Brand new nurse already OVERWHELMED and panicking

Nurses New Nurse



Sorry this is long, and kind of a rant of panicking thoughts.

I just started as a new nurse and haven't even gotten my own patients yet, but I am starting to have second thoughts about being a nurse. My RN orientation is so overwhelming, and I don't remember anything from nursing school. I came from a background of absolutely NO healthcare experience and now I feel like I'm back at that level. I am in a new hospital in a new city- EVERYTHING is different from what I had experience with; the equipment, the policies, staff, roles, etc. I feel so stupid. It is petrifying.

I am a really introverted person, especially in new environments and roles, and I have high stress and high anxiety. I don't know how to communicate with people; I never know what to say and I usually say the wrong thing. My small talk is the worst, and I can never seem to phrase my responses, or say anything to a patient without putting my foot in my mouth. I feel like a I'm a failure as a human being. I keep thinking to myself, how am I going to do this? Was this a mistake? Nursing school felt fine, but I was just a student. Now since I have a new role as an RN, I have retreated into a turtle shell, and I fear I won't get out of it. I don't know what to do.

To top it all off, I am working bedside on the floor, which is where I am the least comfortable. I am trapped in a contract for at least a year or two, working in an environment that only makes me feel panic. I would have loved to be in a surgical center or somewhere else that is less like the floor, where my introverted self can be much better. I almost wish that I didn't find a job because I am so uncomfortable and feel so inadequate. I keep asking myself whether or not I should find a different career... I don't want to be a failure. I don't want to be a terrible nurse. What is wrong with me? Please help.

NightNerd, MSN, RN

1,130 Posts

Specializes in CMSRN, hospice.

Relax. Breathe in, breathe out. I feel like you are telling yourself a lot of things that are only increasing your anxiety. You say that you usually say the wrong thing, but what real, objective evidence do you have that this is the case? You can be a solid introvert, even a little awkward at times, and still be a capable nurse. Trust me, I know. :)

It takes a pretty good chunk of time to get comfortable in this role. It will not happen overnight. Start with the basics: keep your patient safe. Surely you haven't forgotten strategies to do that. As you encounter new clinical situations they will be challenging and even scary at times, but you will learn from them and incorporate the knowledge into your practice. You will not be alone! Even if you hate asking for help, know that you can and that this will help you care for your current and future patients.

It sounds like maybe you have moved recently. If so, this is a TON of life changes in a short period of time. It would only make sense to have a hard time adjusting to everything. Lean on your loved ones, practice self-care, and consider seeing a counselor to talk you through some of these times of anxiety and panic. There is no shame in that.

You will be okay! You owe it to yourself to give this a good attempt; you worked hard in nursing school and deserve to see the payoff. Try it for a year or two; I think you will be glad you stuck it out. Even if you find a non-bedside specialty that suits you more, or even move on from nursing altogether, you will know that you CAN succeed at this really difficult stuff. You really, truly can, if you step out of your own way.

Good luck!

iluvivt, BSN, RN

2,774 Posts

Specializes in Infusion Nursing, Home Health Infusion.

What is it specifically that you are are finding overwhelming during orientation? You must know that nursing school just prepares you minimally to be a nurse so that you are a safe practitioner.All the rest happens as a slow process as you build your knowledge base and work on other skills such as dealing with people,learning to be assertive and how to be efficient and stay organized. How did you do in school...did you barely scrape by or did you get high grades and have a high comprehension rate? A lot of this sounds like a lot of negative self talk and it sounds like you have worked yourself into a state of panic.Stop doing that and begin to tell yourself that you will take one step and one day at a time.You got through nursing school and you will get through this too.You must put the work in and identify your weaknesses and work on them.If you need help with communication then locate the available classes or on line classes they have at the hospital and start working on it.You are not alone in a hospital settings.There are plenty of available resources to use and you need to identify them and use them.If your anxiety is crippling you then you need to see a therapist .


839 Posts

Small talk gets easier. I have a couple go-to topics. Grandkids, pets, sports seem to be good go-to topics. What did you have for breakfast/lunch/dinner and how was it is also good.

You are a nurse, so a little Assessment with your small talk is ok (do you usually sleep in a chair, do your legs hurt when you walk, do you get dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up -- yeah, I work on the cardiac floor :).

How's the poop is always a good topic. (I'm not kidding).

You'd be amazed at how many elderly patients deny pain until you probe. For example, I had a patient who fell on her tailbone. I started with how painful a bruised tailbone is (explaining a I did it once). For the first time, she admitted 9/10 pain. Every other assessment was 0/10. Sometimes, you need to "allow" them to have pain.

You can ask if they are sleeping ok and if they usually take anything to help them sleep at home if they are not (and then get it ordered).

If they are voiding frequently, ask if that's their norm, if it burns when they void, etc to see if they have any S/S of a UTI.

Basically, just ask them questions about themselves. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Think of things to ask that relate to their diagnosis (e.g., small bowel obstruction: passing gas? Burping?). You'll see things over and over, so the list relevant questions will get easier. Look up your patients' diagnoses in your old textbooks to see what you can be asking. Hang in there!


