Let’s face it, for many people, staying in a hospital is automatically a stressful experience. It’s unsettling to be away from home in an environment where other people set the rules. It’s worrying to think about upcoming treatment or what a test result might mean. What doctors say can be confusing, especially if it’s full of jargon, and that’s before taking into account factors such as being in pain or feeling unwell. Such stress can’t be dismissed and patients won’t always know how to manage it. In this situation, nurses have a really important role to play. This article looks at some of the things that you as a nurse can do to help stressed patients. Talking Nothing is scarier than the unknown. Patients often struggle to take in everything that a doctor says to them straight away and then don’t know who to ask to find out more. Break the ice by asking them if there’s anything they’re concerned about and being ready to answer their questions. Use plain, straightforward language and let them control the direction of the conversation. Sometimes, they may not have any specific worries but just feel daunted by the waiting process and need to hear a friendly voice. You can distract them while making them feel less alone and, therefore, less vulnerable. Listening Just as important as talking is listening. Patients sadly often feel that no one is paying attention to their concerns, so make sure that you give them the time and space to tell you what they think you need to hear. Often, just expressing worries can help them to go away, and you never know when there might be a genuine point of concern that has been overlooked. Talking also eases loneliness, and feeling that somebody cares enough to listen can make a big difference to a patient’s confidence, helping them to get everything else in perspective. Managing Visits Some patients – especially those who are in hospital for prolonged periods – live for the moments when their loved ones come to visit. Others feel exhausted by visitors but don’t know how to send them away. It’s your job to intervene discreetly to help keep them at a level that works for the patient. You may also be able to help with sensitive situations, finding quiet corners of the ward where patients can have difficult personal conversations, or helping them to celebrate special occasions with loved ones without disturbing others. Suggest Relaxation Techniques Sometimes, patients will realize that they need to relax but not know how to do so. If you’ve studied to ABSN level, then you should know a few techniques that can help with this. Teach them how to see off stress by taking long, slow breaths or how to distract themselves from panic attacks by observing objects around them. Reassure them that if this ever fails to work and they need help, you or another nurse you’ve introduced them to will be around. Explain that everybody suffers from stress sometimes, that it’s nothing to feel scared or embarrassed about, and that it will always pass. Seeing Patients As Individuals There is no one set of techniques that can be guaranteed to work with every patient, and recognizing this can help you to avoid making blunders. Things that some patients find soothing will be aggravating to others, and vice versa. Pay attention to the responses you get and encourage patients to feel that they can be honest with you. Beyond this, recognizing that they’re individuals helps them because it makes them feel seen and valued, so ask them questions about their lives and interests and be ready to engage with what they have to say. Although it can be a challenge and there will inevitably be moments when you feel your own stress levels starting to rise, helping your patients in these ways can also be one of the most rewarding parts of the job. There are, after all, not many jobs in which you can get paid for getting to know people, and you’ll often find that they have fascinating stories to share. By making the effort to connect and empathize, you’ll learn things that you would never have expected to, and over time your growing pool of knowledge will make you a better and better communicator. Simple friendliness and a little bit of humor can make a huge difference and turn a stressful hospital experience into one that ends up making the patient – and you – feel much better.