Effective Calming Techniques for Distressed Patients

Administering calming techniques to those who are distressed is a skill of great value to any travel nurse because, let's face it, most patients don’t enjoy being in the hospital. 

It can be a trying time, and it’s common for patients to struggle with fear, stress, and anxiety, in addition to their pain and other physical symptoms.

You must use emotional intelligence when dealing with difficult patients. This refers to non-clinical skills, like self-awareness, social awareness, and self-regulation. Learning how to stay calm takes intention and skill.

Sometimes, the stress can get the best of the patient and their emotions take over. It is important that you understand how to stay calm and implement the best calming techniques when dealing with difficult patients.

How to Stay Calm When Dealing with Difficult Patients

1. Slow Down and Count Your Breaths

When you are in the middle of a crisis, it feels like everything is moving quickly. Decisions are made in the blink of an eye. A patient crisis can create a lot of commotion. One of the best calming techniques is to slow down. Don’t react immediately, if possible. Be patient with yourself and others around you.

If the patient is safe and their immediate needs are being cared for, walk away for a few minutes. This distance will help you to reset your level of stress reaction.

Quietly inhale and pay attention to your belly expanding. Go as slow as possible, counting in – 1, 2, 3. Pay attention to when you are ready to exhale, then breathe out, counting again – 1, 2, 3. Even doing this for as little as 1 minute will make you feel calmer.

2. Actively Listen

Patients lack control. Nurses and other staff are in and out of their room all hours of the day and night. This can stir up anxiety and fear. Allowing the patient to openly voice their feelings is a useful calming technique and improves the patient experience.

Take a few minutes to sit and truly listen to your patient’s fears and worries. Talk to them and encourage them to speak their mind. Asking open-ended questions encourages communication. 

Struggling with how to keep them talking? Simple questions like “How are you feeling?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you?” work great. Using affirmative statements like “I hear you” lets them know you’re interested in connecting and helping.

3. Compassion and Empathy

According to a study by Louise Bramley and Milika Matiti, compassion is a fundamental part of nursing care. Showing compassion when dealing with difficult patients builds relationships and breaks down barriers between you and the patient.

Patients don’t want you to feel sorry for them. They want you to understand them. When you try to understand how your patient is feeling, you are empathetic. Empathy works well for dealing with difficult patients. It lets them know that you hear them and are trying to understand how they feel.

4. Use a Calm Voice

When dealing with difficult patients, you must stay calm. Keep your voice in a low pitch. Control the volume, tone, and speed of your voice. Speaking in a normal volume can help calm the patient. Most people instinctively match the tone and volume of the conversation.

5. Give Them Space

Tensions can rise when dealing with difficult patients. If the patient becomes angry, giving them plenty of space can be used with other calming techniques.  

Taking a step back gives the patient a sense of control over the situation. If the patient is in the bed, try sitting down across from them. If the patient is standing, you should stand too. Being on the same level as the patient de-escalates tensions.

6. Be Prepared 

One study recommends receiving yearly training on dealing with difficult patients. These skills come with practice. This study also recommends using an objective scale to measure agitation and mitigate defensive behaviors. One such scale is the Behavioural Activity Rating Scale (BARS).

Another part of being prepared is understanding your own personal state of mind. Your own stress and frustration can make the situation worse. Remain calm. Observe the patients verbal and non-verbal cues for signs of anger or physical agitation. Call for help if needed.

Dealing with difficult patients takes skill. Use these five tips to learn how to stay calm when dealing with distressed patients. Arm yourself with empathy, compassion, and the knowledge to know when you need help.

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