Yes, nursing school was the hardest thing I ever did, too! (I also went to law school and when students complained to me, I told them law school was like kindergarten compared to nursing school! --admittedly, that was an exaggeration, mostly for shock value and effect, but nursing school was much harder than law school!) I'm also going back to complete my MSN (nurse practitioner) so I'll be using all my effective stress relievers I learned the first time around.
As many others mentioned, sleep is crucial. Your brain processes information while you're sleeping, so sleep is effective for information retention. Besides, being sleep deprived causes people to make mistakes. In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found a direct correlation between the one hour loss of sleep after Daylight Savings Time begins in March and the number of traffic accidents; in the fall when an hour of sleep is gained, the opposite happened and accidents the Monday after standard time went down. (MMS: Error
) Think about this when you stay up until 1AM writing a care plan when you'll be passing meds early the next day.
The other really effective stress reliever is exercise. In nursing school a group of us took walks each day before classes began and during the breaks between classes. Even a brisk walk around the block makes you feel energetic, refreshed and alert. The endorphins released during exercise are what makes the difference in mood, but the cardio-vascular benefits are equally as important. (Exercise and stress: Get moving to combat stress - MayoClinic.com
Make sure you eat healthy food and you keep yourself hydrated. You'll feel better doing both. I make sure I have some kind of healthy snack with me when I'm in class or at work. Feeling really hungry and having only access to the vending machines forces you to make some really bad decisions. Carry fruit that travels well--if pull out a squished banana you'll end up at the vending machine, anyway! In addition to the perishable fruit, I always have a little bag of almonds or nuts, dried fruit, packaged cups of applesauce and a water bottle I fill at the cooler.
Some people report that music works for them in relieving stress. Probably depends on what you listen to, but quiet soothing music works better for me.
Socializing with others helps, too. But, I really have to put limits on how much time I spend hanging out with friends. People without the burden of nursing school really have no idea what you're going through; I usually tell friends, "I'll meet you for lunch at 12:30, but I have to be in class at 2PM..." It gives you a break but they won't have you hanging out all afternoon.
I'm not obsessed with cleanliness, but I try to keep up on the laundry, the dishes and the clutter. I have a '10 minute per room rule' that works amazingly well for me. Between studying, I'll spend 10 minutes cleaning one room--without distractions and set my cellphone timer to let me know when to stop. I can usually get a room looking really good in 10 minutes then I go back to studying. An hour or so later, I do another room for 10 minutes. Before I had this method the house was either a mess or I'd spend all day cleaning (the effects of which never lasted long so it always seemed futile). The 10 minutes limits me so I'm not on my hands and knees cleaning the corners of the floor with a q-tip. It forces you to prioritize the cleaning and walk away when time is up. Then when you get back from class you're not overwhelmed with the condition of your living space. Having some order and cleanliness in your house really reduces stress.
I've also found that doing something dramatically different gives you a huge break. I try to participate in a sport that requires concentration or lots of activity. In the winter I ski and in the summer I swim, play tennis, or walk in the woods. These things make me feel like I went on a mini-vacation, and really help relieve stress.
Some of the things I don't do... I don't watch TV (my mind wanders to pathophysiology or pharm... I'm not really learning, and I feel guilty for not being productive). I also don't spend much time on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Before I broke my Facebook habit, I could easily waste an hour--or more without realizing how fast the time was passing. I also don't drink much alcohol--a glass of wine with dinner, maybe... but that alcohol fog doesn't do much for information retention!