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Dealing with Difficult Patients: High-octane energy

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Mania or an elevated mood is hard to miss. People who are manic have lots to say; have lots of places to go; have a wealth of ideas to share; and just don’t have enough time to explain all of their theories, schemes, and plans. Much like the Energizer Bunny, people with mania keep going and going, often after all of those around them have dropped with exhaustion, or walked away seeking quiet and solitude.

People with mania, especially those who have hypomania (a milder form of elevated mood and elation), love their episodes when they can say “I get so much done,” “I become super creative,” or “I am on the top of my game.” An episode can go something like this:

At first, when I’m high, it’s tremendous . . . ideas are fast . . . like shooting stars you follow until brighter ones appear. All shyness disappears, the right words and gestures are suddenly there . . . uninteresting people and things become intensely interesting. Sensuality is pervasive. The desire to seduce and be seduced is irresistible. Your marrow is infused with unbelievable feelings of ease, power, well-being, omnipotence, euphoria. You can do anything . . .

But then things take a turn:

The fast ideas become too fast and there are far too many of them. Overwhelming confusion replaces clarity . . .  you stop keeping up with it—memory goes. Infectious humor ceases to amuse. Your friends become frightened. Everything is now against the grain. You are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and trapped (Spearing).

And therein lies the problem: While in manic episodes, people deplete all of their own bodily reserves, and the reserves of others. Those caring for the manic person become exhausted themselves, generally depleting all of their emotional as well as physical energy reserves.

Making sense of manic patients

Don’t panic: When we are faced with dealing with a manic patient who is out of control, it can easily make us feel out of control too. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The patient is being controlled by his or her disease. Control of behaviors and feelings is simply not possible.
  • The patient lacks any insight into his or her behavior. People in manic states do not realize they are sick, and they are unaware of the consequences of their behavior. They reject any idea that any illness is involved, and they find excuses to try to make sense of what is going on around them.
  • The patient with mania becomes frustrated, often with others who cannot keep up with him or her. The patient may lash out and show his or her frustration in inappropriate ways. It often appears that the patient knows exactly how to push your buttons, or knows the exact things about which you are most sensitive.
  • The patient with mania is hyperalert. People in manic states are hypervigilant and are often aware of things going on in the environment that others do not pick up on.

Ways to prevent cycling
When working with manic individuals, you need to help them prevent the exhaustive cycles they live through. Although that is not always possible, you can help them identify and attempt to avoid the triggers that may lead to a mood swing. One of the most important aspects of managing manic episodes is to stick to a routine.

You can also help patients:

  • Set realistic goals. Having unrealistic goals can set up the individual for disappointment and frustration, which can trigger a manic episode. Advise the patient to do the best he or she can to manage his or her symptoms, but expect and be prepared for occasional setbacks.
  • Get help from family and/or friends. Everyone needs help from family and/or friends during a manic episode, especially if he or she has trouble telling the difference between what is real and what is not real. Having a plan in place before any mood changes occur can help the individual’s support network to make good decisions.
  • Make a healthy living schedule. This is important for those with mood swings. Many people with manic episodes find that sticking to a daily schedule can help control their mood. Some examples include regular meal times, routine exercise or other physical activity, and practicing some sort of relaxation each night before bed. Also, you can help to provide a balanced diet for the patient, focusing on the basics: fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less fat and sugar. Exercise uses up some energy and helps a person sleep better. Help the patient develop an exercise plan that fits his or her lifestyle. While in the hospital, taking walks around the unit during the day may benefit the patient.
  • Get enough sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep may be a challenge for a person with mania. Being overtired or getting too much or too little sleep can trigger mania in many people. While the patient is under your care, make up a schedule for rest and relaxation before sleep. Have the patient go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, and relax by listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a bath. Do not allow the patient to watch TV in his or her room.
  • Reduce stress. Anxiety can trigger mania in many people. Ask the patient what helps him or her relax. It might be calming music or a meditation tape. Avoid those things that hype people up, such as watching violent shows on TV or listening to loud music. Helping the person reduce stress in general at home and at work might help prevent episodes. Advise the patient to ask for help: A young mother may ask her spouse, family, or friend to take care of some of the housework. If the person’s job is proving to be too much, he or she can scale back some responsibilities. Doing a good job is important, but avoiding a manic mood episode is more important.
  • Avoid stimulants, alcohol, and drugs. Many people with mania may turn to substances to try to avoid a manic episode, or stimulating substances to elevate their mood. Up to 60% of people with mood disorders also have substance abuse problems. This self-medication may give them some temporary relief, but it will make their condition worse over time. Tell the patient to eliminate the use of caffeine, alcohol, and recreational drugs (Spearing).
  • Stick with treatment. It’s essential for people with mania to continue their medication and get regular checkups. It can be tempting to stop treatment because the symptoms go away. However, it is important to continue treatment as prescribed to avoid taking risks or having unpleasant consequences associated with a manic episode. If the patient has concerns about treatment or the side effects of medicines, talk with him or her and caution the patient not to adjust the medicines on his or her own.

