A nurse's personal experience with stress and anxiety

Ben, registered nurse
We often take our health for granted when we put everyone else first. Ben shares his experience with stress and how reaching out for support helped.

running shoes

We often take our mental health for granted until we don’t have it. This was the case for me.

Like most nurses and midwives, I had a busy life. You could say I thrived being busy.

My life included a challenging and rewarding job, study, supportive partner, family and many friends.

I consistently extended myself.

I accepted extra responsibilities at work and helped my family and friends. I felt stressed, but stress is part of life and I was managing my priorities.

Things changed when my job became bigger. The organisation I was working in promoted me to a senior nursing role. I took on extra programs with the allocation of new funding and my job required me to be on-call, 24/7. Calls from work between 2 am and 4 am were a regular occurrence; sleep deprivation became my new normal. If we couldn’t replace unplanned leave for the after-hours manager, I filled the shift.

The shift that broke me required me to be the emergency manager. I attended an emergency with an agitated and aggressive patient who assaulted three staff. I also became injured while intervening. I ignored my injury — I had others to support.

I supported staff, communicated with the police, medical staff, families and the executive on call. I organised critical incident debriefing. I followed up staff, wrote reports, missed meals, sleep and neglected my own needs. The incident seemed endless.

I returned to work the next day feeling exhausted. Over the next few months, I became highly stressed. Not the ‘normal’ stress of life but that type of stress that doesn’t let you rest; that controls and consumes you. I became irritable, hypervigilant, tearful and anxious.

My manager noticed the change in my mood and we had a confidential chat. I finally received much-needed acknowledgement of my experience — and support.

The support that assisted in my recovery included:

  • emotional care— being listened to and heard
  • paid personal leave — acknowledgement of my experience
  • sleep—rest is vital to recovery
  • regular nutritious meals — good nutrition aids healing
  • exercise—movement creates calmness, and
  • time with loved ones — this anchors us.

My GP supported me and we discussed a mental health plan. It formed an integral part of my recovery. The plan provided me with access to government subsided sessions with a psychologist, an invaluable part of my recovery.

My journey back to good mental health has been a process. I changed the way I work and live. I learned to set boundaries.

Most importantly, I no longer take my mental health for granted!