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Being a student nurse can be hard. It’s tough trying to balance lectures, placements, assignments, family, friends, jobs and whatever else we need to fit into our lives.

Sometimes it can feel too much.

Every night before bed, I use an app to help track my periods, mood, and energy levels.  A few months ago, I noticed my energy levels were low. When my friends and family asked how I was, I would reply “I’m tired but I’m OK – not long to go now until summer break so I’m just going to power on through”. 

This was a red flag, and I ignored it. I ignored my body when it was screaming at me to slow down until it gave up waiting for me to do it on my own and forced me to listen. And that’s when I experienced burnout for the second time.

What's helped me

I've since learned what helps me when things become overwhelming.

  1. Your body is your biggest ally. Listen to what it’s trying to tell you. If you find yourself doing the same pointless thing over and over, engaging in self-destructive behaviours, or feeling like you want to run away, these are all clues.
  2. Breathe. Focus on taking deep slow breaths. It can help calm you down.
  3. Ask for help. I love the quote from Maria Forleo: “Everything is figureoutable”. But sometimes we can’t do it on our own. You may feel like the only option is to power on, but if you can ask for help and chat things through it may help you see that there is more than one way forward.
  4. Reframe difficulties as opportunities. I’m learning not to get frustrated and instead celebrate that I did ask for help and that I’m taking positive steps to turn things around. Change happens gradually, as Brené Brown says: “We’re here to get it right, not be right”.
  5. We’re all different in terms of what works best for us to help break out of a stress cycle. Don’t be afraid to try different things to see what works for you. You could try:
  • yoga
  • journaling
  • doing something physical like dancing or just jumping up and down
  • cooking a delicious meal
  • getting creative, whether that be painting, photography, baking, whatever you enjoy
  • talking to a trusted friend
  • just having a really good cry.

Looking back

The first time I went through burnout I remember thinking that I’d never allow myself to go through it again. At the time I had a very busy job, was dealing with relationship problems and cycling insane distances regularly just to keep on top of my daily schedule. I felt stuck in an endless cycle of tasks, activities and schedules, a feeling of never-ending-ness. Eventually it became too much.

This time round, I’d arrived at work at 7am, the first one there. I turned on my computer and all of a sudden, I couldn’t see. Everything went black. I remember crawling into a meeting room and lying on the floor for what felt like a long time. A bit later I called my mum, and on her advice, went straight home.

I felt stuck in an endless cycle of tasks

Looking back, it’s easy to feel frustrated that I didn’t act when I started to see the signs. I asked myself how I let myself burn out again, but I soon realised that feeling like this wasn’t helpful. I’m learning and becoming more aware of what I need to look out for.

Becca on the beach

Rebecca (pictured above) is a student nurse in her final year. 

I’m one of the worst offenders for being hard on myself. My inner critic has a lot of power, constantly berating me for not doing enough, for making mistakes, for not being perfect. I also know that when I’m busy, the first things that get de-prioritised are my tried and tested self-care practices.

Little by little, without me even noticing, my daily meditation practice dropped off. I stopped doing my reflective journal sessions, I didn’t take time to go out and be in nature.

I was on a long path with blinkers on, sluggishly trudging my way through the mud. I didn’t realise that all I needed to do was admit I was struggling and ask for help. 

When I was able to accept that I needed help, I had the most amazing nurse who, once the floodgates opened, bore the brunt of my tears. I realised that because I was in the thick of things, it was hard for me to see a way out and that I had options. On the outside it looked like everything was fine, but it really wasn’t. 

Help is always available if you need it

We’re training to be nurses – to care for others – but to do that well we need to make sure we give ourselves the same amount of care and compassion. I know it can be hard so trust yourself and keep talking to each other about how you truly feel. Help is always available if you need it. Just make sure you reach for it.

RCN support for students

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