Approaching Back-to-School Stress for Nurse Educators and Nursing Students

As educators, many of us are now in the last moments of preparation for the beginning of the academic year. Syllabi are prepared or updated, readings in place, textbooks ordered, and online classrooms designed. In addition to teaching and prep time, our schedules for the Fall semester are packed full of program and committee meetings. We answer emails and advise students about which classes to enroll in, though we usually are not technically paid for our working hours during the summer time.

No matter how prepared we feel we may be, there is often a certain level of stress that accompanies the beginning of the school year, regardless of whether we spent our summers teaching, vacationing, working, or researching.


Part of the stress stems from the students expectations; no matter the modality we teach in, students rightfully expect for us to be well prepared, and the course content to be up-to-date and relevant. As educators, we need to consider different learning styles and how we can make the curriculum come alive, creating a meaningful experience for students. If the students have a meaningful experience, we often also have a rewarding experience as we witness the growth of the students and continue to journey along with them through the learning experience.

Another part of the stressors during the back-to -school season are the administrative concerns such as cancelled classes, faculty workloads, or perhaps the bookstore missing a particular book order. Students are stressed because they are changing their schedules, often trying to create a balance between work, home, family, and academic responsibilities.  Many of my half-time students, taking 6 academic units can expect to “study” for approximately 24 hours per week.

Nursing students in particular tend to be high achievers and often times perfectionistic. Many nurses’ jobs require them to deal with life and death on a regular basis, and they often have not been supported in creating the kinds of self-care habits that would best support their ability to create a sense of balance in their lives. Pre-licensure nursing students also face the stress of new clinical environments, new experiences, and the challenge of gaining a great deal of knowledge, skills, and information in a short period of time.

For all of theses reasons and more, back-to-school should be a time of focusing on balance and creating a sense of love and peace for one another. This may seem contradictory in some ways, as it opposes the general equation that back-to-school= back-to-stress.

However, I strongly believe that remaining committed to practicing self-care is essential for both nurse educators and nursing students across the levels of education.

Taking the Time to Breathe and Meditate Reduces Stress

One of my biggest areas of concern is ensuring that the students have a supportive learning environment, and that they feel cared for and guided through their academic experience. Being a program administrator, when we have issues arise that increase stress levels of students, I almost immediately hear about the issues from students and I am charged with assisting them to find answers. Unfortunately, in the world of academia, the answers are not always readily available, and this may mean there is some period of waiting where we must all learn to sit with our discomfort.

I had such an experience last week, and over the weekend, my own mind started to increase my anxiety about the issue and how I could best address it. My ego was in charge and it was not happy. At one point, in enacting my self-care, I took a 20 mile bike ride and found myself in tears, wondering how I could best serve the students and help them to address an issue that seemed to be beyond my power. I was given a beautiful gift though, as I arrived home, opened up my kindle to read (another self-care practice), and found my way to Wayne Dyer’s (2001) book, There is a spiritual solution to every problem.

Somehow the book was electronically opened to section on how in addressing distressing issues, you may ask your higher power to make you an instrument of peace and love. All you have to do in these distressing situations is remain peaceful, and exude the god-love-spiritual nature that you are.

I found this advice extremely comforting and timely. Dyer reminds us that peace is a choice, and anytime we don’t feel peaceful, we have been granted the opportunity to regain our peace. “I can choose peace” and “make me an instrument of thy peace” are two mantras that can act as gentle reminders to move into our heart space and begin to exude the peace and love that are our true nature.

Meanwhile, within a little over 24 hours of my remembering to return to the place of peace (doing yoga and Reiki also help me to remain in that place as well), I believe we have found an adequate solution to the issue. Because of this small experience, I am reminded as we start the academic year that “when you work each day at being in that peaceful state of grace, regardless of what goes on, you are open to spiritual solutions. While the facts may not change and you still have to deal with the realities of your daily life, being at peace allows you to process problems from the awareness that it is how you think about it that is your truest experience. Once you are at peace, you will be guided to act reasonably and sensibly. But the problem itself, which is what you are experiencing inside of yourself, will be gone”(Dyer, 2001, p. 149-150).

Being at peace, and making work as an educator a spiritual and learning experience can help us to combat the stress of our work, while also supporting us in creating sustainable caring-healing educational environments for our students and colleagues.

Dyer, W. W. (2001). There’s a spiritual solution to every problem. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

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