How to deal with anxious and fearful patient

Anxiety and fear are a normal response to the perceived threat of illness or injury and thus are common in health-care settings. Anxiety makes people hyper-vigilant for signs of threat. Consequently, they are likely to react strongly to unexpected events, symptoms, or negative news. Anxiety also makes people less flexible in their coping strategies, so specific strategies become more rigidly applied. Anxious people may need to know exactly what will happen next so that the additional threat of unexpected events is reduced. Mere reassurance does not often work with anxious people – in fact it can backfire because they may feel that you do not understand. In dealing with an anxious patient the following may help.

Use your body language and speechCharacteristics of speech and non-verbal communication can help someone calm down. Adopt a relaxed and open body posture (non-threatening), lower the tone of your voice slightly, and slow your speech down.
Acknowledge the anxietyAs with anger, recognize the person’s anxiety
Find out the main source of anxietyAnxiety can become generalized, so asking someone why they are anxious may elicit only a general or defensive response.
EmpathizeAs with anger, empathy and understanding can be very helpful responses to strong emotion. In cases of terminal illness, where the threat of death is inevitable, empathy is crucial. In these case we cannot ‘fix’ anxiety or any other strong emotion – we can only empathize and provide support.
Minimize the threatAnxiety is based on a perceived threat. Therefore, one way to lower anxiety is to reduce or remove that threat. This is best done by providing information as opposed to mere reassurance. For example; a pregnant woman might be anxious about her baby dying. In this instance, finding out why she believes this will happen and giving her information about the actual risk of it happening in planning screening or treatment so that the risk of adverse consequences is minimized.
Increase feelings of safetyA related technique is to increase feelings of safety through information. For example, you might tell patients about monitoring or other procedures that can prevent complications developing.
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