Reference
Spearing, M. (2002). “Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. Available at www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/bipolar.cfm.

Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC is an HCPro author and contributed to the book Stressed Out About Difficult Patients.

 

Dealing with difficult patients: Basics of behavior

The following is an excerpt from Stressed Out About Difficult Patients

By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC

Let’s face it, most people go about their day doing one thing: trying to get their needs met. They try to meet their physical needs by providing themselves with shelter, food, and clothing; their emotional needs by searching out feelings of love and emotional comfort; and their spiritual needs by participating in activities that promote greater understanding of why things happen and determining the purpose of their lives. Theories of human behavior and growth and development have attempted to answer the question of why we do what we do, and how we go about our day getting our needs met. Let’s quickly review some of the classic theories as a way to explain behavior.


We are unaware (of most) of what we do

Sigmund Freud’s concept of the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind, and how it resembles an iceberg, offers one example of how the mind works and influences behavior. The visible part of the iceberg is the conscious mind, what we are aware of at any particular moment: our present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, and feelings. Working closely with the conscious mind, and just below the surface, is the preconscious mind. It contains those things that are not in our awareness all of the time, but that can be brought into our awareness easily. The largest part of the iceberg and the part that is below the surface is the unconscious mind which contains all the things we are not aware of, including many things that Freud believed we can’t bear to see, such as the memories and emotions associated with trauma. According to Freud, it is the unconscious part of us that drives our behavior (Freud, Boeree).

 

Reward me!

B.F. Skinner believed that a person’s behavior was a result of past consequences of his or her behavior. Very simply, Skinner believed that people continue to do things for which they are rewarded, and stop doing things for which they are not rewarded.

Skinner also believed that individuals do things to avoid pain or punishment, which means that if a person is punished for a certain behavior, he or she will act in ways to avoid the punishment. An example is a nurse who learns not to be assertive with a certain supervisor because that supervisor responds negatively to assertive behavior. Instead, the nurse uses other ways to get his or her needs met. Sometimes these behaviors are adaptive, such as learning how to address concerns in an indirect way to the supervisor; or maladaptive, such as agreeing to something the supervisor requests, and then not doing it.

Skinner’s theory basically boils down to praising or rewarding behaviors you want to see again, and ignoring or punishing behaviors you do not want to see again. Sound familiar? These are fairly basic concepts reviewed in many different situations from child rearing, patient teaching, and self-care management.

 

Addressing our needs in order

Abraham Maslow placed an individual’s needs in a hierarchy, believing that certain needs must be met before others. According to Maslow, needs at the base of the triangle must be satisfied before moving upward, with each step in the triangle needing to be met in succession. For example, a person cannot reach self-actualization, or becoming everything that he or she is capable of becoming, before getting all of his or her other needs met. Nurses know that you cannot teach a person a new procedure for self-care if the person is hungry, or sleepy, or in pain. Basic needs are taken care of before other, higher-level needs are attempted to be met.

