Don't Ignore Your Symptoms of Anxiety

As nurses, we are faced with stress and anxiety on a daily basis. Do not ignore the symptoms of anxiety that may sneak up, and remember that your mental health is more important than what you produce or accomplish. Nurses General Nursing Article


Don't Ignore Your Symptoms of Anxiety

Most of us carry more stress than we realize.

Most of you, right this minute, are likely stressed about something. Whether it be a small underlying stressor or a chronic burden you're carrying, it's there.

In fact, society as a whole is far more anxious, stressed, and depressed than it's ever been.

Our lives have sped up to the point that we've lost the ability to be present. To engage in meaningful conversation. To stop the constant firing in our brains.

No matter the stress we're carrying, we've learned we have to go. Go. GO.

"Push through it,” they say ...

When I look around, I see people pressing forward through the anxiety, the turmoil, and the depression. We're told we have to keep going to be successful. We don't have time to take a mental inventory of how we're doing inside. We push through to keep up with external pressures and live up to the mold society places on us.

Whether we've been diagnosed with anxiety or not, many of us feel an overwhelming pressure on a day-to-day basis. We don't always know where this pressure is even coming from. But from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close them at night, there is an underlying stress that pervades us.

We feel this urgency to get out the door and perform the day's tasks for fear of getting behind. We feel on edge and overly sensitive about things. Even a small annoyance can seemingly screw up an entire day, and we spend the rest of it reeling and troubled inside.

A lot of you may live in oblivion to the fact of how much stress you push through on a daily basis. But if you took a second to stop and think about your own life, you'd likely realize that you are living in a constant state of underlying stress, fueled by the pressure of our hustle culture, and living up to the standards of those around you.

We've all learned to ignore the symptoms of stress that we experience on a day-to-day basis, whether it be that tingling of stress that passes over us when we wake up in the morning, that knot we get in our stomach on the way to work, or that tightness in our chest when we think of all that we have left to accomplish in the day.

Stop pushing through

Stress can definitely play a beneficial role in our lives at the proper moments. Cortisol pumping through our veins can cause us to act quickly and wisely in a dangerous situation. A small amount of stress and motivation at work can make us aware and perform well.

But when stress becomes the norm, and we live in a constant state of fight or flight, we will eventually break down our nervous system.

When this starts to happen, our bodies will exhibit different warning signals. Some of us might get anxious, and some of us might get depressed. Some might find themselves angrier than usual, and others might isolate themselves from the world. But all of us will likely feel tired, worn out, and beaten up inside.

Don't let yourself get to this point

When we get to the point of burnout, acknowledging the weakness we feel inside is the last thing we want to do. We look around and see people working harder and hustling harder than us, so we think we need to push harder, despite how we feel inside.

We tell ourselves that we're not stressed enough, or anxious enough, or depressed enough to ask for help.

But what are you telling yourself? You're telling yourself that your well-being is of less importance than your achievements or output.

This is the BIGGEST, FATTEST lie. Don't believe it.

Your mental health is of far more importance than your output. If you've found yourself stuck in a job or another circumstance that is telling you otherwise, then it's time to take inventory of your life.

Take inventory

There are plenty of stressful things in life that we can't avoid. Going to a new school, starting a new job, or navigating a relationship can all naturally cause stress or moments of anxiety. This is a part of life. It's impossible to dodge every bullet life sends our way.

What I want you to do, is advocate for yourself

Are you putting yourself through unnecessary stress? Are you ignoring symptoms of anxiety on a daily basis?

Take a thoughtful moment to sit down and write out all the things in life that might be stressing you or causing you anxiety. Look through each one, and think for a moment whether it is a necessary or unnecessary part of your life.

Think about your job. Are you working in a healthy environment? Or are you pushing yourself to stick out a situation that is hurting your mental health?

Are you staying in an unhealthy relationship that is sucking the life out of you?

It could be the little things. Maybe you never take time to let your mind rest by setting your phone down and reading or meditating. Maybe you don't have healthy work boundaries and spend time in bed at night answering emails. Maybe you don't take any time for self-care and only focus on what you consider "productive" things.

We're all different, so this will be a very individual process. But be honest with yourself. More likely than not, it will become clear after some reflection what changes you need to make.

There may be some things in your life causing significant stress that you can't change. I get that. But in those instances, we have to amp up the self-care in other parts of our life. After a really stressful day, make sure you take time to unwind and care for yourself on the inside.

And remember, this is ultimately about being kind to yourself. It's not about arbitrary rules. It's about advocating for your mental and physical health.

Remember, you are more important than what you produce or accomplish.

Create a life for yourself that you thrive in. It's ultimately your choice whether you will nurture and care for yourself or ignore your inner needs and push yourself to live up to impossible standards.

We all have the choice. It's up to you.

Brenna Rittenour ARNP, FNP, is a nurse practitioner with both RN and ARNP experience in eating disorder care, mental health, and pediatric primary care. Her passion lies in supporting the mental health of fellow nurses and advocating for work life balance in healthcare.

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Specializes in Population health & Epidemiology.

Great article! As nurses, we so often get caught up in caring for others that we forget to advocate for our own well-being, and end up pouring from an empty vessel. Thanks for this thoughtful reminder to stop and tend to ourselves so that we can continue to practice in a sustainable manner. 

After 37 years as an LPN, I decided to stop nursing. I did so for some medical reasons, mainly stress-related. But I'm still in nurse mode.  How do I un-nurse myself? I realize I cannot function well socially if there is no high-stress situation. I create one.  I am considering professional counseling I feel like I need reprograming.