Advice and development

How to stay mentally healthy

Make time for yourself and develop strategies to help you cope with the pressures of a nursing course. 

Recent reports indicate a dramatic increase in the number of nursing students accessing university counselling services. The combined pressures of a nursing course and social and financial demands can lead to emotional and mental distress. Here’s how to optimise your mental wellbeing.

Try to be aware of how and when you judge yourself against others, and
listen to the language you use. Picture: IStock

Avoid the comparison trap

  • As a nursing student you have a list of competencies to achieve and professional attributes to aspire to, but it is important to allow yourself to become your own practitioner.
  • Try to become aware of how and when you judge yourself against others, and listen to the language you use: would you speak to a colleague or close friend in this way? How can you adopt a friendlier tone with yourself?
  • Remember to acknowledge when you do things well, and make a note in your reflective learning log of positive feedback you receive. Use this to boost your confidence when you notice self-critical thoughts.
  • If you constantly compare yourself to others – in the classroom, on clinical placement or even online – you move your attention away from learning and place increased pressure on yourself.

Know yourself

  • You will be learning how to recognise, and care for, others. However, to successfully complete your course you also need to learn the art of self-care and emotional resilience. This means finding ways to ground yourself, so you feel able to deal with whatever comes your way.
  • Try to identify what helps you bounce back from setbacks, such as a poor grade in an assignment or a stressful shift. Do you need to talk things over or do you prefer hitting the gym? Develop strategies that suit your needs.
  • If you are prone to ruminating over negative thoughts, it is important you learn to challenge these with more constructive ones. Some people find it helpful to keep a thought/mood diary, and there are self-help resources online, such as Living Life to the Full ( and Get Self Help  (
  • Make time for hobbies. Everyone needs time to unwind and relax, so make sure you balance all your hard work with some fun time.
  • Value friends and family. Some people thrive on a wide social circle, whereas others need just a few close friends. Don’t bottle emotions up.

Be honest with yourself and others

  • Sometimes you may need extra support. Often the first and bravest step is admitting to yourself that you need help. Initially speak to someone who you trust – this could be a close friend or colleague, your university tutor or your GP. The main thing is that you share how you are feeling and make a plan to get the best support you need. 


Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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