People are more stressed than ever thanks to the ongoing pandemic and other global issues. This can have a compounding effect on patients because as UC-San Francisco doctor Judith Cuneo notes, stress exacerbates a patient’s anxiety & fear.
Nurses are usually the ones in position to interact most with stressed, anxious patients, and are increasingly relied upon to provide a gentle hand and extra care. In a sense, nurses today are considered not just nurses, but also observers, educators, and even medical confidants, as the Houston Chronicle put it.
These are admirable roles, but also represent significant burdens for nurses, who are so often overworked to begin with. Here, we’ll list a few tips and tricks for nurses regarding how they can help their patients (and themselves!) with stress, anxiety, and fear.
Recognize Anxiety and Stress
Everyone shows anxiety in their own way. Some turn to sarcasm, anger, or melancholy silence, while others are more difficult to read. Common signs and symptoms of anxiety include an increased heart rate, trouble sleeping, or even gastrointestinal issues that are not caused by the primary health issue being treated. It helps to be able to read a patient, especially when it comes to non-verbal signs, in order to determine if they’re anxious, stressed, or even depressed. A nurse who can recognize the signs will be able to adjust handling and treatment as needed.
Make Use of Relaxation Techniques
We’ve all been there: we’re stressed and frazzled, and someone sees us and says, “Hey, you look pretty bad. Just relax!” Even as a nurse, your first instinct may be to ask an anxious patient to relax, especially if you’re trying to draw blood or triage a human bundle of nerves. However, it’s not always going to work, particularly when a patient is truly anxious. In fact, it’s probably going to put the patient even more on edge. Instead, show the patient how to relax, and give specific instructions such as, “Take a deep breath and hold it. Count to five, and let it out” –– or, “Let your jaw relax. I can see it tensed up."
These instructions will help patients not only realize how tense they are but also give them a way to settle down. The process also builds trust, which is vital especially during those first few moments with a new patient.
Compassion may seem like a general concept, but it is actually something practiced specifically in nursing. Mentors and instructors will focus on how nurses in training practice empathy and understanding, and Maryville University’s master of science in nursing overview highlights compassion as something that has become a key component of nursing leadership studies. This specific and direct focus is based on the notion that a lack of compassion leads patients to feel devalued and emotionally drained, while even the smallest act of compassion can turn the tables and help patients through particularly difficult situations. Thus, for nurses dealing with anxious patients, compassion is not merely a general courtesy –– it is a vital tactic.
Give Recommendations for Medication
While nurses do not generally prescribe medication themselves, they can absolutely have a hand in the doctor’s decision regarding what’s best for a patient, especially considering that nurses tend to spend more time with patients than the doctors do.
To give an example, our "8 Step Guide for Managing Stress with CBD" presents compelling arguments for CBD's utility in people struggling with anxiety. More and more health professionals are looking to this as a means of treatment, or at least as a way of supplementing treatments according to patient needs. But it will often be nurses who are most aware of those needs and best able to make recommendations regarding this sort of treatment approach.
Make Use of Effective Communication
Nurses get all types of patients, and some of them may not be well-versed in the medical field. As a result, they can feel even more stressed out than normal when they suddenly find themselves in a hospital, undergoing tests, and getting results that they may not understand. This is where a nurse's ability to communicate clearly, knowledgeably, and patiently comes into play. This kind of communication will help to put a patient at ease in the moment, and will also go a long way toward establishing trust that will be vital throughout any prolonged care or treatment process.
Nursing is not an easy field to be in, particularly when patients are more likely than ever to be stressed and anxious. But we hope that these tricks and recommendations will make it a little bit easier to practice in the current climate.
Article written by Riley Jane
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