2 Posts

Thank you everyone, for the support and advice. I often feel alone, like I have no one to talk to about this type of thing because no one close to me is a nurse, or even in the medical field. I will try to practice better self-talk, and take things one step at a time. You all are so helpful and I am so grateful that you even read what I had to say.

roser13, ASN, RN

6,504 Posts

Specializes in Med/Surg, Ortho, ASC.

Surely you were prepared for the fact that as a new grad, you will spend your first 2-3 years learning & growing as a nurse?

Your nursing degree is approximately 1/2 of your knowledge bank. You are SUPPOSED to feel overwhelmed. You are not a failure as a nurse. You just apparently have very harsh expectations of yourself. You are not a "terrible" nurse, you are a NEW nurse who is learning. Give yourself a break.


43 Posts

You have been given some excellent advice! I will only add the suggestion to brew yourself a cup of chamomile tea!


1,381 Posts

I feel for you. If you just moved, you have the stress of being a new nurse without your usual support system.

But hang in there. It will get better--promise!

NightNerd, MSN, RN

1,130 Posts

Specializes in CMSRN, hospice.
Thank you everyone, for the support and advice. I often feel alone, like I have no one to talk to about this type of thing because no one close to me is a nurse, or even in the medical field. I will try to practice better self-talk, and take things one step at a time. You all are so helpful and I am so grateful that you even read what I had to say.

Ahhhh, this is why nursing forums like this are so great. I can understand this; it's hard to explain some if what we see and feel to the uninitiated. Does your hospital have any kind of mentor program? Not every place has one, but they could potentially connect you with a senior nurse who can serve to help you sort some of this out on separate time. If not, as you start spending more time on the floor, you will most likely meet a preceptor you click with and can get some extra support and feedback from. My first nursing job had a mentorship program that I was going to use, but I had a fantastic preceptor who ended up being a great resource and great friend to me. I think you can probably find someone similar who can be there for you during the transition into nursing.

Julius Seizure

1 Article; 2,282 Posts

Specializes in Pediatric Critical Care.

I remember finishing nursing school and feeling like I was completely out of my depth when I started my job. I felt like, "Who decided I should be allowed to take care of sick people? I don't know what I'm doing!"

The first 6-9 months were hard...but it got better. Like you, I had never worked as a CNA or anything before and I was in a new city all alone. It was such a relief when I found a nurse mentor to give me some support and tell me she thought I was actually going to make a good nurse. I was lucky to find a supportive person just by chance, but some hospitals have mentorship programs in place for just that purpose...does yours? They are usually part of the hospital/nursing education department, if you wanted to check.

You could also try finding someone outside of nursing to help support your transition. If you are religious, find a church and join a women's bible study. That helped me when I was new in town. You could consider finding a "life coach/therapist" type of person to help you work through your anxiety and work on communication skills - no shame in that. If you have trouble making new friends like I did (I was in the new city for 15 months before I made a friend outside of work!), you could go to the "Meet Up" website and find an activity to join - they are groups of people who are looking for new friends just like you.

I wish you luck and perseverance. Being a new nurse is HARD, but it will get better.

Specializes in ICU.

I moved away for my first nursing job -- across the country. So, I know how lonely and stressful it can be. I began an exercise routine when I first started out my nursing job. I swam, walked, went to the gym. Not only did I lose weight and feel more confidant but it released stress. Find things to help you mentally unwind.

As far as nursing knowledge, did you bring any of your text books/NCLEX study books with you? Choose a topic per day to read/review, or maybe a body system per week an read and refresh yourself. I have been a working nurse for four years and I still do this. Get a copybook and write down important information/labs/procedures. It does not have to be as intense as making nursing school notes, but just writing down this information will help you retain it.

Small talk gets easier. I worked in a retail job before being a nurse, so I actually think it helped me a lot in this department. Being polite and saying thank you, please, thank you for letting me take care of you, and I hope you get better soon go along way for starters. If you see that a patient is using some cool looking device, ask about it. If they are doing a crossword puzzle and you like crosswords, say something like "I love crosswords" (Just make sure you sincerely do.) If they have flowers in their room, say they look beautiful, if you like someone's nail polish color, mention it. As a previous poster mentioned, people love to talk about themselves and who does not like a compliment? I am quite introverted but my patients still love me because I care and treat them well.

I met someone online when I moved away. Of course you have to be careful about doing that. But, it is a way to meet someone if you want to. If coworkers invite you out, go for it. I started seeing a guy when I moved away so I declined going out when some coworkers asked one day. But, I should of done so if I did not have plans. Explore the town. Small talk will get easier with coworkers once you get used to them. Just be respectful of them and I am sure they will like you.

Good luck and don't give up! It will get easier.

Career Columnist / Author

Nurse Beth, MSN

146 Articles; 3,423 Posts

Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

You are not alone! There are plenty of introverts (Confessions of an Introvert) out there who are wonderful nurses. Patients want to know that you care, and you can communicate that without being an extrovert :)

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