Healthcare facilities can sometimes be a major source of anxiety. Most people associate hospitals and other healthcare facilities with negative experiences. Besides healthcare providers, for whom these facilities are their place of work, almost no one wants to be there.

Patients can suffer from anxiety for a variety of reasons, not always related to their treatment or diagnosis. Some people have what is often referred to as “white coat syndrome,” in which just seeing a healthcare practitioner or entering a hospital can trigger anxiety.

Nurses play an important role in reducing anxiety. The knowledge and skills gained through a Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program can help anxious patients have a better overall experience.

  1. Recognize anxiety.Anxiety can present differently depending upon the person and the situation. It can manifest as anger, sarcasm or withdrawal, for example. The nurse can assess for anxiety while completing the initial evaluation or by using an anxiety scale similar to a pain scale. Look for non-verbal signals in a patient’s facial expression and body language. Keep in mind that some symptoms might not be as obvious, or the patient might deny feeling anxious. Some common signs of anxiety include the following:
    • Increased heart rate.
    • Difficulty concentrating.
    • Gastrointestinal issues.
    • Trouble sleeping.
    • Difficulty managing pain.
  2. Talk to the patient.Establish open communication so that the patient is comfortable asking questions. Show respect and an interest in them as a person. Do not assume that there are no questions, even if they do not ask. An understanding of the situation can help to decrease frustration.
    • Greet them and any family members, and introduce yourself.
    • Review their diagnosis, tell them what to expect, and go over the rationale.
    • Explain delays.
    • Offer clarification.
    • Use simple terms to avoid misconceptions and increase receptivity to teaching.
    • Ask open-ended questions such as “How are you feeling?” or “What can I do?”
  3. Listen.Listening is one of the most important steps. It enables the patient to feel respected and more confident in your care. Your day is busy and you have many more patients, but when you are with each patient, they should feel as if they are your only one.
    • Consider how your body language might appear.
    • Make eye contact, smile, and give them your full attention.
    • Avoid appearing disinterested, rushed, or distracted.
    • Sit down — don’t stand in the doorway.
  4. Offer empathy.Each patient’s experience is unique, and they may respond differently to the same situation. It is common to experience anxiety with an unfamiliar experience.
    • Avoid appearing judgmental.
    • Do not minimize their anxiety by saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Instead, say something like, “Many people feel this way.”
    • Remember to share information and offer support to family members.
    • Provide handouts and other documents for reference.
    • If you don’t have answers, find someone who does.
    • Let them know when you will return.
    • Introduce them to other staff.
  5. Help patients relax.Rather than tell your patient to relax or immediately offer medications, suggest relaxation techniques. Individualize them based on the patient’s interests to keep the focus on basic questions without dwelling on the situation.
    • Dim the lights.
    • Ask the family to step out to allow the patient to rest.
    • Offer soothing music.
    • Distract them with activities such as reading or watching television.
    • Encourage them to talk with friends or family.
    • Suggest deep breathing exercises.

Providing Compassionate Care

Your patient can have a better overall experience if you take the time to assess for anxiety and offer methods for relaxation. The initial development of open communication can assist in building a trusting relationship. This can help you to individualize methods to reduce their anxiety and understand their concerns.

Learn more about Nevada State University’s online RN to BSN program.

Sources: How to Help Reduce Your Patients’ Anxiety


Mayo Clinic: Anxiety

Aesthetics: Managing Anxious Patients