As nurses, we have all had our share of patients who are angry. It is never pleasant to deal with anyone who is feeling annoyed, but it is especially difficult when that person is our patient. We would all like to handle these situations professionally. Before we approach an angry patient, it is important to examine our own feelings.
One common reaction to anger from a patient is to feel angry ourselves. When patients get angry, we often feel defensive. We don’t understand why and may even think they don’t have a right to be angry.
“We are doing our best to care for him! How dare he get angry with us.” We indignantly say to ourselves and to each other.
This reaction, although understandable, does nothing to solve the problem. So if you react to anger, by becoming angry, it is important to diffuse these emotions before approaching an angry patient. When you are angry, you will have difficulty objectively solving the patient’s problem. Because you are not thinking clearly, you may say or do something you might regret later on. Consequently, you could lose respect for yourself or from others, credibility or even your job. So how do you get rid of your anger? Here are some strategies that might work for you.
Walk as fast as you can for 10 minutes or more depending on the level of your angst. Swimming, biking or any of your favorite sports work as long as you put enough energy into the activity to burn off some steam. Some people find punching a pillow or something soft helpful if there is no immediate opportunity to exercise. (Be sure to avoid hitting hard surfaces like tables or walls.)
Putting everything you would like to say to the person you are angry with down on paper can help rid you of all that emotion. When you are finished, send that email to yourself or tuck that letter into a drawer. Wait a week or just a few days. Read it again. Most of the time you will be glad you did not send it!
If writing alone doesn’t diminish your anger, consider saying what you want to say out loud. Yell and scream if you need to, just do it in your car or in a room with the door closed where no one will hear you. You might be surprised how therapeutic this can be.
Now that you are calmer, you are ready to help your angry patient solve the problem that is causing his strong emotion. Anger is a sign that something is not right and gives us an opportunity to correct a misunderstanding or resolve a conflict. The benefits of solving these problems are huge. We nurses can better meet our patients’ needs. Our stress decreases, and our work environment becomes more positive.