How to manage frustration, anxiety, and uncertainty.


  • Aside from the challenges of dealing with a life-altering situation, the ambiguity presented by hospitalizations can further exacerbate anxiety.
  • Knowing the hospital structure and system can be quite helpful.
  • Being there to support your loved ones during the various phases of care, whenever possible, is more important than we may think.
  • It’s normal to feel helpless and frustrated, so asking questions and learning to be patient is key while navigating a loved one’s hospital stay.

With increased hospitalizations worldwide, it has become very likely that many know someone who is or has been hospitalized. Aside from the challenges of contending with a life-altering situation, the ambiguity often presented by hospitalizations can further exacerbate anxiety.

As someone who both sees patients in the hospital and who has recently had family members in the hospital, I wanted to review some tips on how to best manage the situation as a family member or caregiver.

Knowing the hospital structure and system is crucial.

Certainly, unless you work in health care, you may only think about hospitals in the context of dire situations or planned medical procedures, but knowing some basic aspects of the medical system can be quite helpful.

Typically, in an emergency, an individual is first taken to the emergency department (ED), where there will be an attending physician who assesses the situation and decides what the next course of action should be (i.e., discharge to home, admission into one of the hospital departments, or immediate intervention).

Specialists such as neurologists and cardiologists may consult together in the emergency department, but typically they initiate treatment once the patient is admitted into the hospital for intervention and care.

Every department has its own rules for visitation and interaction with patients. Lately, given the current COVID-19 restrictions, those regulations have been much more stringent. Understanding hospital rules on visitation is important since it correlates to the next tip on managing the hospitalization of a loved one.

Be there for your loved one.

By simply being present, you can be immensely beneficial to your loved one in need. Too often, family members express that they feel they should be doing more or are not quite sure what they should be doing or saying. Nevertheless, your support is paramount since patients will be experiencing an array of emotions as they contend with the reality of facing a potentially life-altering situation. One does not have to worry about knowing or saying “the right thing,” but rather continuously expressing you are there for support can be very powerful.

It is also important to be present during the various phases of care whenever possible. Although the patient themselves may be quite knowledgeable about health care or may even be a physician themselves, while in the hospital, they are in the role of patient, and their primary mission is to recover. Having a loved one present for support, clarifying information, and being a sounding board for the patient is paramount.

During a course of treatment, there may be many professionals and support staff who will visit and provide information to the patient, so being able to help them navigate through all the information and assist in making informed decisions is important. With current COVID restrictions and safety precautions, visitation may be limited or not available, so finding alternate means of interaction, such as telephone calls and video conferences, becomes essential. Hospital staff is very often amenable to facilitating such interactions for family members.article continues after advertisement

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

This does not mean one should scrutinize each individual aspect of the patient’s care, but rather identifying the appropriate nurse on duty and primary doctor(s) who are managing the case is important. These professionals are often more than happy to provide information but are usually quite busy. Thus, writing down questions before approaching attending health care professionals can be helpful and facilitate better communication.

Most institutions also have patient portals through which access to pertinent health care information can be quite robust. Remember that, although it is important to be medically informed, it is unadvised to go down the proverbial Google-driven “rabbit hole” without a physician’s guidance. In our desperation to help, we often begin to search the Internet for every possible illness, treatment, or medication that is tangentially related to our loved one’s condition.

As a physician, I do not believe in lying to loved ones or patients, but one should always be cognizant of how certain information is presented. Notwithstanding, we should not shy away from a difficult conversation because this ultimately tends to make things worse.

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All we need is just a little patience.

Tip four is patience. The greatest test of resolve comes from the need for patience during hospitalizations. As family members, we must be patient with our hospitalized loved ones who may be exhibiting emotions such as sadness, frustration, or agitation. We must also be patient with the hospital team and know that while we wish for our loved one to have priority care, so does every other family member who has a loved one in the hospital.

Exchanging pleasantries and transparency with health care staff is the best way to navigate these interactions, along with ensuring we are caring for ourselves. Remember, if our intention is to help our loved ones as much as possible and be present, then we must ensure we are healthy enough to do so. This may entail time away from the hospital to engage in fundamental needs, such as eating and sleeping.article continues after advertisement

Finally, I would like to address those on the other side of the equation—the hospital staff and health care providers. As a clinician myself, I can understand that, with a high census and difficult cases, managing our professional time is paramount.

Still, as neurologist Dr. Kester Nedd says, “We must treat the patient.” Too often, we prioritize information on an electronic medical record while forgetting there is a human being who needs our attention. This also extends to family members and loved ones.

Doctors, nurses, support staff, and others do amazing work and continuously save and change lives. But it is truly a team effort. To the chagrin of some of my colleagues, it is not the doctor that is directing the course of treatment, but rather the patient.

In conclusion, a trip to the hospital can be a needed but unwelcome activity. We go there to get better with the intention to return to our daily lives, so it is normal for patients to become stressed and want to leave prematurely.

It is normal for family members to be frustrated and question the duration of treatments. And it is normal for hospital workers to want to expedite the process, especially when resources are scarce. Ultimately, we all should try to foster trust and support with one another during these difficult interludes, regardless of whether we are a family member with a loved one who is ailing or a health care worker with a full census of patients in need.

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