Nursing with an Anxiety Disorder


Hello everyone! I am glad to have found this website thanks to another forum someone suggested. I am thinking of going to nursing school. Of course I know I have a lot of work to accomplish academically, but also emotionally. I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which I am sure many of you have heard of. Its not an uncommon thing. I am on medication of course and working on finding therapy. Through this wonderful experience since my diagnosis 8 years ago when I was 21, I have been struggling to finish college (have been on and off due to finances) and have a career which I would like to have helping people. At first I thought I wanted to be a teacher, that has since fizzled especially now after seeing how children seem to behave around their elders and how their elders tend to ignore the problems, not all of course! Also today, many teachers I have met are struggling to find work, its so sad and they love what they do and are so talented! I began working with a non-profit group and thought about social welfare, but since it has been such a battle getting my bachelor's degree, it maybe hard to find a job without a masters, not that I wouldn't continue, but I really would like to start somewhere. The idea of nursing has been playing around over the last year. Of course with this anxiety disorder, I hesitate. I wonder, can i handle the smells, the sights? I work in a pet store and deal with some pretty nasty clean ups...but I know nursing is a lot worse. Sometimes if the smells are really bad an attack can try to hit. Last year I had a bad one after cleaning up dog urine that smell absolutely horrible due to probably a dog being ill.

You can imagine I felt pretty ashamed of myself. I am fighting this thing as best I can. I would like to be a nurse because I do think its a great career. Of course I have been told about burn out and all, nurses facing discrimination from other nurses, patients, doctors. I also worry about my anxiety disorder and handling everyday things, mainly bodily fluids (mostly feces and vomit) I think nursing will benefit me not only as a career, but also as a whole person. It'll get me out of my comfort zone and help me realize my full potential. I don't want to be a retail worker for the rest of my life because its a safe zone or something I am familiar with. If I have my way and if everything works out well, I'd like to work in Women's Health or Neonatal, OB/GYN, or Labor and Delivery.

Are there nurses out there that suffer from anxiety? Am I kidding myself thinking nursing is for me? How do you handle it? How did you handle your clinical? Any answers out there would be quite helpful. Thank you very much and I applaud all of you for what you do!


tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN, RN

154 Articles; 5,918 Posts

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

Hello and welcome to the site. We are so glad you found the site and hope you are enjoying it.

I moved your thread to Nurses with Disabilities where I think you will get more response.

Good luck.


1 Article; 470 Posts

Imo, you might do well, to talk to nurses, any nurses you know, any nurses that your friends or relatives know, to further explore the stresses involved in nursing, to evaluate, if that is, or is not, something you'd be able to handle.

For me, cleaning up a messy bed, is not the worse stress in nursing. In fact, most of the time, THAT is fairly mindless work, imo. Like sweeping a floor. Breathe through your mouth, and focus as much as you can on other thoughts, if you are having hard time. Or, if appropriate, talk to the person you are cleaning, focusing on them as a person, can help, trying to make it less embarassing for them, by maybe talking about that person's favorite baseball team, or their interest in history, or whatever. like a distraction or something, for both of you.

nah, for me,

the hard part, or most stressful parts,

are the sometimes intense personal, sometimes passionate, emotionally loaded person-to-person interactions. When in hospitals, many patients and their families are super stressed out, beyond words,

and their behavior is not, like the way it as picnics. This goes for some coworkers, too.

If you found unruly kids to be too much, you might also find unruly adults (which do show up at hospitals) also too much.

There are occasional coworkers behavior, which can be petty, or even cruel, at times. Guess that can happen with any large bunch of people all working under stress, sooner or later, there's always "one" here or there, who can be a pain to deal with effectively, without letting that person 'get to you'.

can be a challenge, especially if you are not having your best day, either.

another stress, can be in the form of patient or family interactions. Right now, somewhere on ALLNURSES, there is an interesting thread from some nurse trying to cope with a very abusive family. Might be worth a read, and picture yourself dealing with that, cuz, it does happen. It's probably hard to locate any nurse, who hasn't dealt with some extreme personalities in her shifts.

