How To Respond During Emotional Situations


EmpathyOur patients experience a full range of emotions—from sadness and anger to fear and joy.

As the trusted nurse, what do you do if your patient begins to cry? What if your patient is filled with anxiety or anger? How should you react when your patient receives bad news?

Many of us find ourselves fearful that we will say the “wrong” words. While every situation varies, here are some tips:

Be Empathetic. Consider your patient’s perspective and feelings. By understanding where your patient is coming from, you may become more effective and understanding of your patient’s needs. If your patient seems to want to talk, thinking about ways you would want others to respond to you with a combination of your patient’s personality is beneficial in therapeutic responses. Being empathetic increases genuineness and helps the flow of the conversation.

Silence is Golden. If you are unsure of the best way to respond, respond with silence (sometimes known as “holding space”). It may feel awkward but silence speaks when words do not. Sometimes people need silence to gather their thoughts and deal with their emotions. Although you are silent, be sure to actively listen and focus on your patient’s needs. Also consider nonverbal cues: Are you conveying openness in your body language? Or fear? Or pity? Take comfort in knowing that silence can transcend judgment and be the ultimate expression of compassion.

Do Not Judge. Your patients are brave! It takes courage to openly express thoughts and emotions and it’s important that your patients understand having that right. Even if you feel judgment, know that it is yours and do not express it nor alter the way you provide care. Self-assess and remember that our role includes providing skilled, quality nursing care and emotional support, as well as, informing patients of their options when facing tough decisions.

Be Open. Don’t be afraid to ask a patient what is bothering them and how you can help. Some patients may choose not to talk about it—and that’s fine. Others may want to express themselves but are not sure how to start. You are in a unique position to empower your patient and help them face their circumstances and, perhaps, make changes. Although both are asking the same question, “why are you crying/upset?” sounds different than “would you like to talk about what is bothering you?”.

Reflect. If your patient asks you for advice, be aware that your patient is the primary focus and sharing your opinion may do more harm than good. Redirect their question back to them and, if appropriate, ask questions about how they feel, what they want, and what they are unsure about. Redirecting your patient’s questions back to them allows them to reflect on their feelings and thoughts and work through them.

Trust Your Instincts. Provided you are good at differentiating between what you need and what your patient needs, allow your gut to guide your responses. This will help you discern when to provide a hug, when to respond with words or silence, or when to offer your patient space.

All situations are unique, and ultimately, there is no perfect response. Being afraid to say the “wrong” response will inhibit you from learning the “right” one. Times will occur when you feel uncomfortable, which is 100% normal. Being uncomfortable is a learning opportunity for growth. When communicating, the main objective is to remain genuine.

Have you ever needed to comfort a patient who was going through a difficult time? What did you do? How did you comfort them? Tell us in the comments sections below!

This blog post was written by Marquina Watts, MSN, who is a Nurse Resident at Independence Plus.


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