Five Survival Tips for the Anxious CNA

Article Categories: Caregiver Corner & Tips and Tricks

Nursing assistants are taught how to spot, calm, and comfort anxious patients. But, for many CNAs who work nonstop on low-staffed shifts in high-turnover work environments, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and they fail to recognize that they, themselves, are anxious.

A little anxiety now and then is normal, even healthy, considering that you’re triggering your brain to be more alert and responsive. But, because the healthcare industry is riddled with uncertainty, illness, and death, anxiety among workers like nursing assistants is typical, and it’s often normal to feel overwhelmed or under attack.

Newbie CNAs, for example, struggle with clumsiness due to a lack of confidence. They can also be very idealistic, eager to perform every procedure “by the book”—never mind how long it takes to finish. Nurses or veteran CNAs might seem to be watching their every move, pouncing the minute a CNA makes a mistake. Things can escalate quickly, and anxiety turns to panic.

Some CNAs, especially those in hospice, deal with death anxiety, or the uneasy feeling of having to face the reality that they will also die someday, and suffer discomfort and uncertainty as a result.

Anxiety among nursing assistants can also come from environments where the workplace breeds a culture of fear. Bullying is common in nursing and CNAs are one of the most frequent victims. Accounts of bullying tell of nursing assistants who are too fearful to go to work because they anticipate a possibly stressful encounter with their bully coworker.

Severe or long-term anxiety is no good for CNAs who already have their hands full. While every CNA just wants to help patients and be good at what they do, if they worry excessively about work, they can become inefficient.

They lose focus on their tasks, so they tend to accomplish less or make mistakes. This results in a cycle of more stress and anxiety. The outcome is physical and emotional burnout in the CNA, and possibly injury to a patient. It can also lead to depression and other psychological problems.

If you are struggling with anxiety, take a minute to read and heed these helpful tips:

1. Learn how to recognize your worry and what triggers it.

When you're anxious, you feel “knots in your stomach” and a general feeling of uneasiness, worry, and stress. Your breath can become shallow and fast, and you feel nauseated. You can't focus on your tasks and you become scared of making mistakes. Try to find out when and why this happens, and you can begin addressing it.

2. Do deep breathing exercises.

It works great for patients, and this technique can also do wonders for you. Those extra few puffs of oxygen-rich air expand your lungs and relax tense muscles. Breathe through your nose and feel your diaphragm expand. Hold it for a few seconds and then slowly breathe out through pursed lips, much like blowing out a candle, but slowly.

3. Address the cause of your anxiety.

If it is because you lack confidence as a newbie, do a mental practice run of the procedures before completing them. If your supervisor gets annoyed because you missed some steps, keep a level head and maintain your composure. Stick it out and do your best to become more resilient and learn lessons quickly.

4. Get good support.

Look for a coworker whom you trust to help give assistance and guidance whenever you feel unsure of yourself. Open up to the nurse who works closely with you. You may also turn to a family member for support. If you feel that your anxiety is significantly affecting your work and you risk endangering patients, inform your supervisor and seek professional help.

5. Exercise, eat healthy, and get a good night's rest.

Yes, going back to basics is often the way to go. Although anxiety can make you feel tired, lose your appetite, and keep you up at night, you have to do your best to overcome these challenges. Always keep your health in mind.

Anxiety is a part of a nursing assistant's job, but addressing it early on helps keep it from controlling you in the long run. Work on solutions rather than focusing on the stress around you. Soon, you’ll be able to slow down and appreciate the beauty in this rewarding career.


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