Yes, it's hard even without anxiety disorder, to cope with some of the abusive types (doesn't happen every day, or even every week, but, it happens, and you are expected to handle it professionally as best as you can.)

but, for your own well being and recovery, it's good to explore if THOSE kinds of stressors and interactions would be past your ability to cope with,

Or not.

Me, i'd rather clean up puke, than have a hostile family member being cruel to me. but, that's just me.

BEST OF LUCK on your investigations. Hope you do find your answer.


1 Article; 470 Posts

BTW, i don't want to be Dora Downer, with my post above. You might very well be as able to handle those stressors as well as anyone, i don't know your abilities, you know them. I have NO IDEA what you can handle, i sure don't!!

I just felt like you had a right to hear, there are some stressors in nursing, which can make puke seem not so bad. I am not sure, but, i am guessing, if you lined up 100 nurses, and asked them, "What is most stressful part of being a nurse?"

i just don't think puke, or poop, would be the #1 stress. I could be wrong, but, i don't think THAT stuff is worst part of nursing, nor of being a mom, either.

and, i should have pointed out,

there are many many settings we can nurse in. some are thought of as much less stressful as others. However, a job one nurse might rate as "THE best" might stress another nurse out,


like any other group of humans,

we all are unique individuals, with our own strengths and weaknesses. do not let any one nurse's remarks, be THE deciding factor for you, but, DO continue to get a realistic idea of possible stressors of the job, since that seems to be a concern for you with your anxiety disorder.

Do gather much info on it, and maybe consider, enlisting a counselor to assist you in determining, which types of stressors are hardest for you personally, etc. (who knows, it very well MIGHT BE the puke, hee hee, who knows!)


1 Article; 470 Posts

lol, i'm back again, i just thought of something else.

What *I* picture, when i think of anxiety disorder,

and what you, a unique individual actually do, when faced with difficult situations,

could be two VERY different things!!

There are many levels of anxiety disorder. I'm picturing worst case scenarious, like a person who shuts down, has a bit of meltdown, with physical symptoms, like hyperventilating, sometimes escalating to numbness, chest pain, etc, and requires much assistance to become stabilized and calm again, and is very unable to perform any duties, or even think about anyone except their own selves, til the crisis has passed.

Your idea of anxiety disorder, might just mean, you feel temporarily anxious, but, continue to function fairly well and continue working.

also, i have no doubt, whatsoever, that i have had coworkers with various types of issues that they struggle with. I worked with a very very bipolar nurse, who had her quirks,

but, wow, that nurse was a walking pharmacology resource, and could read a cardiac monitor like a face. I've worked with nurses who had to take time off fairly regularly to cope with overwhelming depressions, but, was a dream to work with otherwise. I've worked with some highstrung nurses, who may have had anxiety issues.

No one on the unit is "perfect" every day of every year.

no one.

lol, re 'gross stuff', when i worked E.R. i rather swoon over eyeball injuries. Mind you, i could eat lunch and change a colostomy at same time, if i could. i can hold severed limbs and be interested in how we will treat it, i have gone home with brain tissue wedged into the grooves on the soles of my shoes. I can manage suctioning phlegm, pretty darn well, and i can clean up blood, urine, poop, and most puke.

I don't even 'get' why so many nurses creep out over plain ol dentures, but, some do.

but, give me an eyeball injury, and it takes everything i have to stay steady. I rather suspect, i have funnelled all my gross outs, into only one (1) thing. (eyeballs)

I worked with a nurse, who can't do nosebleeds. Like me, she could deal with anything else, but, nosebleeds give her cold sweats.

so she and i, for years, always traded. I never ever took the eyeball room, she did. And i'd take all her nosebleeds, as to me, no big deal at all.

so, my point there is,

even those of us who have funnelled all our gross outs into one thing,

can find ways to work around that one thing, most of the time.

I once saw an E.R coworker in the ER, run and vomit into a nearby wastebasket, after the EMTs brought in a guy whose wounds had actual maggots in them. Naturally, they all went out and came back with an order of rice for her later that day, to tease her. (cuz rice looks a bit like maggots) Michelle, if you are out there, i miss you, contact me!

so i might have been a bit too fast, dismissing actual gross stuff, sorry. It does happen,

but, to me, it's not the most stressful part of nursing.


maybe a counselor who can really evaluate You, your own individual strengths and weaknesses, and help you better assess which career choices are best for you.


