts and your emotions. We are not our thoughts, we are not our emotions. You might feel frustrated or overwhelmed, and that is ok.
Imagine it like this: waves are the ocean, and you are the ocean. Sometimes the waves will be fierce and high. Other days, the waves will be calm. But the waves never overtake the ocean.
That means that just because I feel like I’ll never get this, or I feel like I’m a bad nurse, doesn’t mean I am a bad nurse. I’m still a good nurse, I’m just feeling confused and overwhelmed at this moment, and it will pass, like a wave.
There are three practical techniques you can use at work to control your worry.
Practice Deep Breathing
Almost all smartwatches (and all smartphones) have deep breathing apps. When you feel like you can’t breath and your thoughts are becoming frantic, slow down and breath.
Deep breathing brings anxiety levels down to a manageable level. It disengages the sympathetic nervous system and engages the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, it chills out that fight or flight response.
Here’s how to do it.
- Place a hand on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose slowly, counting to 4.
- Hold it for 7 seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth slowly, counting to 8.
- Feel your stomach collapse against your spine.
When you do this over about 3-5 minutes, it will bring your heart rate down and your anxiety down with it.
Use a Grounding Technique
Another thing that will really help to lower your anxiety is to do what’s called “grounding.” This is essentially being mindful of the moment. Not worrying about something that happened earlier or freaking out about the list of things you still have to do.
It pulls you into the present moment.
Here’s how to ground yourself to the present moment, using the 5 senses:
- Touch – Rub your hands together. How do your fingers feel against your skin? Is it smooth? Rough?
- Sight – What do you see around you. Is it bright? Dark? Busy? What colors do you see?
- Hearing – Make note of the sounds you hear. Name each one specifically, including your own breaths.
- Smell – What do you smell right now? Is it disinfectant in the room? Do you smell the soap you just used to wash your hands?
- Taste – Chew some gum, suck on a peppermint. Really be mindful about the taste and how it feels in your mouth.
Grounding takes you a step away from what was stressing you out in the past or coming up in the future. It reminds you that you are here, right now, and it is ok.
Be Comfortable In Your Own Skin
Try to be comfortable in your own skin. Know yourself and how you learn, how you communicate and relate to others.
One of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to work within your strengths and limits. If you know that you learn best by trying something hands-on, speak up. Ask your co-nurse if you can try it with supervision before they just leave you with the task.
Remember, you are not them. You are you. It’s ok if you don’t comprehend a ton of information audibly and need to write it down.
Practice Humble Confidence
After you level your physical response to anxiety, retrain your thoughts. You might now know the answer to something right now, but you can learn it and you’ll know it next time.
Humble confidence means having the courage to admit when you don’t know something. It’s an ability to tactfully communicate through difficult situations.
When you have humble confidence, you can provide authentic empathy without diving too deep. And you are able to mentally and emotionally disconnect from work so you can go home and enjoy the rest of your life.
Trust yourself, you’ve got this!
#2 Protect your mental space
My next tip for new nurse graduates will help you when you transition from home to work and back home again.
It’s very easy to bring the stressful morning at home to work with you. Or the other way around, to come home depleted and grumpy, after taking in too much information at work.
In order to thrive as a nurse – and as a human being – you need to protect your mental space.
What are you looking at during your breaks and time off? Are you browsing pictures on Instagram that make you feel left out or less than stellar?
Are you reading posts on Facebook that irritate you? Take inventory of what you allow into your emotional headspace. If it is within your control, only read and take in positive and encouraging messages and thoughts.
This will free up emotional space for your family and your co-workers.
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#3 Don’t overcommit
As a new nurse graduate, I know you want to volunteer and be seen as a team player, but it’s important to learn how to say no.
The first year as a new nurse is so intense because you are learning so many new concepts. You need to focus and learn while you are at work.
Working extra shifts spreads you so thin that you will actually have less mental energy with which to grasp new things.
Don’t worry. Someday, you will get faster and more efficient. But as a new nurse, this first year is all about taking time to learn all you can.
This is not the time to join committees or research grad schools. All of these things will stress you out and make you feel even more overwhelmed than you already are.
#4 Do homework
Next, be aware that just because you graduated from nursing school doesn’t mean the homework ends. In fact, it’s going to be so much easier for you to study new concepts at home after your shift is over.
As a new nurse, you won’t have time at the bedside to look something up. Write yourself a note and look it up when you get home.
The nurses that are most successful will learn in the moment and then go home and look up things (like a new med or disease process) they don’t know. That way when they are at the bedside, they will be able to recall the new information.
#5 Be honest about what you don’t know
It’s understandable that you want to appear like you have everything under control and you know what you’re doing. But creating that facade comes at a price.
If you act like you already know something that you don’t, you won’t learn it effectively.
It’s actually not safe to act like you know something that you don’t. Ask for help so you can learn how to do it and keep yourself and your patient safe.
Authentic learning is admitting where you are, not where you think you should be.
So if you have a question about a disease or medication, ask a nurse. No one will judge you, we’ve all been there.
#6 Take care of your body
Finally, my last tip for new nurse graduates is to take care of yourself. It might seem like you have more “free time” now than when you were doing clinicals and nursing school.
But these 12 hours shifts are depleting. It’s so important that you take care of yourself and give yourself the ability to make it through an entire week of shifts without getting sick or wearing out.
There are four parts to this, and all of them are just as important as the other one.
Wear the Right Clothes
Invest in high-quality, comfortable scrubs and shoes. It makes a dramatic difference on those long, 12-hour shifts. If your scrubs don’t fit right, you’ll notice. If your shoes aren’t working, your back and feet will scream at you.
Get Enough Sleep
A well-rested body works better than a sleep-deprived one. You need your sleep, guard it intentionally.
This is where saying no to extra commitments during the first year comes into play. You need to be able to get enough sleep so you can focus and take in all the new concepts you’ll be learning.
If you are working a night shift, invest in blackout curtains. And tell friends and family not to visit or expect you to be awake when you should be resting.
Practice Good Hygiene
It might seem silly, but showers are so important. When you take care of your body by washing it, you subconsciously communicate that you care about yourself.
It might seem like you are getting plenty of steps in during your shifts, so why exercise?
Walking, jogging or even just throwing a frisbee are all activities that get you moving. And exercise releases endorphins. It’s not only good for your physical health but your mental health too.
And don’t forget to take your vitamin D on your days off. Make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs so it can replenish itself with energy.
When you’re the overwhelmed new nurse
All of these tips are so relatable because all new nurses experience the same feelings. So when you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious, remember these tips:
- Do your breathwork
- Think of actionable steps you can take. Don’t go into analysis paralysis mulling over irrelevant details. Get Dansksos on the ground and take actionable steps.
- Just do it. Don’t waste 15 minutes trying to figure out which tasks to do first, you could have already completed 3.
- Remember, you are still learning. This isn’t passing/fail like school. There isn’t a perfect way to do this. You are still learning how to do things and it’s ok to do things your way.
- Refocus on improvement, not perfection. You don’t need to do everything perfectly every time, so wasting time trying to figure out how to perfect something when you really just need to focus on being proficient so you can move on to the next thing
Above all, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Remember, we’ve all been there. Every single nurse today has been where you are. Reach out for help when you need it and give yourself the grace to keep learning.
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