Do a disproportionate amount of nurses suffer from anxiety?


  • Specializes in Emergency Room.

I'm doing a bit of an unofficial survey - I've been wondering if nurses are disproportionately prone to anxiety. This is something I've been dealing with practically since starting my first job (I do believe there's some genetic component for me as my Mom is pretty high-strung). I have also noticed from discussion/interaction with other nurses that many of my colleagues deal with anxiety too, but are not exactly "advertising" it. Outwardly, you wouldn't guess that I am so anxious because I try hard to appear totally chilled. Also, I feel very safe at work because I know if anything were to happen to me, I'm already in the ER! Anyone I have confessed this to is pretty surprised.

An attending MD I used to work with is married to an RN and he told me that he says to his wife "nurses know too much and too little - they know a lot so they worry more than lay people, but they don't know enough to know how to fix the problem, or when the 'problem' is not really something to be concerned about." Personally I agree with this 100%. I work in the ED so I see some very sad/horrible/shocking things, and it definitely affects me. I have been having minor panic attacks for a while now, and I have become somewhat of a hypocondriac with several medical work-ups (endoscopy for stomach pains, MRI for headaches and dizziness, etc.) all which thank God showed nothing. There always seems to be another "symptom" cropping up and I try to tell myself it's nothing and to ignore it, it's just anxiety, etc. but it doesn't always work.

I believe our jobs carry an inordinately high level of stress as well as exposure to scary things most people are clueless about, a combination of which is the perfect recipe for anxiety. Just wondering if anyone else is dealing with this too?


2 Posts

Specializes in ICU, LTACH, step-down, tele, med-surg. Has 8 years experience.

I've definitely had problems with anxiety throughout my career. I suffered panic attacks many times either thinking about going to work, on the way to work, or at work. The simple fact that we have people's lives in our hands can be such an uneasy feeling. If a nurse ISN'T anxious at least some of the time, I'd say they're doing something wrong or they're not very caring.

Specializes in Critical Care, Med-Surg, Psych, Geri, LTC, Tele,.

I tend to think that many nurses have anxiety issues. I do. I worked with nurses who had high anxiety and now I'm in school with nurses who also have high anxiety.

I think anxiety and attention to detail may go hand in hand, and attention to detail and worrying, makes us prudent nurses.

Specializes in Pediatrics.

Yes, I think many nurses are prone to anxiety, what with the need for attention to detail in our jobs, and the relatively high responsibilities we have in caring for others who are in a vulnerable state. Many more nurses than you might think.

As always, if it is something that is causing real difficulty for you at work or in personal life, it is always good to try some counseling/therapy, where you can talk things out and you can learn new strategies to deal with the anxiety (this has helped me A LOT; I can go through the strategies in my head at work when things get crazy and I feel the anxiety rising, and it definitely helps me feel more in control and able to deal with the situation.) Also, if medication is needed, you wouldn't be the only one by far. Take care of yourself and you will find yourself calmer and better able to handle and take care of your patients.

I hope this all makes sense; I'm pretty tired right now. I mean it as a positive post with some practical ideas for help, but if you find it insulting or don't find anything that helps you in what I've written, just take it with a giant grain of salt and ignore it, haha :-) thanks for posting this question.

allnurses Guide

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

2 Articles; 6,840 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 12 years experience.

I am very prone to anxiety. Being a nurse in the last two years has gotten even more anxiety provoking due to the whole patient satisfaction thing and the crazy additions of different types of worksheets, checklists, pamphlets, outcomes, required interventions and punitive actions when things don't go right. I am having to find all sorts of ways not to let my job come home with me these days.

klone, MSN, RN

14,585 Posts

Specializes in OB-Gyn/Primary Care/Ambulatory Leadership. Has 17 years experience.

I have GAD and have been on Celexa for 7 years. I've tried to wean off twice, with disastrous results. I've just accepted that it may be something I'll be on forever. Not a huge deal. I can't tell when I'm on it, but can tell when I'm not.


167 Posts

Specializes in Emergency Room.

Thanks for the support! As of now I'm trying to work through it on my own, but I'm willing to seek therapy if it gets worse. I'm hoping I won't need medication because I don't like taking medications in general.

Sending hugs to all who are dealing with this problem!

Specializes in ED. Has 5 years experience.

I've been dealing with severe anxiety since I was 13. I did not handle my parents' divorce well and my PCP at the time had me undergo an upper GI study to rule out stomach ulcers because my symptoms were so bad. As a college freshman, my anxiety got to the point that I was put on Lexapro. I weaned myself off, but that may not have been the best idea. I did great for a few years, but now I am thirty. I have days at work where I have chest pains to the point that I cannot breathe, so stressed out that just the phone ringing sets me off. I probably need to go back on Lexapro to be entirely honest.

nutella, MSN, RN

1 Article; 1,509 Posts

I think that the typical work environment just exacerbates anxiety more. Also, if somebody is prone to getting stressed working in a busy nursing job will definitely make it worse. And once a person is in this spiral of getting anxious-more stress- more anxious and so on it is not easy to get out of it.

If a person has baseline anxiety but works at a job with low pressure /stress of course the anxiety will not be as much and more contained.

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

142 Articles; 9,982 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 26 years experience.

Nursing is a very stressful job, which tends to make anxiety worse in someone who already has it and can create anxiety in people who don't have a pre-existing disorder. I've always been prone to anxiety myself, and unfortunately as my nursing career progressed, so did my illness to the point that I became disabled and had to retire early.

That being said, there are many things people with anxiety/panic issues can do to help themselves. Therapy, meds, diet and exercise, yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation, prayer...all of these can be used to manage anxiety and panic. Sometimes I wonder if, had I gotten help sooner, I might have been able to salvage my career. I'll never know. But that doesn't mean YOU can't have a good life in nursing. Please check into some of these treatments and therapies and see what might work for you.

Specializes in Emergency, Trauma, Critical Care. Has 14 years experience.

Yes, I think part of it is the reason I have IBS now.

i had much worse anxiety in ICU. I lied the complexity of these very sick pts but their deaths haunted me. Nightmares, etc. it took 3 ICU jobs to realize a department change might help. Oddly I do better in ER if they're sick they go to ICU or they die. But I think I have an easier time distancing myself appropriately.

I still get super anxious when I have sick kids though. I'm not very good at peds pts and when one comes through the door my palms sweat. At least in the ER many things are a team approach so at least I don't feel as alone.

i control my anxiety with copious amounts of chocolate and some beer and wine when not pregnant. :p

allnurses Guide

Nurse SMS, MSN, RN

2 Articles; 6,840 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care; Cardiac; Professional Development. Has 12 years experience.

Update to my situation. I got away from the bedside. I have PTSD dreams about the hospital, but they are rapidly lessening in frequency and my anxiety symptoms outside of sleep have all but disappeared.