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Reality Unscripted
How Do You Face Your Fears?

I have a friend who's afraid to fly. It takes a Xanax and a glass of wine as soon as the drink cart starts moving to get her through a flight. She learned a long time ago that it was worth the anxiety to get to travel to warm, sandy places with her husband.

We all have things that freak us out a little. In the nursing profession it ranges from doing a new procedure, to working with a doc who intimidates you, to having to speak with a patient or their family about life-changing events.

When you're in school or as a new nurse, the new stuff comes at you fast and furiously. Every time you turn around you're having to do something you've never done before. To make it worse, someone's standing over your shoulder watching and it's likely to hurt the person you do it to. It's amazing any of us take on that challenge. We don't even have a sandy beach waiting for us on the other end!

What we do get out of it is satisfaction of a job well done (eventually, anyway) and another fear conquered. Just in time to face the next one.

Really, facing our fears is just a part of life, no matter what kind of job you have. Our fears vary. So do the ways we face them. I'm not afraid to fly, but I am afraid of heights. Xanax and wine would not be a good combination for me, however. I'd fall off a cliff for sure!

I'm also afraid of making phone calls to patients with test results. I don't really understand myself. I spend as much time as I can looking up information so I don't sound like an idiot once I have them on the line. I make a couple other "easy" calls then bite the bullet and make the dreaded one.

It's never as bad as I think it's going to be, but there's always that potential. When I was first learning procedures, I would visualize what I was going to do, pretend I was confident, and say a prayer.

What are some of your fears in nursing? More importantly, what are the ways you deal with them? Maybe we can help each other out with some new ideas about how to face anxiety. I'm getting on a plane in the morning. My newest fear is that I won't have time to stop for coffee before I board.

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16 Responses to “How Do You Face Your Fears?”

  1. Kathy Quan RN BSN Says:

    Nursing is a lifelong learning experience!! That’s part of the beauty of it. You’re not stuck behind a desk doing the same thing day after day, year after year.

    At the same time, you do have to learn to move beyond your comfort zone much more than many other professionals. That creates anxiety. But as long as you follow the rules and have help and supervision, you’ll do no harm. It may be painful, yes, but if you’re empathetic the patient will forgive you.

    Finding cures and better procedures takes some experimentation and a learning curve for practitioners. So if you have a positive attitude and accept the challenges, it can be a good thing for everyone involved.

    Conquering fears is a Growth Experience. I get claustrophobic on an airplane, but Xanax is not my thing either! So I have to book early and reserve an aisle seat. I can cope if I’m not stuck somewhere.

    With each experience you learn about your own coping mechanisms and how to get through something you hate to do.

    Break it down and make note of what worked and what didn’t and next time you have to do something new, you’ll be a little less anxious.


  2. Murse Charles Says:

    Im scared every day I go into work. But, I consider it a good thing. When I am not scared, I think I will become dangerous. Fear, allows me to know I can mistakes, and that the mistakes I can make, have the ability to put somone in harms way.

  3. unsinkablemb Says:

    Due to short-staffing I am occasionally put in procedures where I have never scrubbed before. Thanks to the fact that I am used to baptism-by-fire, I just hunker down and FOCUS. I listen carefully and make sure my common sense is on high alert! Another good thing to remember is to take your time and don’t panic!

  4. christy Says:

    How do I face my fears? #1 I shut up and listen. Next, be aware of my surrounding. I have been blessed with an awesome memory, so and alway take advantage of it. I catch on quick and ask just enough question to become comfortable but not seem incompetent. I watch body language to adapt and overcome and if all else fail. I remember I am good enough smart enough pretty enough and some people like me LOL

  5. Jen RN Says:

    My biggest fear is that I will overlook the blatent signs that someone is about to tank on me and that will result in a sentinal event. Another fear is that I won’t kill someone, just cause irreverable harm. How I deal with that is to be on my guard. I try to be as alert as possible every shift that I work. It’s hard, but something that has to be done. In this profession, you can’t be lazy, that’s when people get hurt.

  6. Julie Says:

    Fear is what makes a good nurse great. It keeps you aware that you could make a mistake. I worked with a student who, behind my back, went and hung a central line on a sick, preterm infant because she “felt comfortable” doing it when she had never even done it with supervision! I do not know if her school let her graduate or not, but it scares me that she would assume she knows it all and is not “afraid” of making a mistake.

    An excellent article to remind everyone that we are human and prone to make mistakes is “Your Hospital’s deadly secret” by Katherine Eban published in March 08 Conde Nast Portfolio
    An error passed through several check points and resulted in the death of an innocent child.

    We all would do well to keep enough fear that it makes us aware of what we are doing, what the potential effects of an error are, and that we need to stay focused.

  7. Corby Says:

    I have more of a question than a comment. How much does our fear affect the way we perceive our profession and how we come to understand our own identity in our communities. Is it that fear that is building a barrier between us and the next generation of nurses that are not flocking to follow us? What other factors are at play.. Does the coming shortage scare you? How do we plan for it and what can we as individuals do NOW to prepare, or even better, repair the hole in recruiting? I don’t pretend to have any answers. But it is heavy on my mind.

