Nurse Keith: The Emotional Dance of Nursing School

No one will argue that nursing school can be an emotional roller coaster. Whether you’re studying for your BSN, or on the road to an MSN or DNP, nursing education can be emotionally taxing.

Keeping tabs on your emotional wellness is crucial for surviving and thriving in both nursing school and professional nursing practice.

The dance of nursing school

If you’re a young college student fresh out of high school and entering a nursing program, your emotional struggles will be different than that of a 30-something nurse with an Associate’s degree who’s enrolled in a BSN or MSN program.

The emotional dance of nursing school involves the skillful juggling of your personal life, family, social connections, rigorous academic study, clinical assignments, as well as your financial well-being and other personal responsibilities.

A prism of responsibility

Many working nurses seeking to advance their education and elevate their professional standing face a multifaceted challenge.

First, attending school while working part- or full-time is itself a challenge. Balancing the responsibilities of a nursing position while knee-deep in your studies can lead to increased stress, emotional lability, and a sense that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. This type of pressure may trigger anxiety, depression, or garden-variety overwhelm.

We also must recognize that some nursing students have children of all ages, or infirm or aging parents. Add a disabled or unemployed spouse, pets, volunteerism, homeownership, bills to pay, and other factors, and we can see that the facets of a nursing student’s life are a prism of responsibility and pressure to perform.

The emotional self-care imperative

The emotional dance of nursing school is tiring, especially when coupled with life’s other demands. Nursing students at any stage of their lives and careers all need to bear in mind that self-care cannot take a back seat without eventually paying a price.

Balance is key when it comes to self-care in the midst of nursing education, and this is no easy task to achieve. Some areas of life in need of attention and balance may include:

  • Carving out time for studying
  • Making room for social interaction with friends and colleagues
  • Staying focused at work despite the distraction of school
  • Exercising for mental and physical health
  • Getting enough rest and sleep
  • Maintaining healthy nutritional intake and hydration
  • Paying attention to your own health issues, both acute and chronic
  • Prioritizing family and home
  • Spiritual wellness
  • Having moments of leisure, levity, and fun

If you are currently working and attending nursing school, this list may seem laughably impossible to tackle. In some instances, things like leisure time, proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise seem like memories of some life in the distant past. However, you may also recognize that one of these areas is simply crying out for attention; you may also know that ignoring that call may eventually have dire consequences.

The imperative of self-care cannot be overemphasized. We nurses love martyrdom, and we can complain like nobody’s business. But in the final analysis, allowing yourself to develop a stress-based illness (or worse) due to poor self-care is a self-defeating equation.

Personal prioritization

How and when you prioritize various aspects of your self-care during nursing school is entirely up to you. There is no cookie-cutter answer that will fit every nursing student’s needs and situation.

For each priority life area mentioned above (or other areas not listed), consider these questions:

  • How important is it for me to prioritize this area of my life?
  • What needs to change in order for me to make this a priority?
  • How will I hold myself accountable? Who or what will help me do so?
  • What’s at risk if I do nothing?
  • How will taking better care of this area of my life benefit the other areas?
  • How will paying attention to this benefit my success in school?
  • How will I measure success?
  • What are realistic goals I can set for myself?
  • How often will I reevaluate how I’m doing?

Other questions for self-evaluation may arise, and some of the aforementioned questions may not resonate for your situation. You need to evaluate your own needs, liabilities, responsibilities, and strengths, and then plan accordingly.

Enlist support (whether it’s a trusted friend, spouse, or therapist/counselor), set up a way to hold yourself accountable, and make the necessary changes so that your emotional health and well-being remain intact as your nursing education progresses.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, consultant, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. He can be found at NurseKeith.com.

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