20th October 2023
In this week’s blog, we’re exploring how healthcare providers can support cardiovascular disease
patients with stress management. Take a look at the training guide below.
Why cardiovascular disease patients require stress management techniques and support
Last week I attended a pottery throwing workshop. Trying my hand at this is something I’ve wanted
to do for years (did I watch Ghost too many times as an impressionable teenager? Perhaps…) and
while my time at the wheel did not manifest any artistic genius, it did help me to feel more relaxed
than I have done in some time. There was something very freeing about focusing solely on the
‘making a plant pot’ task at hand, and for a couple of hours, day-to-day stresses were cast
completely out of my mind.
Such feelings of calm tie beautifully into the theme of this week’s blog, in which we are thinking
about ways in which patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD) can manage their stress levels.
Stress management techniques can be easy to identify for some of us, but for patients whose
symptoms and long-term health concerns may often be at the forefront of their minds, it can be
helpful for healthcare professionals to offer guidance if required. So, to help you support your
patients, we have pulled together five ‘top techniques’ that might help people with CVD to de-
5 Stress Management Techniques:
1) Exercise regularly.
We know that people who have heart conditions may feel nervous about
undertaking exercise, but getting the go-ahead from a healthcare professional may give
them the confidence boost they need. If patients aren’t comfortable discussing exercise,
reframe the subject as ‘keeping active’. Physical activity can be as gentle or as vigorous as
an individual wishes, so encourage reluctant patients to make small changes like walking to
work a few times a week, signing up for a gentle yoga class, or even just doing chores like
vacuuming or mowing the lawn.
2) Get enough sleep.
When we’re worried about health issues, our minds can go into overdrive
and falling asleep can be difficult, but getting between six and nine hours a night is key to
staying healthy. Talk through your patient’s sleep habits with them – how do they wind
down before bed? Are they eating or drinking late at night? – and identify any triggers that
may be affecting their sleep. If stress is causing insomnia or other sleep issues, signpost
patients towards talking therapies and, if exploring pharmacological interventions,
remember that some medications may not be suitable for patients with CVD.
3) Be mindful.
Some patients may be sceptical about mindfulness and believe that it ‘won’t
work for them’ but it is worth reminding patients that when we talk about mindfulness
what we really mean is, finding an opportunity to slow down. Encouraging people to spend
a few moments each day ‘in the moment’ – that is, focusing on their surroundings and
senses, rather than thinking about future concerns – can help to make challenges seem
more manageable and can offer a strategy for calming down in times of acute stress.
4) Stay connected.
Human interaction can be invaluable for managing stress, and while busy
schedules and finite appointment times can make it difficult to offer your patients an
opportunity to chat, it is important to support them to find connections outside of the
surgery. If you have a local social prescribing service, a referral can be the ideal way to start a
patient on the journey towards finding new hobbies, social networks, and even friendships.
Alternatively, discuss your patient’s interests with them and signpost to any community
groups where they might meet likeminded individuals.
5) Try something new.
Whether it’s trying a new hobby, cooking something different, or
reading a book by an unfamiliar author, breaking the routine can be exactly what patients
need to distract themselves from their health concerns. Support patients to discuss any
worries they might have about the impact of their explorations on their heart health and, where necessary, develop a plan in case anything goes wrong, but most importantly, ask
them to tell you all about their experiences next time you see them. Knowing that you have
a genuine interest in what they’re doing can often make patients keener to engage – they
might even bring their wonky plant pots to show you!
Coaching can be a positive and effective method when having conversations with patients about their stress levels and management techniques. If you’re interested in developing your coaching skills further, then take a look at our coaching courses, run with our partner, Peak Health Coaching. These course packages combine an opportunity to develop your coaching knowledge with a refresh on a clinical area such as CVD, asthma or diabetes.