‘Breathe. Sit. Plan.’
Managing stress when the doctor’s news isn’t what you hoped.
Wesley Roberts Published: 3/12/2019
There’s everyday stress – finding a parking spot, meeting that work deadline hanging over you and finding time to follow up with your doctor about those nagging symptoms you’ve noticed.
Then there’s a whole new level of stress – getting a life-changing health diagnosis or an unexpected ER visit can be overwhelming for anyone, especially if it’s you or someone you love.
Your health care provider is your partner. You need him or her – and sometimes a full team of medical professionals – to help you manage the health crisis. Reducing stress is easier said than done but George Royal, PhD, chief of psychology at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville and Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, offers 9 ways you can keep a cool head and manage that “all-of-a-sudden” stress in the health care environment:
- Write it down. Communicating under immense stress can be a challenge. “When you’re anxious, stressed or depressed, it’s very difficult to remember things,” explained Dr. Royal. “Take a moment to write all of your questions down so when you have time with the doctor, you can remember what you need to know.” He also recommends bringing a friend or family member for support and repeating complicated information back to the care team to make sure you understand correctly. You can always ask for their information in writing, as well.Communicate your needs. Have a problem? There are three ways to express frustration but only one actually leads to a positive outcome.
- Communicate your needs. Have a problem? There are three ways to express frustration but only one actually leads to a positive outcome. (1) Take a passive approach. In this situation, you do not express your concerns, but rather walk away and do nothing. This often leads to more frustration and stress. It doesn’t get your concern addressed. (2) Take an aggressive approach. This is when your frustration turns into anger and leads to negative behaviors such as yelling, cursing and name calling. This behavior leads to increased stress, miscommunication and resistance for others to help you with your need. It often compounds the problem you are trying to solve. (3) Use an assertive approach. It’s the most effective way of expressing concern and it’s also the most likely approach to lead to better outcomes. This involves simply stating your questions, concerns, needs and/or feelings in a calm and direct manner.
- Know your resources or ask for help. “At Baptist Health, we have 24-hour support for the emotional aspects of the health care experience,” said Dr. Royal. “We’re here to care for you in body, mind and spirit.” Ask to speak with a chaplain, psychologist or social worker. They’re there for you and your loved ones.
- Stay active. If it’s a loved one in the hospital or you’re able to stay active, do it! Most hospitals have courtyards or healing gardens so you can take a walk and get some fresh air.
- Don’t Google. You’re searching “foot pain” and all of a sudden, you’ve landed on a webpage that makes you think your lateral cuneiform may have an isolated injury of direct trauma. This isn’t helpful to your stress and anxiety, and it’s likely not true. Diagnoses are individualized so skip Google and talk to a doc.
- Catch your ZZs. Take care of yourself by trying to get a good night’s sleep. If you have to stay at the hospital, bring a comfort item from home like your own pillow or blanket. A sleeping mask and earplugs may also help.
- Focus on the positives. “It’s easier said than done but it makes the biggest difference,” said Dr. Royal. “Surround yourself with positive people and do your best to think about the good things in life rather than dwelling upon the negatives.”
- Bring a friend. “Don’t go alone to appointments that make you anxious,” said Dr. Royal. “I encourage my patients to bring a friend to medical appointments. They can help you stay calm and provide support in times of stress.”
- Have a distraction. Waiting rooms are no fun, but sometimes waiting is inevitable. “Phones are a blessing and a curse. Avoid Google and play fun games or watch Netflix,” encouraged Dr. Royal. “Bring a book. Do a crossword puzzle. The point is, have something to help you pass the time.”
“Breathe. Sit. Plan,” advised Dr. Royal. “Stress and anxiety occur when we feel like we’ve lost control. Know which areas you can control, follow the steps above, and trust your physicians, nurses and health care team to take care of the rest.”
Baptist Health values your mental and emotional health as key components of your overall health. For 24-hour support during your visit, ask your health care provider to speak with the Spiritual Care Department or call 904.202.4242. For more information about Baptist Behavioral Health, visit baptistjax.com/services/behavioral-health.