 

Putting these theories to use

Using these theories in combination, nurses can come to understand human behaviors. By combining the concepts presented in these theories, we can outline fairly accurately why people do what they do:

  • We do what we do to get our needs met
  • Our behavior is directed toward providing for our physical well-being, regaining emotional equilibrium, and answering questions of purpose
  • Some, or most, of what we do is usually outside of our awareness
  • We often respond to situations using behaviors that have worked for us in the past, and these learned behaviors may have become automatic responses for us; we use them even without thinking
  • Some of what we deal with on a daily basis may have more to do with past experiences than with the present moment
  • Taking care of basic needs is imperative, and focusing on higher-level needs occurs only after our most basic needs are met
  • Life is a series of growth opportunities, the outcome of which leads to maturity and moving on

Theoretical understanding is a way of trying to comprehend something. Not being right or wrong—or good or bad—the concepts of the theory can be used by nurses to understand behavior and develop strategies to handle it in helpful and fulfilling ways. By recalling the basic concepts of human behavior, and observing it through the lenses of these concepts, you look at human behavior objectively and do not take what patients do as anything directed to you personally.

3 tips to resolve staff conflicts

Nurse managers often find themselves in the middle of conflicts, including personal conflicts between staff, nurse-patient conflicts, and interdepartmental conflicts. These issues can be disruptive, and lead to a decrease in productivity and staff morale. This makes the ability to resolve conflicts an essential skill for nurse managers, but nurses rarely receive formal training in conflict resolution. Here are some three tips to manage conflicts in your unit in a stress-free and effective manner.

Active listening: When faced with a conflict, it’s important to listen to what a person has to say and understanding their perspective. This means meeting face-to-face, asking open-ended questions, and listening without interrupting. Observe important nonverbal cues and make sure each side in a conflict understands the other’s perspective.

Keep calm: Emotions can get heated in the midst of a conflict; work to recognize your own emotions, as well as the feelings of those involved. Try to maintain a compassionate understanding for those involved, and acknowledge their feelings when analyzing a problem.

Stay positive: The negativity of some disputes can sometimes seem overwhelming. If you can manage to maintain a positive attitude and a calm demeanor, you’re well on your way to resolving most conflicts.

Source: Minority Nurse

For more about communication and conflict resolution, check out our educational articles from the Strategies for Nurse Managers Reading Room:

Hone your skills as a nurse mediator to manage staff conflict

Improve communication with these teaching strategies for the classroom

Excerpt: Dealing with the cyberbully

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, highlighting the dangers of bullying in all settings. The following is an excerpt from Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility: Why Nurses Eat Their Young and Each Other by Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN that explores the dangers of cyberbullying in the nursing unit.

Facebook boasts more than 1.86 billion monthly users worldwide, with more than 40% of Americans logging in every single day. In 2007, Twitter reported 5,000 tweets a day; and in only six years, tweets jumped to more than 400 million. Ten years later in 2017, we tweet 6000 tweets per second. (Zephoria) Without a doubt, we have entered the digital world:

  • Fifteen nurses received letters of warning from their State Board of Nursing after they were reported by their nurse executive for “liking” a derogatory comment that one nurse posted about a husband who was uncaring and unsupportive during childbirth. They did not heed the first warning.
  • A nursing student was dismissed from the program after taking a picture of herself holding an unidentified placenta and proudly commenting how thrilled she was to assist at her first birth.
  • A group of nurses who were friends started a conversation on Facebook which included several disparaging comments about a nurse they didn’t like, as well as remarks on the safety of the organization’s staffing levels.

We talk to each other on online chat rooms in casual conversations that feel so real we forget that no discussion in this virtual world is ever private. Every one of the nurses in the above situations had no idea that they were violating professional ethical guidelines by breaching confidence.

As social networking becomes more integrated into our daily lives, the boundaries between social conduct and professional misconduct are becoming increasingly difficult to navigate.

—Rose Sherman, EdD

While it is generally accepted that we cannot speak about our patients, even anonymously, many nurses do not realize that it is also not professional to speak about a coworker. According to the National Council for the State Board of Nursing policy on Social Media, any online comments posted about a coworker may constitute lateral violence; even if the post is from home during non-work hours. Communication modes for cyberbullying include: instant messaging, email, text messaging, bash boards, social networking sites, chat rooms, blogs, and even Internet gaming.

