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How To Defuse A Tense Situation: 5 Expert Tips For Dealing With Aggressive Patients


Nurses are professionals who deeply care about their patients. Its usually the patients that make the long hours, excessive paperwork, and sore feet that make being a nurse worth it. However, not all patients are always communicative, understanding, or kind, and sometimes they can really put your patience to test.

You know who they are: people who are rude, angry, and aggressive; patients who demand certain tests even though they don’t need it; patients who yell at everyone and who are difficult to talk to or care for. No matter what you do, you can’t please them or reach out and connect with them. Even though they are fairly rare, these patients take a big fraction of your time, often making you feel as if you are fighting a pointless battle. These patients can be rude, aggressive or, at times, dangerous, and working with them can be frustrating and tiring.

So, how do you handle them? First of all, you need to spot the primary signs of aggression before learning how to defuse a tensioned situation.

  1. Understand the Root of the Problem

There are several different reasons why patients develop aggressive behavior. For instance, some people simply have a tendency towards aggressive or disrespectful behavior and don’t know how to deal with their negative emotions.

Some patients might become aggressive because of their situation. They might not understand what’s happening to them or their loved ones and that combined with stress, fear, and anxiety could make them more difficult to handle.

In some instances, the patient’s physical condition can lead to their hostile actions. For example, patients who suffer from Alzheimer or other brain disorders can sometimes become aggressive. Also, patients who suffer from a mental disorder can sometimes become violent.

Aggressive and dangerous behaviors don’t always start out suddenly. In some cases, the anger and frustration build up due to lack of communication or misinterpretation. You need to pay attention to the early signs of disruptive behavior and manage the situation before it gets out of control and someone gets hurt. Signs of aggression include a change in the tone of voice, sweating, clenched fists, or fidgeting.

  1. Don’t Take It Personally

It’s incredibly easy to assume that a patient is frustrated because of you, but it’s almost never the case. Remember that your patients are under enormous stress, and they are most likely scared and confused. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand that a person in a hospital bed is someone vulnerable, who probably doesn’t know how to handle the situation.

  1. Show Them That You Care

Patients might turn a minor request into a drama if they feel that they’re not listened to or cared for properly. Put aside your frustration with the patient’s behavior and try as hard as you can to meet their needs. Some patients will treat you like their personal assistant, asking you to bring them coffee or arrange their pillows. Swallow your pride and help them as you can. You will soon see how their demeanor will change.

  1. Remain Professional and Respectful

There will be many instances in which you will feel tempted to confront them. However, under no circumstances should you respond to anger with violent or abusive behavior. Keep your calm and remind yourself that your patient is in a vulnerable state, and you are there to take care of them. Maintain a calm tone of voice and address them respectfully. If you feel like you’re about to lose your cool, leave the room, take a deep breath, and remember that they probably dislike the situation they are in more than you.

If things get out of your control, call for help.

  1. Try to Connect with Them

Sometimes, something as simple as sitting down with the patient and making them feel listened to can go a long way. Take the time to know your patient to show them that you care about them as a person not just as another task on your to-do list. Talk to their family and try to learn as much as you can about their hobbies, interests, dislikes, and so on. Let them know that their opinions are valued, and you are doing everything in your powers to meet their needs.

Dealing with difficult patients is frustrating, and it can often feel like you are wasting your time. It takes dedication, passion, skill, and patience. In fact, lots of patience. But, even though aggressive patients can be a challenge, you can’t avoid them. Hopefully, these strategies will help you handle every patient with compassion, patience, and empathy.

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