Getting through the second-year blues

Student nurse Toni shares her struggles during this challenging stage of her nursing degree and how she moved past them with a little help

I started second year on a high. But then the pressures mounted and it began to feel like the year – and my degree – were never going to end. I came down to earth with a massive bump. 

October came and I was struggling to see how I would make it to Christmas with all the work I had to complete. I had a number of assignments all due within weeks of each other and I didn’t know when I was going to find the time to complete them all to the standard I wanted.

I was struggling to work around my placements and finances were constantly on my mind. Every day felt as though I was walking through cement and I couldn't see a way out. 

Every day felt as though I was walking through cement and I couldn't see a way out

Shutting off

I became distant, stopped replying to friends and didn't talk to anyone unless I absolutely had to. I even stayed away from social media (a sure-fire sign there is something wrong with me!). I just played it down as “having a lot on” and became good at pretending I was coping. 

I made to-do lists every day and binned them. I just became so overwhelmed with all the work I had to do once it was written down that I didn't want to face it. Instead I would sit at home staring into space.

I was constantly stressed and my behaviour became extreme; I was eating nothing or everything, either sleeping just for a couple of hours or all day. I started drinking, not to excess but every night. 

I continuously put off starting my uni work because the amount of it felt like a huge weight above me. I know that starting it would have been the best way to alleviate the load but the more it built up, the more it felt insurmountable.

Reaching breaking point

I considered leaving university more than once because I just didn't know how I would complete the work. I left a 4,000-word assignment until two weeks before the due date and received my worst grade to date. I was messing up my own degree and, at that point, felt like I didn't care. I was numb to everything, like I no longer had any emotions. 

This may sound dramatic but it’s an honest account of how I felt. I want to share this so that other people who may be struggling can see they’re not the only ones – and that there is also hope. The turning point that changed everything for me was reaching out to someone. 

I left it a long time but eventually admitted to myself I needed help and went to see my GP. All it took was having one person to listen to me and understand to make me see I wasn't losing my mind and that I needed support. 

I'm in third year now and, although I wouldn’t say I’m 100%, I’ve managed to get back on top of things. I’m excited again about my future as a nurse.

My tips for other students who are struggling

Reach out

It doesn't matter to whom, just talk to someone. I didn't for so long and I could have changed things sooner had I not been too stubborn to reach out. Even if you don't want to discuss it fully, just letting someone know you aren’t feeling great and having them listen and understand can make a real difference.

Take one day at a time

I was looking months in advance and it was scaring me. I started to concentrate on what I needed to do in the next 24 hours instead and it really helped to focus my mind and stop me feeling overwhelmed.

Little and often

One hour a day on your work is better than nothing. I started by forcing myself to spend just one hour a day working and soon I was spending longer because I’d gotten over the initial hurdle and actually wanted to do it once I’d started. 

Keep a journal

Document one thing you have achieved that day. Even if it is just getting out of bed (some days that felt like a great achievement to me). Use it to look back on and find motivation.

Don't feel embarrassed

I felt so ashamed to admit that I was struggling and didn't want people to know. But please know it is normal to go through tough times as a student nurse and you’re certainly not the only one.

Take time for yourself

If you need a day in bed, take it. If you need to turn your phone off, do it. Don’t feel guilty for not replying or cancelling plans; your own mental wellbeing is more important than things that can be arranged for another time.

Organise social events

Having something to look forward to really helped to push me through the days when I didn't want to get out of bed.

Want to talk?

The RCN offers a free counselling service which is open between 8.30am and 8.30pm, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 0345 772 6100 to make an appointment or visit the RCN's member support pages to find out more about this and other services available. 

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