Overcoming Pre-Shift Anxiety - Just a Girly Nurse
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Overcoming Pre-Shift Anxiety

I’ve always been a bit of anxious person, which may be surprising to some, as I’m very outgoing. But, when it came to tests in nursing school, I would shake my way into the exam hall. When it came to being floated to a different floor for a shift, I would often resort to a nearby bathroom to pull myself together and shake out my nerves before starting the shift. Worst of all, my nervousness really impacted my personal life.

Since I previously worked a very scattered, part-time schedule when I was working in the hospital, my nerves often started building up 1-2 days before my next shift. I remember there was a time when I was becoming dependent on Sleep-Ez, ZzzQuil or melatonin to lull me to sleep before a shift. Not only is this extremely unhealthy, but it was also masking the real problems with my anxiety that I was avoiding.

It was time to get to the root of the problem to determine why I was feeling this way. Pre-shift anxiety is something that many new nurses experience. Looking back on the first few years of my nursing career, I can attribute most of this anxiety to a lack of confidence and having a lower skill-set than that of my coworkers. It was never that I wasn’t as smart as the people around me, it was just that I did not have the same learning experiences as those around me. I think this is a really important point for new nurses to understand.

The following is a list of things I did to help ease my pre-shift anxiety:


If there is something from your last shift that confused you or something that you found quite difficult, go home and review this skill. By reviewing this, you are better preparing yourself for future shifts where you may come across this same thing that once confused you again.


This really helped me feel more calm going into my shifts, as I knew that I had good meals/snacks prepared that I could have on my break. This eliminates any anxiety regarding what you will have to eat/drink and ensures that you’ll actually stay nourished throughout your shift. It’s just one more little thing that will help you feel more prepared.


This is a tough one and something I really struggled with. My pre-shift anxiety would keep me up quite late, leaving me with only 4-5 hours of sleep before a 12-hour shift. For me, this was not enough. As I mentioned, I was using medications to help me get to sleep; however, this is not a long-term solution. I learned to cut my caffeine intake a minimum of 6 hours before I intend on going to bed – not even a sip! I also started drinking teas that help you get to sleep. David’s Tea has some great options – my favourite is Organic Mother’s Little Helper.



Don’t suffer in silence. It’s very likely that most of your new coworkers or fellow student nurses are also feeling the nursing burn, so reach out to those around you for tips and tricks as to how they got over that pre-shift anxiety. It’s also sometimes nice to reach out to your peers who are not nurses, as this will help to remind you that there is life outside of nursing.


This sounds extreme, but this is something I came to terms with for myself. Shift work does bring about a great deal of anxiety because you need to alter your entire life to flip from days to nights (or nights to days, or everything in between if you are part-time) to accommodate your work schedule. This can be a huge source of anxiety in itself. Shift work was simply not working for me, so I got out. I found myself a job that is primarily weekdays (I only work a weekend once a month) and I only work days!! This has allowed me to establish a routine that works for me.

Keep in mind that what worked for me may not work for you. If you feel like you have tried everything out there and you are still struggling with anxiety leading up to your shifts, consider utilizing the resources that the occupational health nurse may have for you at your place of work. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to the occupational health nurse, perhaps consider seeking professional help from a therapist who may be able to talk through your anxiety or other concerns with you.

Nursing is a career where we so often give ourselves fully to others; however, never forget to take care of yourself.

I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me! If you have any other tips that have helped you overcome pre-shift anxiety, feel free to share in the comments section!

@justagirlynurse, xx