Applying to Nursing School: Ten Stress-Saving Tips

Every applicant to UK nursing school experiences some level of stress during the process. But get too stressed and you struggle to perform well and think rationally. Here are ten tips to help you manage stress and therefore deal effectively with the challenges of your application.

Manage your time effectively

Time is a valuable resource that you need to use wisely. Having a disorganised approach to how you manage time only increases the level of stress in your life.

You find it easier, no doubt, to do jobs that you like or that are easy to complete than spend time tackling those jobs that are more urgent and important. Your nursing application is one of those really important jobs that you need to prioritise.

Simple time management strategies can make a big difference between using time productively on your application and wasting precious hours on inconsequential tasks. For example, you can:

  • Identify what you like doing and what you’d rather not do; then plan on doing the not so nice jobs first.

  • Focus on the length of time it takes to do the jobs; prioritise those which require more time.

  • Plan your jobs on what needs to be done, daily, weekly and monthly. This way you’re managing your time both in the short- and long-term.

  • Build recap periods into your time management plan. Often it takes longer to complete tasks than you expect and having a safety cushion stops tasks eating up time allocated to other jobs.

Poor time management is one of the main reasons of underperformance by nursing students. Not having the ability to prioritise commitments causes problems in all aspects of your studies. Start managing your time now, and you’re on the road to coping well as a nurse.

Breathe to calm

A small level of stress in your life is good for you. It stimulates the hormones that enable you to deal with difficult situations. But too much stress is harmful and you need to balance the stress with periods of relaxation.

Breathing exercises help you concentrate on something other than what’s causing the stress, and the extra oxygen entering your lungs calms the body. You can do breathing exercises unobtrusively in any situation – exams, interviews, open days. Try this simple exercise to settle your nerves:

  1. Sit upright in a comfortable position.

  2. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.

  3. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, concentrating on expanding your abdomen so the hand on your stomach moves out, not the hand on your chest.

  4. Hold your breath and count to five.

  5. Breathe out through your mouth slowly counting to eight as you exhale.

  6. Repeat for several minutes to help relieve tension.

Take some exercise

Physical activity clears your mind and brings about a feeling of wellbeing. Exercising encourages the release of endorphins, the ‘happy hormones’, and helps combat the negative effects of stress.

So when you’re wrestling with writer’s block as you work on your personal statement, or anxiously counting the days to an interview, grab your trainers and get moving – you’ll feel positive and energised.

Competitive exercise can help you with your application. Not only does it ward off stress, but the mental side of the sport helps you manage the competitive nature of the selection process.

Think positively

Stress tends to induce negative thoughts and feelings, which can lead to a less confident application and a more subdued performance at interview.

Is your glass half empty or half full? Your outlook on life has a big impact on how you deal with stressful situations. Not everyone can be an optimist, but having a positive view on your application can really benefit you. Rather than thinking negative thoughts, tell yourself you can do this and remember what you have to offer. For example:

  • Remember the last time you helped someone in need and they were grateful to you.

  • Think about when you got a better mark in your essay or test than you expected and how that made you feel.

  • Recall when you had a problem or difficult situation and you managed to solve it successfully.

Engage in a hobby or interest

Find a hobby that you can absorb yourself in. Having an activity that draws your attention away from the selection process and gets you to use your brain in a different way reduces your stress.

Make time for your friends

Friends are a very important part of your life. They can:

  • Offer an alternative view on your problems and life’s little issues.

  • Put your worries into perspective.

  • Make you laugh and help you let off steam.

Your friends let you see life from other people’s viewpoints and can challenge your own preconceived assumptions. This can help you manage your stress as you can assess your problems against a wider context. Friends also help you develop your people skills.

Be assertive and take control

Stress can be caused by feeling that much of your future is out of your control. The selection process for a nursing course involves many people in different organisations, and you may feel that you have little say in how your application is judged. Taking back control of your application helps you manage stress.

  • Plan your timeline and what you hope to achieve and by when; this gives you more control of events.

  • Research what happens with your application so you can understand the process. Knowledge is power and gives you back ownership of your application.

  • Attend open days and visitor events. Doing so helps you appreciate that these abstract participants in your application are in fact real people who you can chat to.

  • Engage with your application and be active in its smooth progress. Follow up on references, check that the university has received all your documents and prepare your documents in advance of a CRB check. These are all ways of taking control.

There’s a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive in how you manage your application. Accepting responsibility for your application will be supported by the admissions team, but overly forceful behaviour isn’t becoming.

Scrub out unhealthy habits

People develop coping mechanisms to deal with stress. Unfortunately, many of these mechanisms actually exacerbate stress by impacting your life in a harmful way. It’s not always possible to remove the causes of stress, which makes having appropriate coping techniques all the more important.

How many of these strategies do you use to cope with stress?

  • Smoking

  • Drinking too much caffeine

  • Exceeding recommended alcohol consumption

  • Excessive sleeping

  • Sedate lifestyle or watching too much TV

  • Compulsive shopping

While using some of these strategies in moderation could help you relax, overdoing it on any of them indicates that you’re not coping with life’s stresses. This will impact your application, either through your performance at interview or at your occupational health check.

Treat yourself

In preparing your application you may end up working long hours either studying or working (or both!) and leave little spare time for yourself.

Make a point of giving yourself some ‘me time’ – time out from your hectic schedule when you relax in the way you know best. Me time doesn’t have to be extensive or expensive, but it does have to let you wind down and enjoy the moment. Going to watch your favourite football team, spending an hour soaking in a scented bath, or just curled up on the settee reading a good book all help you de-stress.

Talk to someone

If you find that even after using the suggestions in the preceding sections you’re still feeling stressed and your health, wellbeing and performance are suffering, then don’t be afraid to speak with someone. Nothing is wrong with asking for help, and many people are happy to talk with you and offer advice. Your GP, school or college tutor are good places to start.

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