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Six ways to help keep patients calm during radiography

For a radiographer, keeping patients calm during the radiography process can be challenging. Stress and anxiety levels will be high as patients prepare for a process they have perhaps been worrying about for a considerable amount of time. There are ways in which calm can be encouraged and nurtured, however, which should help make the entire process easier:

1. Deep breathing exercises

A widely renowned way to deal with stress and anxiety, deep breathing is perhaps the quickest, easiest and most efficient way to keep a worried patient calm. They can be encouraged to focus on it and to inhale through their nose, then exhale slowly from their mouth while counting to ten. Successful deep diaphragmatic breathing can also be aided by suggesting a lying down a position with hands placed on the stomach, watching them rise as the lungs are filled completely with air. Explaining and talking through this with the patient may also help to focus their mind and attention away from upcoming radiography.

2. Body positioning

Closely linked to deep breathing in terms of removing anxiety from the patient is good positioning that will allow them to relax and help the body manage its stress. Simple things come into play here; blankets, cushions, pillows and similar soft furnishings may seem at first glance to be basic or trivial, but can actually be pivotal in terms of helping a patient feel that they are able to let their body ease into its surroundings. A place to lie down or put legs up will remove the formality someone can feel if their only option is to sit up straight, and will help to move a patient's mind away from feeling they are in a situation and environment they don’t want to be in.

3. Tone of voice

The importance of how the patient is spoken to is brought to the fore when attempting to keep them calm. In his studies, Psychologist Albert Mehrabian concluded that communication with another human essentially falls into three fields; the words you use, your tone of voice and your nonverbal behaviour. All three elements combine to create the way in which you are received by the person you are speaking to. Applying this theory, all aspects should be honed towards a calm approach, which will allow the patient to place some element of trust in you, and further enhance the feeling that they are not in any danger, and that they are safe. When used in conjunction with other elements of this list, the impact can be significant.

4. Progressive muscle relaxation

Sometimes viewed as too complex an entity to clearly talk patients through, progressive muscle relaxation can be an efficient tool in keeping patients calm. With the aim of the technique being to identify and contrast feelings of stress and tension in order to be able to release it in a measured and structured manner, the method can take varied forms. Encouraging the patient to tense and relax different muscles in a sequence, many different parts of the body can be focussed on. Most common are the feet, the stomach and the legs, but it is important to advise the patient not to focus on areas where they have any actual physical pain. Simplifying progressive muscle relaxation is possible, and something as basic as clenching and unclenching the hands can be effective.

5. Imagery and visualisation

The notion of using imagery and visualisation in order to promote calmness is well documented and discussed in many different sectors, and can be easily adopted as a way to prepare patients for radiography. While some may find the notion of creating a safe imaginary place to inhabit and wait in too much at odds with their notions of what constitutes rationality, for others it can offer the perfect escape. Patients can be encouraged to imagine themselves in a natural environment, somewhere that can be familiar to them or completely fictional, and make it as appealing as they possibly can. It can thus be regarded as a sanctuary, a safe place and somewhere they can escape into as feelings of anxiety or anticipation arrive. A major benefit of this process is that the patient can utilise this place outside of the medical and hospital environs whenever they feel the need to.

6. Music and décor

Alongside the internalised notions of imagery and visualisation are external ideas which can be implemented, such as music therapy and the way in which waiting areas are structured and designed. Having a selection of music freely available for patients to choose from can bring significant calming benefits. Instrumental music will usually work best, with headphones used to help move focus fully to the music. Patients often associate hospitals with being cold and unwelcoming, so decorating a radiography department in warm colours and introducing paintings and pictures will help remove negative connotations as much as possible. Likewise, focal points such as sculptures, plants, puzzles or simple games may be helpful. It is important however not to make any areas too cluttered or overpowering, and consideration should be given to the type of patients the department most often receives. 

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