When someone faces a terminal diagnosis, they also face the fear, grief, and uncertainty that comes with their condition. Anxiety is common among hospice patients as they face something they’ve never dealt with before. Feelings of stress and nervousness can turn into agitation, restlessness, and even panic. Hospice caregivers work to understand each individual patient’s anxiety—where it stems from, how it manifests, and which treatments offer relief. Soothing anxiety offers both physical and emotional relief and helps improve overall quality of life. Learn more about where end-of-life stress comes from and how to manage it with these ways to ease anxiety in hospice patients.
Understanding Anxiety in Hospice Patients
To address anxiety, caregivers must first understand the root cause of the issue and how it affects the patient. Like all behavioral disorders, anxiety looks and feels different for everyone. There might be multiple sources of stress causing fear and restlessness. Hospice teams must take the time to understand their patients’ unique perspectives and experiences so that they can identify and address the heart of the issue.
Sources of Fear and Stress
There are many things that can trigger anxiety. Even a seemingly small issue can prompt a panic attack or other intense bout of anxiety. However, anxiety is usually a lasting condition with one or more underlying sources. Pain from an illness or its treatment can increase stress and cause restlessness, agitation, and other symptoms of anxiety. The source can also be emotional. For many people, the thought of dying brings feelings of fear and uncertainty. Additionally, patients might feel like they still have responsibilities to take care of. End-of-life plans, lingering regrets, or even the need to say goodbye can add to a terminal patient’s anxiety.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can manifest as physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. Physical symptoms often include insomnia, increased heart rate, nausea, trembling, or difficulty breathing. Emotional or behavioral symptoms might appear as irritability, restlessness, or feelings of sadness or terror. In severe cases, patients might yell, cry uncontrollably, or exhibit repetitive self-soothing behaviors. Cognitive symptoms of anxiety include trouble focusing, irrational fears, or obsessive thoughts.
Patients with milder anxiety might be able to ignore or disguise their lesser symptoms. Anxiety symptoms might also look and feel like side effects of a condition or treatment, making them hard to accurately diagnose. If you fail to properly address anxiety, the problem can worsen and lead to panic attacks or other severe symptoms.
Ways To Ease Anxiety in Hospice Patients
Once hospice providers and caregivers understand where patient anxiety comes from and what it can look like, they can decide the best course of action to treat it. This might be a multi-pronged approach that simultaneously addresses physical comfort and emotional wellbeing. Keep in mind that everyone responds differently to anxiety treatments. Medications might ease one patient’s stress but worsen another’s. Therapy can be relieving or frustrating depending on who you are. Caregivers must work closely with patients to find the most effective path forward.
Intervening In the Moment
Anxiety can make an ordinary moment feel like the end of the world. During a panic attack, patients might be trapped in their thoughts and feel unable to breathe or focus on the world around them. Intervention can disrupt a panic attack and help patients calm down. One way to stop a panic attack is to distract the patient by replacing thoughts of fear and pain with happier, easier thoughts—such as a recent piece of news or what they had for dinner. Deep breathes can also combat the effects of a panic attack. Techniques like counting as you inhale and exhale slowly provide something easy to focus on as the body recenters itself.
Mindful breathing can also counteract the breathlessness and discomfort of a panic attack, making it easier for the patient to come back to themselves. These methods of intervention can help a patient calm down and refocus their thoughts. From there, patients and caregivers can work together to address the bigger issue that’s causing the anxiety and find ways to prevent the same problem from happening in the future.
Doctors may prescribe various medications to ease anxiety and its side effects. The most common anxiety medications fall into two main groups: benzodiazepines and antidepressants. Medications within the benzodiazepine family can help stop a panic attack and other severe anxiety symptoms in their tracks. Patients take these medications intermittently to soothe severe anxiety symptoms as they occur.
Antidepressants, on the other hand, act as preventative medications by regulating brain chemistry. However, antidepressants take several weeks to be fully effective. Like all medications, anxiety prescriptions come with advantages and drawbacks for every patient. Medical care providers must work closely with their patients to monitor the success and side effects of these medications.
Physical discomfort from other conditions makes anxiety harder to manage. Pain management and other forms of care increase a patient’s comfort, therefore easing anxiety and its symptoms. This is why hospice providers take a holistic approach to patient care. Hospice providers strive to manage symptoms and offer better support and comfort for their patients. When patients are in less pain, they can focus on happier things rather than obsessing over their condition or illness.
Counseling and Support
Emotional counseling can also prove beneficial in treating anxiety and its symptoms. Both one-on-one and group settings help patients voice and process their emotions in a safe and supportive environment. Additionally, group settings allow patients to connect with others who are experiencing the same or similar situations. This combats feelings of isolation and makes it easier to manage stress, fear, and uncertainty. In one-on-one settings, patients have a safe and private space to address their feelings. Patients and counselors can then work together to come up with treatments and coping strategies.
Coping With End-of-Life Circumstances
Patients might also be able to relieve their anxiety by addressing end-of-life conversations and decisions. Finalizing plans and achieving closure with loved ones can help patients feel more comfortable with their circumstances. This might mean finalizing a will, making funeral arrangements, or signing a DNR. Patients might also request visits from loved ones or write notes to leave behind. These efforts give people a chance to seek and offer forgiveness, reminisce on fond memories, and say goodbye to loved ones. Closure like this can help patients let go of some of their worries and move forward comfortably.
At Soulistic Hospice, we know the importance of addressing and working through patient anxiety. A thorough and holistic care plan allows teams to ease the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety while treating the root cause to the best of their ability. Learn more about how we support patients with our in-home hospice care in Tucson and its surrounding areas.