Anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty and the unknown, both of which are in ample supply for hospital patients. Nurses can help reduce patient anxiety through many methods including effective communication, active listening, personal visits, medication, music, and aromatherapy.

Each nurse develops ways to recognize signs that patients feel anxious or in distress. They learn how to respond in a way that reassures, shows compassion, and reduces patient anxiety. Reaching that point requires learning the best techniques for reducing patient anxiety and gaining experience putting them into action.

Students in an online RN to BSN program learn the best ways to calm patients’ fears. Houston Christian University nursing students, for example, learn pathophysiology concepts for applying care and healing practices. They also learn skills for community nursing that will include dealing with anxious patients.

Causes of Patient Anxiety

According to a report on patient anxiety published in Nursing Standard, many patients feel discomfort and uncertainty before a planned medical test or procedure. While normal, such feelings with patients may trigger stress responses that impact their outlook, recovery process, and healing capabilities, according to an article published in OR Nurse.

The causes of patient anxiety vary by person. For surgical patients, they may feel anxious about the reason for surgery. Some fear the unknown when undergoing a diagnostic test. Other typical concerns include feeling a loss of control and the helplessness of having to rely on others. Simply being in an unknown place can also induce stress.

These issues multiply in a time such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, and not just for patients. Nurses must take care of their own mental health first, which is why the American Nurses Foundation created the Well-Being Initiative to support nurses.

In all these situations, a nurse serves as the main point of contact for patients. The need to promote calm and offer understanding becomes part of the job. While experience gives nurses a better handle on what works best in certain situations, long-time nurses find some of the following offer the best places to start.


Effective Communication

One of the most basic approaches is the most effective. Patients often feel confused and distressed by what is happening in the foreign environment of a hospital. Nurses help calm them by introducing themselves and explaining what they are doing and why they are doing it. It’s helpful to bring handouts with information. The more a patient knows about what is going to happen, the more control and calm they will feel.

Practice Active Listening

Nothing sparks stress quite like feeling ignored and uncertain. The best nurses listen to what patients say, taking their concerns and questions seriously. Active listening skills provide a great deal of anxiety relief for patients. This includes asking open-ended questions, asking about their feelings, and taking interest in what they are saying. Nurses show active listening by giving patients their full attention and repeating back interesting information.

Music and Aromatherapy

Studies show both music and aromatherapy can lessen patient stress, according to the OR Nurse report. However, a fast-paced perioperative area might not provide the chance to practice either. At the very least, some patients feel less stress if allowed to listen to music on headphones before a test or procedure.

Allowing Visits

A patient with family present at the hospital gives nurses the option of allowing short visits before surgery or a test if allowed. Family can lower a patient’s stress if allowed to visit. However, nurses must stay alert for the opposite: patients becoming more stressed with family in their room.


In some cases, the best course is to offer patients medicine for anxiety. The medical team typically asks about this during a pre-operative interview. That way, they can tailor the medication plan to the patient.

Nurses face many challenges. None may prove as difficult, or happen as often, as dealing with stressed-out patients. Offering calm and comfort is part of a nurse’s job. It not only helps a patient and their family get through a difficult time but also can help patients experience additional benefits from the healthcare they receive. Make sure you are prepared to handle whatever emergencies may occur in our online RN to BSN program. Learn more about the critical skills needed in order to reduce your patient’s anxiety.