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How to Help Reduce Your Patients' Anxiety

Nurse comforting patient in hospital bed

Chances are, at some point in your career you will face discord with a patient or a patient's family. Sometimes a conflict arises over how the family member is being cared for or the patient may be anxious about the plan of care. Anxiety can be the basis of most conflicts in healthcare settings. Although not unique to healthcare, anxiety can cause nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry. It's common for individuals to experience a general state of worry or fear when facing a new experience, and being involved in a healthcare situation is no exception. Remember that most patients and families are not familiar with healthcare and its delivery in any setting. Being admitted to a hospital, having surgery (either inpatient or outpatient), or being diagnosed with a chronic disease is not their run of the mill experience. Whatever the reason, anxiety can manifest itself in the patient and family in relief behavior, which can include anger, sarcasm, withdrawal and dismissive behavior toward healthcare providers. How you handle these emotions and conduct can make all the difference between a successful resolution of an identified concern and an outcome that is not helpful to all involved. Here are some tips that may help. 

Tip 1: You can help reduce or even avoid patients or families' anxiety by listening to patients. Even asking patients at the onset how they are feeling could keep them from going into relief-behavior mode. 

Tip 2: Reduce anxiety by introducing yourself and your role and orienting patients and families to whatever is to follow. Focus on patients by asking questions about their work, children and other aspects of their personal lives, which may also help keep patients calm. The message here, too, is that you are interested in them as people, not just as patients (Crystal Gustafson (2015), "7 Ways To Manage Anxiety In Patients, Family Members, and Yourself"

Tip 3: Another relief behavior that can occur due to anxiety is that the individual learns from this emotion. Being calm, answering questions, getting information the patient needs that you may not have, and being reassuring can do much to help the patient and/or his family move from a highly negative emotional level to one in which they can be as comfortable as possible and ready to learn about, and take on the needed healthcare. What interventions have you used successfully to reduce a patient's or his family's anxiety? Nancy Brent's posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.

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  • ELNEC Core Curriculum (11.5 contact hours) Trains nurses, undergraduate and graduate nursing faculty, administrators, and researchers on fundamental palliative skills.
  • Approaches to Community-Based Suicide Prevention  (2.0 contact hours) Provides information about community-based, upstream suicide prevention approaches.
  • Patient Education: Using Teach-Back  (0.5 contact hours) Provides the definition of teach-back and guidance for incorporating this educational method into your daily care of patients and their families.
  • Visitors at the Hospital Bedside  (0.5 contact hours) Provides an overview of the role of the nurse in forming care partnerships with a patient’s family during the hospital stay.


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