Top tips for coping with stress

Lucy Elliott shares her advice for getting through tough times

There’s no doubt that nursing is a particularly hard degree, trying to balance assignments, placements, shift work, a social life and, if you’re lucky, finding time for yourself.

I thought I would be able to handle it all, but when I got half way through my placement in my second year I really started to struggle with anxiety and I just came to a point where I felt overwhelmed. 

I’m not a mental health professional, or even training to be a mental health nurse, but I’d like to share some things that help me through difficult times.


I've found exercise to be really beneficial for both my physical and mental wellbeing – even if it is often the last thing I feel like doing after a 12-hour shift!

But you don’t have to do hours. I’ve started by just exercising for 10 minutes, three times a week on a cross trainer and I already feel so much fitter. I have more energy in the morning (still with the help of caffeine, I might add!) and it works wonders when I have a lot on my mind too. Find out what works for you – gym, running, exercise classes – and make it a part of your routine.

Meditation and mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness really help me relax and not dwell on the day I’ve had but focus on the next one to come. Most apps have a free trial, so you can try before you buy. I recommend the apps Calm, Headspace and Mindfulness Daily. Some universities run sessions on this topic too.

Make time for yourself and the things that make you happy

Setting targets

You may feel like you’re not achieving anything because you’re so stressed or overwhelmed, so setting academic targets can help break things down into more manageable chunks. It’s also a great way to measure your successes and perhaps highlight areas where you could be more organised. 

It’s also important to consciously make time for yourself and do the things that make you happy. Whether it’s singing, dancing, swimming, or making a cinema date, make sure you set time aside when you know you have a busy day or week, so you can use it to relax and reward yourself. You’re doing great and you deserve it!


It’s OK to admit that you’re struggling and it’s important to seek support when you need it. We care for people across all disciplines, and to do that effectively we need to be able to care for ourselves first. Please seek support if you feel that things are getting too much – talk to your personal tutor or a friend.

They will most likely be able to relate and will know the right words to say when you need a boost. It’s completely normal to feel like this and I’m sure every student nurse has been through something similar.

If I’m having a bad day, I always think back to the reason I wanted to become a nurse and it refocuses me. Remember, you got onto your course because you have the potential to be a brilliant future nurse. But we all have to look after ourselves first.

Seeking support

If you or someone you know is affected by mental health issues, then please contact the RCN’s free counselling service.

Also visit the RCN's Healthy Workplace, Healthy You pages.

Read next...