Nurses often fail to realize that deleting a comment does not erase it. Talking about coworkers is unprofessional and contrary to the standards of honesty and good morals (moral turpitude). Depending on the laws of a jurisdiction, a Board of Nursing may investigate reports of inappropriate disclosures on social media by a nurse on the grounds of:

  • Unprofessional conduct
  • Unethical conduct
  • Moral turpitude
  • Mismanagement of patient records
  • Revealing a privileged communication
  • Breach of confidentiality

Guidelines for nurses victimized by cyberbullying

  • Save all evidence. Copy messages or use the “print screen” function. Use the “save” button on instant messages.
  • First offense: Ask to speak to the person in private and bring a copy of the evidence. Use the D-E-S-C communication model.
    • Describe: “I was on Facebook yesterday and my friend sent me this post because it was about me.”
    • Explain the impact: “I was really surprised because I had no idea that you didn’t like working with me, or that that was the reason you switched weekends.”
    • State what you need: “No one is perfect. Next time could you come to me privately and let me know if you are having any issues so that we can work together to resolve them?”
    • Conclusion: “I am willing to learn how we can be more mutually supportive of each other for the sake of our relationship, our team, and our patients.”
  • Document the conversation and the outcome.
  • Second serious offense: Report to manager (if not serious, try a mediated conversation).
  • Third serious offense: Report to the chief nursing officer.

Manager guidelines

  • Verbalize that no bullying or hostility of any kind will be tolerated, including online.
  • Set the expectation that all staff are responsible for monitoring their virtual world. Don’t assume the parental or vigilante friend role.
  • Educate staff on standards and policies, and provide examples.
    • National Council of State Board of Nursing Guidelines
    • Hospital/organizational policy (including use of hospital computers, cell phones, etc.)
    • Review common myths. Use case studies from NCSBN YouTube.
  • Be supportive of online targets and take derogatory online comments seriously.

 

Source: National Council for the State Board of Nursing: www.ncsbn.org/2930.htm

Clinical Nurse Leaders, partners in quality improvement

Quality within any healthcare system depends on improving patient outcomes, which rely on continual nursing professional development and overall improvements in system performance. One of your most important resources for managing such improvements is the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL). This clinician is a Master’s prepared Advanced Generalist nurse who builds quality measures in patient care outcomes and implements evidence-based practice principles at the clinical point of care and service. These outcomes align with the facility’s goals and strategic plan and can positively impact patient care processes.

 

For example, when working with a CNL, you can align the care team with strategic performance goals. CNLs and the Quality Systems team are important resources for strategic planning for quality and performance improvement (objectives, priorities, expectations, deliverables, and timelines). Working together, you can establish an infrastructure for engaging and motivating staff and other team members to work toward achieving improved patient care outcomes within the organization’s measures of performance. CPI only happens when everyone engages to improve management of operations and care delivery.

 

As the context of healthcare environments continually evolves and changes, your role becomes more complex and demanding. However, these growing challenges offer expanding opportunities for developing partnerships with your nurse manager, CNLs, and interprofessional team members to improve quality, practice, and competency in managing unit operations and coordinating patient care. By taking of advantage of these opportunities, you can help create a unit culture of safety, quality, and practice excellence.

Source: The Effective Charge Nurse Handbook

Registered nurses not immune to industry influence

There’s been a concerted effort over the last few years to provide transparency for medical industries interaction with doctors, thanks to the Physicians Payments Sunshine Act instituted by the US Senate in 2010. The Sunshine Act requires medical manufacturers, such as drug and medical supply companies, to report payments and gifts given to physicians and teaching hospitals; the goal is to ensure that doctors are not swayed to make care decisions based on financial gains and prevent conflicts of interest. Last fall, two senators proposed a bill to amend the Sunshine Act that would include nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) as well, acknowledging that NPs and PAs wrote 14% of all drug prescriptions in 2014 and require the same transparency as doctors.

