Tips for Working with Anxious Patients

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The ability to address patient concerns is one of many important characteristics of a health care professional, nurses included. Sometimes patient concerns may be emotional due to anxiety about doctor visits. Nurses must know how to cope with these anxieties to provide a better experience. Below are four relaxation tips to help such patients calm down.

Smiling nurse interacting with older patient

1. Breathing Exercises

Controlled breathing is one of the simplest ways nurses can help patients manage their anxiety. Deep breathing forces the mind, heart and body to slow down, countering the side effects of stress.

Nurses have many options when taking their patients through breathing exercises. One choice is sama vritti, a yogic breathing style that focuses on creating an equal ratio between the inhale and the exhale. Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing, deep breathing or belly breathing, has patients focused on inhaling to expand the abdomen rather than the chest. This forces the diaphragm to engage and ensures the lungs fill with air, maximizing oxygen intake and helping produce a sense of calm.

Patients should be guided through these exercises. If left alone to their own devices, their minds may wander and ignore or negate the effects of the exercise altogether. If a medical facility doesn’t have enough staff to guide each patient individually, The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare recommended using prerecorded audio instructions.

2. Guided Imagery

The effects of this technique are similar to those of breathing exercises. Guided imagery is based on the notion of a mind-body connection where mental focus eases the physical symptoms of anxiety, lowering blood pressure, respiration and heart rates.

The difference between the two tactics is in the approach. Whereas the former technique focuses on the breath, guided imagery utilizes the imagination. Patients are told to picture something in such incredible detail that their body reacts as though that item were in front of them. This technique takes the patient’s mind out of the exam room and into a situation where they feel comfortable.

When it comes to the medical office, nurses can have their patients imagine a calm environment like a beach or garden. These locations are much less stressful than a sterile exam room, so patients should have an easier time relaxing. If, for example, the safe space of choice is a beach, nurses should verbally walk patients through the sensation of feeling soft, warm sand under their feet, inhaling salty sea air, and feeling sunlight on their skin.

3. Calming Environments

Mankind has long felt a connection to nature, which is why many businesses have started incorporating such elements in their design. Companies like Google and Facebook incorporate tree-filled outdoor spaces and lush office plants to keep employees happy and productive.

Hospitals have started doing the same. As Fast Company detailed, The Province Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, uses wood, warm colors and natural light to help both patients and staff relax. The center also has a green outdoor “healing garden” for relaxation.

One of the great things about adding natural elements is the fact that hospitals and offices don’t need much space to do so. While an attached garden is great, offices with limited outdoor space can, as Province Sacred Heart did, bring natural elements inside. Even small offices can bridge the divide between nature and exam room. Some offices use skylights and wood cabinets to combat its stark exterior with a warm, inviting interior that puts patients at ease.

4. Soothing Music

As Science Daily reported, a study from Cochin University Hospital in Paris found playing music for 15 minutes significantly decreases patient anxiety. Researchers observed 62 patients preparing for cataract surgery, giving them the option of listening to music designed for increased relaxation or no music at all. Those who chose one of the 16 musical selections were less anxious than the other group, hitting an average of 23 on a scale of zero to 100, with zero representing no stress and 100 being the most stressed. Patients who didn’t listen to music scored 65 on average. Additionally, music-listeners were more satisfied after their surgery, with an average score of 71 on a similar scale, than non-listeners (whose average score was 55).

Many medical offices play music in the waiting room but don’t carry through in the exam room. A small stereo with a few preloaded tracks is all that’s needed to help patients feel a little better. Anxiety in the exam room is not uncommon. Fortunately, these techniques can help nurses provide calm and comfort to their patients and assume a stronger leadership role within their facilities.

About Duquesne’s Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program

The Duquesne University School of Nursing is top ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs. The MSN program offers three areas of specialization: Forensic Nursing, Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Education and Faculty Role. For more information, visit DU’s MSN program website.