  8. Paul Says:

    I am not a nurse; I am a registered respiratory therapist. First of all let me say how much I admire and respect what nurses do. Secondly, I am interested in traveling and am wondering if this is an appropriate forum to discuss travel jobs? If not perhaps someone here can direct me to a site.

    As far as fear goes I would say the most important thing is to LISTEN to those fears but don’t let them rule you. NEVER be afraid to ask a doctor to clarify an order and NEVER be afraid to speak up if you think that carrying out any order MIGHT harm your patient or your fellow workers.

    Thanks and best of luck to all here!

  9. Jason R. Thrift Says:

    I have to say, fear comes with the territory when you become a nurse. Later, that fear grows into an awareness of mistakes that can happen and should be avoided that is referred to as conscientiousness.

    Fear is overwhelming and it must evolve into being conscientious, or you may never overcome it. I was scared to death of everything in nursing, when I first began. But you grow in knowledge, experience, understanding and you yourself evolve. You have to. In life, overcoming your fears is essential or else, you go crazy.

    As a child I was terrified of storms, so much in fact I would try to run and hide from them. It was a petrifying fear and I truly thought the world was going to end in some cases. But, as I’ve gotten older, studied the weather, learned what it is truly capable of, seen other’s responses, I’ve learned that the fear I had was just my lack of knowledge of that phenomenon. However, I do still get a little unnerved in a storm is bad, or shows me something I’ve never seen before (like a green sky).

    In nursing you fears will always be tested. But as you grow in your knowledge, the unknown will unnerve you, but not conquer you. You’ll conquer it, save a life and become a miracle.

  10. Diana Says:

    I agree- there are days where I go into work and my anxiety is nearly overwhelming. I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone. In the OR we are a team and it takes many people to get a patient safely through surgery- there are always people who will know more than you and that is ok, you might know more than the next person and together it gets done. Surgeons are people too. They have moods and sometimes their mood has nothing to do with you- it can be them or it could be their own stress. Do your best not to make everything your fault because it’s not.

  11. Cara Says:

    I really appreciate this article, because it’s made me look at my anxiety at work a little differently. I have social phobia, have all my life, and I thought that nursing would help “knock it out of me” so to speak. A little exposure therapy. It hasn’t. If anything, nursing has made it grow 10-fold. I have been on the floor doing cardiopulmonary stepdown and tele for 1.5 years now, and I have come a long way but I still have to gather my courage everytime I go into a room full of relatives, everytime I get a patient who has a trach tube, everytime I have a very sick patient and I can’t get the doctor on the phone-or more likely the resident, to tell them they just had a 25 beat run of v-tach. I’m scared to pieces that a patient will die on me and I won’t call a code fast enough, do what I should do fast enough, know what to do because it’s all happening so fast, etc. I hate the idea of looking stupid, too…a social phobic’s worst nightmare.

    Reading the responses here, I realize that most nurses are afraid. I just wear mine on my sleeve a bit more and let it run me far too much. Maybe knowing that everyone, especially those with just 1.5 years experience, is fearful will help me next time I feel like I’m the only dope who is scared!

  12. Trish Says:

    Thanks for this awesome article. I am a new nurse and started on an surgery floor. I am scared to death. I am one who does not like to go out of my comfort zone so it has been a very trying experience. My staff is amazing. I will be on my second day of orientation. How long are your orientations and how did your preceptor do it?

  13. ampee Says:

    well, its good to have this kind of discussion.. it really helps. i’m a new nurse as well and yeah.. everyday is a learning experience. each day i get nervous,each day i’m afraid. still adjusting from being a student nurse to a staff nurse. only 25% have been taught from school. the rest, through exposure. i just set my mind to learning mode so that i may not be too anxious in the unit, that all staffs underwent the same experience i’m in now.. it’s my 1st month as a new nurse, one month of new experiences. i just cant wait to learn from my second month onwards..

    we can do whatever we set our mind to..:)

  14. juliebee Says:

    What a great article and just what I needed. I work in a cardiac services unit so I work in the rehab gym and do non invasive procedures such as echo TEE’s where I give sedation and monitor the patient, also monitor patients with pain etc during cardiolyte stress testing. I am a new RN not quite 2 years at this job but still so new as I have never worked on the floor. I took this job because I wanted to teach and promote wellness. I do that well, but it is the procedures that scare me to death.They are often “add ons” which gives me only a few minutes to check the chart and find out about them before we begin the tests. I worry a lot about what I would do during a code situation especially since I’ve never seen one before. I worry that I will freeze or not know what meds to give etc.
    And sadly, right now I feel like questions are not welcomed because it is assumed that “by now”, I should know this information even though there are many situations that I have never been exposed to. I feel pretty alone most of the time and try very hard to navigate on my own. I have just now started to reach out more to my nurse friends and others for more support because the anxiety was overrunning my life. Any comments or suggestions would be so helpful!

  15. Jana Says:

    Julie, when you do end up in a crisis situation, call for help. I promise you, no one is going to judge you for it. You’re part of a team, and your emrgency is their emergency. Nobody handles a crisis alone.

  16. juliebee Says:

    Jana, thanks for your note! I will try to remember that and not feel like I am in this alone.

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