NQN · Placement · Recommendations · Self care

Managing emotions at placement

Placements can be very emotionally draining, we’re often working with extremely unwell people, we may face violence and aggression, hold the hand of a person taking their last breath, tell a family impossibly difficult news and care for patients as their lives change forever. Although we are (student) nurses, we are also human, it’s natural that these situations make us feel pain, upset or even anger but what’s important is that we’re able to deal with these emotions when we leave that placement and return home.  

My second placement in my first year was an acute mental health ward. I met a woman there who was my age and had a very similar upbringing to me. She was admitted to a child and adolescent mental health hospital at 15 (the age I was when I was admitted), due to extremely similar difficulties. The difference is through my admission I began my journey to recovery. The patient I was working with didn’t begin that journey and 5 years later she was still within the system. At the beginning of that placement every shift I left, her story played on my mind over and over. Although this was very difficult to deal with initially, I learnt ways to manage those emotions and now I would say that managing my emotions at placement is something I’m fairly good at.  

So, what can we do to attempt to manage emotions that we feel at placement? Here’s some things that I’ve found helped me and I know have helped other fellow students:  

  • Mindfulness- I feel some people think that it’s something you do sitting crossed legged on the floor but realistically I just do 5-10 minutes usually using the app ‘headspace’ (there’s plenty of websites, apps and podcasts out there) either on my break or when I get home. I find after an emotionally draining day my body may be knackered, but my mind won’t switch off, mindfulness helps to slow my head down. 
  • Write it all down- Either as a traditional reflection or just scribble all your thoughts, frustrations and emotions down. I normally end up doing the second option. I know some people find It helpful to get rid of the paper, either ripping it up or throwing it out. I personally like to keep it and read it back at another point in time and reflect.
  • Tune in to how you feel- This may sound like a silly one but at placement I’ve been guilty of focusing so much on the patients around me that I forget to check in with how I feel but it’s so important. For example: If you’ve just had to sit through a difficult MDT meeting, discussing child protection issues for example, and you’re feeling emotionally drained don’t be afraid to say ‘I need to go for a quick break’ or ‘I found that really difficult can we talk about it?’ If you had lifted someone and hurt your back, you would look after yourself so make sure you look after your emotions equally.  
  • Time-out- Sometimes after an emotionally draining shift, I find I need some time-out, to me this means I don’t want to focus on my placement, university work or bank shifts. I personally find it ‘resets’ my brain. I will schedule in an evening where I can log out of twitter, WordPress, email and anything else nursing/ work related and do something that relaxes me, this may be a long dog walk, a bubble bath, watching my favourite film, doing some craft or read a book.  
  • Talk about it- Pop up on twitter, call a friend, cry to a family member, discuss it with your mentor or call your university. As (student) nurses we’re great at telling the public and our patients to talk about it, but we also need to talk about it, reflect and get it off our chest.  

These are some ways I’ve learnt to deal with an emotionally draining shift. If you really feel like your mental wellbeing is affected, then please talk to your supervisors/ mentors/ personal tutors at placement or university. And if you are concerned about your emotional wellbeing as a whole, don’t be afraid to visit the GP.  

I hope this has helped or given someone some ideas of how to deal with emotions after a shift! Feel free to leave your own tips and feedback in the comments.  

Remember: we can’t pour from an empty cup! 


Written by Abby Martin (@MHnurseabby) 

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