Advice and development

Handling work pressure

An ageing population coupled with the increase in treatable illnesses has led to ‘health promotion’ and ‘self-management’ becoming buzz words in today’s NHS.

An ageing population coupled with the increase in treatable illnesses has led to ‘health promotion’ and ‘self-management’ becoming buzz words in today’s NHS.

It helps to talk with colleagues or your mentor about stressful situations because it encourages you to reflect


But have you ever stopped to reflect on how you incorporate these ideas into your own life and wellbeing?


As a student you will encounter academic pressures and deadlines on top of working busy shifts, often with antisocial hours. This combination of studying and clinical work means nursing students often experience high stress levels.


The first step to coping with this is to recognise what level of stress is normal for you and how it affects you physically, emotionally and behaviourally. Understand where your natural tipping point is, where stress stops enabling you and starts to have a negative effect.


It is important not to compare yourself to your classmates as stress affects everyone differently and everyone copes in different ways. For example, some students will seem to handle the demands of an under-resourced ward or the emotional impact of nursing their first dying patient well. Meanwhile, others may find they are unable to switch off at the end of a shift. This can affect general wellbeing as well as concentration and academic performance.


  • Identify what level of stress is beneficial and normal for you.
  • Unwind and debrief about high-pressured days with colleagues.
  • Speak to your clinical mentor.
  • Access your university’s learning facilitator or a counsellor.
  • Reflect on stressful workplace events and learn from them.


Often nurses turn to humour with their colleagues as a survival strategy, but there are more formal routes of support. Speak to your clinical mentor – it may feel hard at first to bring up the subject of stress or coping, but try to remember that your mentor will be experienced at dealing with nursing-related pressures.


Most schools of nursing have dedicated learning facilitators who are available to discuss any aspect of life affecting your studies. Your university will also have student health practitioners or counsellors.


Students often think it is a sign of failure to admit they need extra support, but this is a key element to becoming a resilient healthcare professional, says Suzanne Bell, lecturer in adult nursing at the University of Dundee’s school of nursing and health sciences.


‘Exploring students’ personal expectations, values and beliefs about nursing can encourage them to consider the challenges of nursing in terms of their own physical and mental wellbeing,’ she says.


Ms Bell says talking among peers can also prove invaluable. ‘Students are able to share specific anxieties with each other in class, reflecting on the challenges encountered on the placement.’


Taking time to reflect on stressful situations in your clinical setting is vital. Think about how you felt, the effects the event had on you, and what you have learned from it. Consider what you could do differently in future to look after yourself.


Reflecting on your practice can increase your self-confidence and wellbeing. As Ms Bell says: ‘Learning about health and ill health profoundly affects students’ perception of themselves. In my experience, this can have a positive effect on life choices’.




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