7 Tips for Coping with Nursing School Stress

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Marquette MSN student sitting at desk using laptop

If you are looking to become a nurse, you’ve probably been doing a lot of research about programs and schools. Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree is a challenge, but one that can be managed with the right program and the right support. Take for instance Marquette University’s Direct Entry MSN program for non-nurses.

Our accredited master’s in nursing program, which is delivered as a campus-based program in Milwaukee or as an online-based nursing program in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, builds on your existing non-nursing bachelor’s degree, making it possible for you to earn an MSN degree in less than 21 months. While the program has its challenges, staff and faculty offer an environment of inclusiveness, one-on-one support, and collaboration to help you cope with nursing school stress and, most importantly, find success. Here are seven stress-relief techniques you can count on during your nursing education.

1. Make Self-Care a Priority

This tip is first for a reason. While it can feel like nursing school is too stressful, it is still important to take care of yourself during this time. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your schoolwork, or eventually, your patients. The nursing curriculum at Marquette is made up of three main components: online or in-person nursing theory coursework, hands-on skills and simulation labs, and in-hospital clinical rotations. Once you begin the full-time program you will have limited free time outside of your studies, so it’s crucial that you have a self-care routine in place to remain both physically and emotionally healthy.

Self-Care for Physical Health

To be your healthiest self, you’ll want to incorporate a balanced diet, which can help you maintain optimal energy levels and focus. This means incorporating more nutrient-dense and whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, unprocessed proteins, etc. To make this more achievable, try creating meal plans and prepping meals for the week on weekends. Additionally, you can prepare a quick slow-cooker meal in the morning so that it will be ready once you return home in the evening. Making it easier for yourself to eat healthier is the key to staying consistent.

nurse standing outside holding a backpack

In addition to a healthy diet, moving your body outside of labs and clinical rotations can serve as a healthy release when dealing with the deadlines and workload of a Direct Entry MSN program. Choose physical activities you enjoy such as:

  • Running or walking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Dancing
  • Tennis

Self-Care for Mental Health

While your physical health is no doubt important, you must also remember to take care of your mental health. This means reducing stress levels and ensuring that you are engaging in activities that bring you joy. Some ways you can take care of your mental health include practicing meditation and mindfulness by using guided meditations. Spending time in nature can also be a great stress reliever. Go for nature walks, being sure that you use all your senses to observe the world around you. Even just taking the time to watch funny cat videos can improve your mental health, as humor can be a great way to clear your mind.

Finally, you need to make sure you get enough sleep. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), sleep deprivation can hinder your decision-making process and slow your reaction times. For example, if you’re sleep deprived during clinical rotations, you may find it difficult to quickly compute medication math, assess vitals, or even react to a patient stumbling.

2. Get and Stay Organized

Marquette’s curriculum is compressed and moves fast, so you’ll need to stay organized to keep up with the rigorous pace. You won’t experience any “light” semesters or classes, so you’ll want to develop an organizational regimen right away. A planner or calendar can serve as a great resource. Being able to write down and visualize your learning activities on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis will help you stay prepared and keep your stress in check.

marquette student studying

Your organizational routine will be important from the beginning of the first semester onward. If you are taking the online coursework option, you’re not tied down to a specific classroom or lecture time, you will have the freedom to learn core nursing concepts at a time that works best for you and your schedule. However, you will have plenty of opportunities to interact with faculty during course-specific meetings, office hours and other individualized meetings. you will still be held accountable for all deadlines given by your instructors and in an online environment being organized is key to meeting these deadlines. If you are attending classes in-person, the structure of these classes may make it easier to plan your days, however it is still just as important to stay on top of your schedule.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

Nursing school will require you to absorb massive amounts of information, making it crucial for you to put aside your pride and ask questions when necessary. Even if you communicate with your professors through an online learning platform, you can still meet with them one-on-one. In fact, your professors want you to reach out if something isn’t making sense.

As part of the Direct Entry MSN curriculum, you’ll complete a series of labs that teach you how to safely and effectively deliver patient care. These labs will provide you with the equipment and supplies needed to prepare you for your diverse clinical rotations. Just like your didactic professors, your clinical professors will expect you to be upfront and honest about any additional help you may need. Whether you are struggling with a specific skill, piece of equipment or just need extra practice, your professors will gladly schedule time with you during open lab.

Two Marquette students examining a simulation manikin

Additionally, if you are struggling, we offer tutoring from Marquette Direct Entry MSN graduates at both of our sites. Through this free service, you will have the opportunity to work closely with some of the alumni who have been in your place and engaged with the same curriculum that you are now facing. They can help you to take on course material, prepare for exams, and keep organized in an effective manner. Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN tutors are graduates currently working in the nursing field, so the knowledge that they share with you has been proven in clinical environments.

Asking questions early can help prevent nursing school from being so stressful. If you don’t understand a concept, it is very important to get the help you need before the curriculum starts to build on that concept and you fall behind.

4. Create Support Systems with Your Peers

The memories you make in nursing school will stay with you for the rest of your career, and most of them will involve the students you meet in your cohort. Coming from all walks of life, the students in your cohort will share your fears and goals for nursing school success. Because Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program often draws students looking for a career change, you will likely have great diversity in your cohort when it comes to life experiences and perspectives, which can enrich everyone’s learning experience.

Your peers will hold you accountable for deadlines, help you work through challenging topics and serve as a sounding board when you are feeling stressed. You will provide the same amount of support for them in return.

5. Learn When to Say No

While it is undoubtedly important to maintain relationships and do good deeds during nursing school, it is also important to maintain boundaries. As a prospective nursing student, it likely brings you joy to help others, which is an admirable character trait. However, you are going to be incredibly busy during nursing school and won’t have as much free time to take care of others. Learning to set firm boundaries and say no when you need to will help you to reduce your stress levels while in school and beyond. As a caring person, this may sound a bit selfish. But in reality, it is the exact opposite. You must make sure to take care of yourself first so that you can put your all into helping others later.

6. Start a Journal

Journaling is a great stress relieving technique. It allows you to get all your thoughts out on paper, prioritize your worries, and can help you identify negative ways of thinking or certain triggers for your stress. Even if you don’t like the idea of keeping a journal, just sitting still and evaluating your thoughts in a mindful way can help you to realize what is stressing you out. And once you can identify your triggers, you can start coming up with ways to either avoid them or reframe your mindset to prevent those things from causing so much stress.

closeup of hands writing in journal

Keeping a journal while you are in nursing school can also end up producing a keepsake for you. Once you’ve graduated from nursing school, you can look back at your journal entries and see how far you’ve come. Taking the time to reflect on your accomplishments will foster a sense of confidence in your abilities to overcome obstacles.

7. Remember the End Goal

There’s a reason why you’re reading this blog post – you want to change careers to become a nurse. Whether you’ve been called to serve others, have overcome a traumatic life event, or have always been passionate about working in the field of healthcare, there is a reason behind your nursing school search. Before you begin your nursing school education, write down your “why” on a piece of paper (perhaps in your journal) and keep it safe. Whenever you feel the stress of nursing school, you will have this for reference. Reflecting on your why can give you that boost you need to keep going. And remember, Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program can be completed in less than two years, so you’ve got this!

Ready to Get Started?

Nursing school is challenging, no doubt. It has to be – patients trust nurses with their lives. So while Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program is demanding, these tips for coping with nursing school stress can help you successfully earn your masters of science in nursing (MSN) degree with confidence. Contact an admissions adviser to learn how you can get started today!