Career advice

Handling change at work and avoiding overload

How to maintain emotional balance in a new nursing role or challenging transition

How to maintain emotional balance in a new nursing role or challenging transition

Illustration of a woman shouldering the burden of falling dominoes and struggling to cope with the weight
Picture: iStock

Last week, I had a meltdown. I don’t mean just a few flaky moments, this was the real thing.

I was struggling with a virus and was overtired and overwhelmed. It felt like everything was spiralling out of control and at the centre of it all was useless little me.

Self-compassion was nowhere to be seen – my inner critic was fully in the driving seat.

What impacts our emotional equilibrium

Thankfully, a few doses of paracetamol and good night’s sleep later, a degree of emotional equilibrium was restored. But this ‘blip’ prompted me to reflect on the previous few months in the hope that I could gain insight into what made me ‘tip over’.

At the end of the summer, I took over the ownership of a company I had been managing. This was an exciting step, one I faced with energy and enthusiasm. Yet despite my best efforts, things didn’t quite go to plan and my tank drained empty.

‘With hindsight, my decision to plough on regardless was a mistake’

Taking a step back, I realised it wasn’t one ‘big thing’ that pushed me over the edge, rather a culmination of changes that created a domino effect.

With hindsight, my decision to plough on regardless was a mistake.

Change will not always be a choice in nursing

I’ve undergone lots of changes over the years in my career, but this has been the biggest transition between roles. I knew it would be challenging, but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be.  

Changes in your working life are scary and can drain your physical and mental resolves, but the alternative is to keep doing what you have always done. Staying within that safety zone may be the right thing for some, but avoiding change can leave others feeling uncomfortably stuck.

Over time, this can eat away at your self-confidence and job satisfaction and could even affect the level of care you give.

Changes to your role or clinical area are sometimes forced on you, often with little warning, so you may not have the luxury of choice.

But whether you are actively choosing to change or trying to adapt to something that has been imposed on you, the only positive way forward is to embrace the challenges that change brings.

Reframe your view: ‘I’m useless’ becomes ‘I need support’

So how you can stay physically and emotionally balanced through the process?

One of the things that helped my internal storm to pass was when a friend said to me: ‘You’re just on the downward part of the change curve; it will pass.’

This helped me reframe my situation from ‘I’m useless’ to ‘perhaps I need support’.

There are many different models and theories on change, but all agree that you will go through a process of transition from one way of doing things to another.

William Bridges' Transition Model is easy to relate to:

  • Ending, losing and letting go: The period when you are confronted with the prospect of change and the realisation that you need to move away from something that is comfortable and familiar. Resistance, fear, frustration and uncertainty are often high.
  • The neutral zone: This is the in-between stage. What you were used to is now the ‘old way’ but the ‘new way’ is still confusing and unknown.  
  • The new beginning: When the ‘new way’ feels comfortable and becomes the norm.

How to thrive in a time of change  

Nothing stays the same in healthcare for long and it’s likely you will encounter many changes throughout your nursing career.

Over time, you will hopefully gain insight into what helps you cope as an individual, but here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Set yourself up for success Have a plan, set realistic goals and make sure you have these to hand – I use a daily planner that I fill in every morning and at the end of each week
  • Ask for support No matter how senior you are, it is always okay to ask for guidance and help
  • Network It’s unlikely you will be the first to do what you are doing or feel the way you do, so talk to colleagues who have walked this path or a similar one before
  • Be kind to yourself Self-care is often the first thing to go when we’re under stress, so remember the basics: eat, sleep, recover. And remind yourself how brave you are – what would you say to a friend in your situation?
  • Take one step at a time Rome wasn’t built in a day, so be patient with yourself and others
  • Keep some things the same If you are changing roles at work, try to have some constants in your personal life
  • Pause for a while If you feel overwhelmed, stopping to recharge your batteries can be helpful. Go for a walk or talk to a friend. Do something that makes you smile
  • Remember your ‘why’ Reflect on the positives that this change can offer you
  • Take stock and re-evaluate Not everything you try will work, so redefine your goals as necessary


Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach with a nursing background. She runs a healthcare training company

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