Deeper Look: Hospital Anxiety, and How to Handle It
April 13, 2018
Don’t panic! Hospital anxiety is perfectly natural. Nearly everyone goes through it at some point, especially as a child. When it rises inside of you, it can seem impossible to deal with. When it rises in your children, it can seem even harder. Luckily, hospital anxiety can be easy to quell — even if it’s only for enough time to get the medical attention that you need.
Hospital anxiety is a particular brand of panic that someone feels when walking into a doctor’s office, hospital, or urgent care center. Normally, hospital anxiety increases as waiting times do. It can come from many places and take many shapes. For one person, their fear might be needing to get shots. For others, they might worry about a prognosis that they don’t like. Whatever the cause is, hospital anxiety is important to get over.
No one has ever said, “I really wish I had waited longer to see a doctor.” Medical attention is here to help, but even good change can sometimes be frightening. Doctors happen to know a lot about the human body, and how to make it as healthy as possible. If you care about your health or the health of your family, you need to learn to cope with hospital anxiety. Fortunately, a little understanding and level-headedness can go a long way in helping to rid you of anxiety.
The Symptoms of Hospital Anxiety
Before going any further, it’s important to understand what hospital anxiety looks like. It’s not truly any different from regular anxiety. Symptoms will include a feeling of panic or dread. A person going through an anxiety attack will feel a sudden and intense feeling of fear, that will normally fade away. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety for longer than 10 minutes, you might be having a panic attack.
Other symptoms include sweating, trembling, heart palpitations, and chest pain. In extreme cases, the sufferer may begin to feel dizzy or nauseous.
The only differentiating factor between hospital anxiety and anxiety is the trigger. People who suffer from anxiety disorders may have an attack because of a variety of stimuli. They might, for example, become anxious in crowds of people, when driving a car, or during a job interview. People who don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder might still become anxious in certain situations.
Entering into a medical facility is a fairly common anxiety trigger in people who have a preexisting anxiety issue, and people who have never had anxiety before. It keeps many people away from ever seeing a doctor until it’s too late, in fact. While someone may hide behind stubbornness, refusal to see a doctor is often a veil for deep-rooted anxiety.
Because of that, it’s important to understand the base cause of hospital anxiety. As with many medical issues, the solution to hospital anxiety is to treat the cause and not the symptoms.
What Causes Hospital Anxiety?
Hospital anxiety primarily crops up in adults for three reasons: a feeling of guilt, a loss of control, and a reminder of mortality.
Guilt occurs when a person understands that they haven’t been maintaining their health properly. Be honest: when was the last time you sought medical attention that wasn’t immediately necessary? Do you get regular check-ups? If not, even if subconsciously, you might see hospital anxiety because you fear that you haven’t been properly taking care of yourself.
This goes hand-in-hand with the feeling you have lost control of your own health. When a person enters a hospital, they are leaving themselves in the hands of doctors. In many ways, this forces us to admit that we are not entirely invulnerable. As much as we consciously know that we aren’t, some part of us wants to believe that we are a superhero. It’s hard to remember that it’s okay to be human.
Finally, and similarly, hospitals remind us of our own mortality. Unfortunately, death cannot be stopped — only postponed. The fear of that moment encroaches on the lives of many, constantly lurking in the back of their minds. To live a healthy life, mortality must be embraced. Death is always a possibility, which should only be a reason to live as fulfilled as we can. Luckily, if mortality scares you, a hospital might be the most comforting place in the world.
The Cause of Hospital Anxiety in Children
Hospital anxiety occurs in children for an entirely different reason: children often fear pain.
This is very natural. Children early on learn to associate doctors with needles and rubbing alcohol, which even adults do their best to avoid. It can be extremely difficult to get a child to understand that one moment of intense pain can help to prevent much worse pain in the future. This anxiety is often more lasting, if less difficult from an emotional standpoint. Because this is less of an anxiety and more of a fear, it will be significantly lessened over time.
Doctors are aware of the fear that children have and can go a long way to help them get more comfortable. Doctors don’t give out lollipops because they hate dentists, but because it helps to create a positive association in the child’s mind.
How To Cope With Hospital Anxiety in Yourself
If you are dealing with hospital anxiety, remember to breathe. Deep breathing can go a long way in helping get rid of anxiety. If you have tried meditation before, any techniques you learned can help with hospital anxiety. Force yourself to clear your thoughts, and act in a way that will best affect your health. Remember that it is okay to be anxious, but not okay to let anxiety stop you. If you need care, it will be easier to deal with the anxiety than the pain.
You might also look for outside factors to help calm you. One popular method of coping with anxiety is music. With nearly everyone carrying a smartphone now, music is only a few clicks away. Once you’ve signed the paperwork and are simply waiting, putting your favorite music in your ear can go a long way. Books are another thing that help many people calm down, especially because it forces you into an active role.
If you can, you should have a friend or family member come to the hospital with you. Having someone to talk to can help relieve enormous amounts of stress. It’s especially helpful if the person you’re with is a good caregiver, or is able to assume the role easily. For many people, accompaniment by a partner or parent is the best option for relieving hospital anxiety. There are rare cases where the relative is more anxious than the patient, though, which is never good for hospital anxiety.
Positive affirmations can be helpful, as well. If you have no one else to give them to you, verbalize reminders that things will be okay. Remind yourself to trust in the hospital staff, and your own ability to heal. Remember that seeking care is the first step in getting and staying healthy. If you have entered the hospital, you are doing the best thing for your health.
How To Help Others Cope With Hospital Anxiety
The most important thing to keep in mind when helping someone else through hospital anxiety is that they are not in control of it. To a person not dealing with anxiety, the simplest solution is to stop being anxious. For the person suffering, though, this is not an option. They’ve already thought of it.
Everyone requires slightly different care when suffering from hospital anxiety, but there are a few things that can help nearly everyone. The first is to provide a distraction. When you are waiting for care, there is nothing else to be done. During this time, it’s best to remind the patient of things that aren’t the hospital. Ask them about the rest of their day, or their favorite TV show. Play a game together on your phone. It’s best to not let the hospital occupy brain space when it doesn’t need to.
You can also question them about their anxiety. Again: don’t directly attack the anxiety. Asking, “why are you anxious?” is often too confrontational, and will increase the issue. Instead, try to get them to open up through gentle questioning. “Are you okay?” “Is something on your mind?” If you can get the sufferer to admit their own anxiety, they will take over the job of getting rid of it. Often anxiety disappears once it’s thought about critically.
A Little Care Goes A Long Way
Of course, some people are “kick in the door” people. If you expect that a more confrontational approach would work, you are likely right. The best thing you can do for them is care. Having a little empathy and a lot of love can help you help your loved one. You know them better than anyone else, and that is the true key to help.
Something to Remember
Whether you are coping with your own hospital anxiety or aiding someone else, keep this in mind: hospital staff knows that hospital anxiety exists. They deal with it every day. A successful doctor knows how to help patients through it, and make them feel comfortable. No one goes into the medical profession selfishly: the backbone of medical care is care. Doctors, nurses, receptionists all want the best for patients and will go out of their way to deliver it.