Anxiety. Nursings hidden struggle.

Feeling anxious at work? Feeling anxious about going to work?
I think the first thing to say here is that you are far from alone. And the second thing to say is that you are amongst friends.

In Australia approximately 14% of the population experiences anxiety.

Feelings of anxiety are to be expected in the nursing profession. We are ordinary people who are expected to manage extraordinary situations, no?
Sometimes situations that most people would find completely overwhelming or even unimaginable.

Unfortunately, I think that some of those very strengths that make us good nurses, such as sensitivity, compassion and high self expectations, combined with the mental and physical stress of our work, leave us all a little psychologically vulnerable to experiencing anxiety.

Often, during our work, we find ourselves pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones, and a certain amount of anxiety at times like this is a natural response.
In fact, in small doses, it might even be a useful response, helping us to stay focused and switched-on to the current situation.

But constant exposure to triggers of anxiety can have more pernicious consequences. Sometimes anxiety that you are experiencing at work can expand and flood out into the rest of your life.

Its impact can range from simply annoying and frustrating, all the way through to completely debilitating.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) may exist if you have experienced the following symptoms frequently over the last 6 months:

  • Excessive worry and feelings of anxiety
  • Feelings of loss of control over your emotions at these times.
  • Feeling that your anxiety is making it difficult to carry out nursing or study activities.
  • Feeling that your anxiety is impacting on your socialising with friends and family.
  • depression.
  • constant rumination.

GAD may also be accompanied by physical sensations such as:

  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • specific muscle tension (such as in the jaw or the back)
  • sleeping difficulty.


The most important thing to recognise here is that if you are experiencing an un-managable anxiety that is affecting your work and your life:

  1. you are not any lesser of a nurse.
  2. you are not any lesser of a person.
  3. you will not need to stop being a nurse.
  4. you probably will need a little help from your friends (so don’t try to hide it away from everybody)

There are many incredibly effective medical and psychological treatments available to help manage anxiety issues. It is important to get professional help to tap into the treatment that will be most effective for your own situation.

Not all experiences of anxiety will require professional help. Nurses are nothing if nor resilient. Sometimes a good support network of friends and colleagues and a little self-directed care will be enough to work through the odd anxiety patch.
But we are also pretty bad at acknowledging those times when we do need a higher level of support.

Research has shown psychological therapis such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)  or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)  to be most effective in dealing with GAD.
Some times medication treatment may be used as an adjunct.

There are also many things you can do yourself:

  • Talk about your experiences with close friends or family.
  • Reduce or cut caffeine and other stimulants.
  • Look for ways to reduce stressful stimuli at work.
    For example: temporarily reducing your hours, temporarily moving to another area, roster patterns.
    You need to look at things that might help in your own circumstance. Consider talking about this with a trusted member of your senior nursing leadership.
  • Examine ways you can improve your current diet and exercise activities.

Anxiety as a path:

Finally I would like to say (from my own experience) that although it may not seem it at the time, anxiety may be an important path for you.
Working to address the underlying causes of anxiety ( with therapies such as CBT) can lead to a deep examination and re-orientation of some parts of your life.
It can definitely be more of a of a re-order than a dis-order.

I by no means mean to belittle the very real suffering and hardship that anxiety can bring to those experiencing it as well as family and friends.
But it can give you the opportunity to develop a whole new set of skills and ways of experiencing life that will perhaps make you a better person.
And, perhaps, a far far better nurse.

Where to find more info:

ph 1300 22 4636
Information on depression and anxiety, available treatments and where to get help. You can visit for a list of services specically for people experiencing anxiety, their friends and family.
These services include national and state-based information and referral lines, face-to-face treatment and support services, and links to online information, support and treatment.
ph 13 11 14
Access to crisis support, suicide prevention and mental health support services.
Mindhealth connect
Access to trusted, relevant mental health care services, online programs and resources.




  1. [Internet]. [cited 2014 Jan 22]. Available from:
  2. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) [Internet]. [cited 2014 Jan 22]. Available from:

2 thoughts on “Anxiety. Nursings hidden struggle.

  1. As a nurse for 10 years with a preexisting diagnosis of GAD I can say in all honesty that my work has not only at times exacerbated by disorder, but at times also alleviated it! I have been through CBT, medication trialling and work adjusting, and have a better understanding of myself, and my disorder through it. I have been able to overcome things I thought would permanently affect me, and cannot speak highly enough of a system and management who don’t discriminate against mental illness, but support and facilitate through return to work programs. I think mental health should be less taboo and I am an open book, preferring to see my experiences as a journey than an illness. I’d like to think that by sharing my journey someone else’s struggles may be eased in some small way.


  2. I have suffered anxiety and depression from my early teens. Early on in my nursing career, at the age of 16, back in the 70’s, I had a nervous br eakdown/attempted suicide. My work place ostracised me, and refused to re employ me. This cause me to suffer from esteem problems, I felt like I had committed a criminal offence.. in fact attempted suicides were reportable affences back then. I finally returned to nursing a few years later, hiding my terrible crime! I have now nursed for 45 yrs. and believe that my experience makes me a far better nurse. I still deal with anxiety and depression, but understand that this is a part of me.


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