A new study released this week suggests that even registered nurses (RNs) without prescribing authority could be subject to these sort of interactions with the medical industry. All of the RNs that participated in the study said they had interacted with industry over the past year, averaging 13 one-on-one meetings over the year. Many also participated in sponsored meals or events, received gift offers and product samples, and some received payments for speaking, consulting, and market research work. Most interactions were with medical device and pharmaceutical companies, but some reported interactions with health technology and infant formula industries as well.

Though RNs don’t have prescribing authority, many nurses are part of purchasing committees for their facility. RNs play an integral role in decision-making throughout their facility, and there are no regulations for transparency between RNs and medical industries. Though the sample size is small (56 RNs participated in the study), the authors of the study think the results warrant additional research and regulation. As the largest and most-trusted healthcare profession in the US, it’s important to make sure RNs maintain their trustworthy reputation with their patients.

You can read the full study here, and an editorial accompanying the study here.

For more information about open payments data, check out CMS’s open payments site.

Combating depression in nurses

Nurses are twice as likely to experience clinical depression than the general population. Why aren’t we talking about it?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) found that 18% of nurses exhibit symptoms of depression, compared to the 9% found in the general public. Nurses are happy to talk about their staff shortages or their back problems, but we almost never see serious discussions about mental health issues.

Minority Nurse suggests that nursing culture exacerbates the depression issue. Nurses take great pride in their survivability and toughness; they often see trials facing new nurses as a proving ground, a way of weeding out those who are not cut out for the job. This leads nurses struggling with depression to bury their feelings and work twice as hard, which will make things worse in the long run.

There’s also the idea that mental health issues are seen as a weakness. Nurses rely on each other to be reliable and trustworthy, and someone who is struggling might be easily dismissed as unreliable. This puts their job at risk, and can affect their relationship with peers. Additionally, the nurse mentality is to put the care of others first; many nurses might not release why their suffering, as they so rarely address their own needs.

If admitting they have a problem or asking for help is often the last thing a nurse wants to do, how do you help them? The process starts with nurse managers. Educating managers about the warning signs of depression, and they in turn train their staff to recognize the condition in themselves and their peers. Coming up with strategies to help depressed nurses that aren’t punitive and making sure their staff have resources available to them can help alleviate the fears associated with mental illness.  Showing the staff that it’s okay to talk about mental illness and that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness will help change the “tough it out” culture of nursing.

Addressing mental health issues can help improve nurse retention as well. Instead of “weeding out” the weak links, supporting new nurses through a crisis and encouraging them to get help will keep them at their jobs longer, and make them better nurses for the rest of their career.

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Free tool from Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility

As promised last week, we’ve added a free download downloadicon3from Kathleen Bartholomew’s Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility, Second Edition, in honor of being the only book chosen by the American Nurses Association as a recommended bullying and horizontal hostility prevention tool.

To access the download site for a tool you can use to evaluate the health of your workplace as regards bullying, lateral violence, and other undesirable behaviors, click here.

To read last week’s story the ANA position statement on workplace violence and the nursing profession, click here.

New ANA Hostility Prevention Guide Recommends Bartholomew Book

On August 31, the American Nurses Association issued a press NTNH2 coverrelease announcing its updated position statement on workplace bullying and violence, stating that the “nursing profession will no longer tolerate violence of any kind from any source.”

Among the interventions recommended as “primary prevention” is the HCPro classic work by Kathleen Bartholomew,
Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility, Second Edition. In fact, Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility has the distinction of being the only book recommended to RNs and their employers in the statement as a front line tool for preventing incivility and bullying.

We are so honored to have published Kathleen’s work, and congratulate her for this wonderful recognition of a lifetime commitment to making the nursing workplace a healthier, more collegial place. If you would like to add your best wishes, feel free to comment below!

Free tool: Build nursing team self-esteem

As promised in last week’s post, Try This: Build nursing team self-esteem, downloadicon2the exercise that Kathleen Bartholomew uses to encourage nurses’ self-esteem has been posted to our Tools Library.

To download the Hierarchy of Voice tool, click here.

 


Excerpted from Ending Nurse-to-Nurse Hostility, Second Edition, by Kathleen Bartholomew