28 Posts

Specializes in College Health; Women's Health.

I graduated nursing school this past May and about halfway through the program I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. For me, it leaned towards social anxiety and some hypochondriasis. As a nursing student, hearing about all these different awful diseases and disorders was terrifying for an actual hypochondriac. I seriously thought I had everything, my doctor knew me very well through that. For my social aspect, it was hard for me to initiate contact with my patients. I would stand outside the room bracing myself for my introduction. I absolutely hated clinicals at first.

But honestly, while it did seem far more difficult for me than others, I got through it just fine. I got on medication that worked for me, with an extra med for the really bad times. With experience, it got better. By the end I felt like I was actually good with my patients, rather than awkward and shy. I do still struggle with the hypochondriasis at times but it got so much better when I got out of school and (so far) am much less stressed (I work private duty for a pedi home health agency).

I don't know about how it would work with your particular triggers, but I think if you didn't go for it you'd regret it. If it's what you want to do, go for it. Stay on your meds and find a good therapist in the area. It really is a great profession, and I feel like struggling with anxiety only made me stronger. I've tried to go off my meds, but I'm still fairly psychologically dependent on them. In time, I'm sure I'll get there, as will you :)


3 Posts

My anxiety attacks are basically what you described, I hyperventilate, I get stomach troubles (mostly IBS and I'll feel sick), and I get dizzy. I take Xanax when I have an attack and Paroxetine as my daily medication. I am afraid though that my symptoms will intensify over the simplest things like I will pass out or dry heave (I will so not eat before or during) if I decide to go this route, until my body gets used to everything. I just got accepted into a community college and I am going to take pre-requisities (I am in Individual Studies because I didn't have enough pre-reqs for Radiology). But I am scared that I can't cut it. My other option I am looking into is radiology. I am good with machines and I do want to pursue a medical career. I just want to be able to go as far in a career as possible. Where I live there is no bachelor degree available at the colleges for radiology whereas, EVERYWHERE here i can get a bachelors in nursing. Ugh I am so I am going to talk to an academic advisor soon now that I got accepted. But anymore advice for a potential nursing student with an anxiety disorder would be helpful.

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2010 I only had two psychotic episodes since then. I have been able to go off medicationf or two years, I really don't take my illness too seriously as I am not hearing voices or having delusional thoughts all the time. My question is would it be dangerous to go into a career as stressful as nursing knowign that stress could quite possibly be a triggor for my illness.

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

142 Articles; 9,981 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych. Has 26 years experience.
I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2010 I only had two psychotic episodes since then. I have been able to go off medicationf or two years, I really don't take my illness too seriously as I am not hearing voices or having delusional thoughts all the time. My question is would it be dangerous to go into a career as stressful as nursing knowign that stress could quite possibly be a triggor for my illness.

Hello, and welcome to Allnurses!

Yes, nursing is VERY stressful, and it can (and often does) trigger episodes of mental illness. That said, it is possible to be a nurse---and a successful one---as long as your condition is well-managed.

My concern is that you say you "don't take your illness too seriously" as you're not delusional all the time. This gives me the sense that a) you experience delusions at least some of the time, and b) you may not recognize how serious an impact your illness could have if it gets out of control, which could easily happen in the face of moderate-to-severe stress and no medication to buffer it.

I don't have schizophrenia, so my knowledge of the condition is very limited. I would imagine that it's a little like my own illness in that it occurs on a spectrum---some cases are mild, and others more severe. However, I do know that I was losing the battle with my bipolar disorder before I finally accepted the need for ongoing medication. I doubt I'd still be in this profession if I hadn't.

Please consider your situation very carefully, preferably with the help of your mental health professional, before you make this decision. Not all cases of MI require medications, but if you are having delusions or hearing voices at all, you probably need them, and you will definitely have to manage your condition aggressively if you want to become a nurse.

Wishing you the best!