Identifying an Overwhelmed Patient with a Chronic Condition

It can be very easy for patients with a chronic condition to become overwhelmed by their diagnosis. For many, such a diagnosis could mean significant changes in their daily life and this realization can be quite the stressor. If patients are not informed enough of their condition, they may become overwhelmed and assume the worst, when in reality, with the right treatment and routine, their condition can be manageable. To ensure that you, as a physician, are providing the best possible care to your patients with chronic conditions, it is vital that you can identify an overwhelmed patient and provide them with the resources and comfort to ease their minds. 

Feelings of Overwhelming Stress


Being diagnosed with a long-term chronic condition can be frightening, particularly for patients uninformed about their condition. Patients may fear how their condition will affect their quality of life or how they will learn to manage their condition. These fears may be further accelerated if patients have a preexisting condition, are solely responsible for caring for themself or others, or have financial restraints. Such concerns can quickly become overwhelming feelings of panic and stress, making patients even more vulnerable and scared. 

With most chronic conditions, patients will have to make some lifestyle adjustments - which can be daunting to anyone. Patients may have to deal with ongoing pain or discomfort, undergo new medications or treatments, adjust to new limitations on mobility, take on new financial responsibilities, or handle feelings of frustration and stress. 

That being said, by taking the right steps to maximize their quality of life, patients can manage their chronic conditions and still have a fulfilling life. While the challenges of living with a chronic condition will always be present to some extent, healthcare providers can help patients to minimize these challenges and help them manage their condition. Such management can be done through treatment, medications, routine - and education. 

By educating patients on their chronic conditions, physicians can significantly reduce the feelings of being overwhelmed by stress or panic. Many patients fear that they will never learn how to manage their condition, but with the help of their provider, it is possible. 

The more informed that patients are of their condition, the more success they will find in managing it and coping with feelings of stress produced by their condition. For this reason, it is vital that providers can recognize the signs of an overwhelmed patient and provide them with methods to reduce this stress


Signs of an Overwhelmed Patient




A common sign of being overwhelmed that may not immediately be recognized is outward signs of frustration and anger. Upon hearing their diagnosis, or as their condition worsens and some tasks become more difficult, patients may have outbursts of anger instead of voicing their concerns. Patients may get angry in an attempt to cope with feelings of fear or stress, as anger is another outlet for extreme emotions. 


Feelings of Hopelessness


Perhaps a more common sign of being overwhelmed in a patient with a chronic condition is feeling hopeless. While this sign is not always apparent from the outside, it can be recognized in a patient’s behavior. If patients feel hopeless about their diagnosis and condition, they may begin to pull away from their loved ones and isolate themselves. Another sign of these feelings could be having low or no energy, no longer doing things they once enjoyed or avoiding responsibilities. 


Refusing Treatment


Another clear sign of being overwhelmed is if a patient immediately refuses treatment. If a patient refuses to take their medication, receive treatment, or manage their condition, it is likely because they are overwhelmed. Living with a chronic condition can require some significant life changes, and as a result, some patients may refuse all attempts at managing their condition if in denial of their diagnosis. 


Methods to Help Overwhelmed Patients


Accepting the reality of being diagnosed with a chronic condition can be a significant stressor for patients. As a provider, it is your responsibility to guide patients through what can be a difficult and upsetting time. Recognizing common signs of stress and panic in patients is essential to helping them come to terms with their diagnosis and manage their condition. That being said, here are some excellent solutions to mitigating patient anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. 


Educate Patients on Their Condition


For many patients, feelings of anxiety and fear root from being misinformed of their condition. Patients may immediately assume the worst of their diagnosis and begin to panic. In reality, many chronic conditions can be managed, allowing patients to live normal and fulfilling lives. To help patients come to this understanding, it is critical that they learn about their condition from their provider instead of a third-party or online source. 

Providers should have an explicit conversation with their patients about the reality of their condition, including long-term effects, what to expect over time, treatment options, and how to manage their condition for the best possible outcome. Such a conversation can significantly ease the worries of patients and ensure that they manage their condition effectively. 


Help Patients Self-Manage


Another common concern for patients with chronic conditions is losing their independence and autonomy. Patients fear that they will not be able to care for themselves or live their life the way they once did. To address these concerns, providers should teach patients how they can care for themselves and make small changes to maintain independence with their condition. 

Examples of this may include managing their prescriptions, scheduling appointments, and managing their exercise and diet. It is also important to discuss with patients that while they can maintain their independence with their condition, sometimes they will need help - and it is okay to ask for it. 


Suggest Support Groups


It can be easy for patients to feel overwhelmed by their condition if they feel alone in their struggles. For this reason, suggesting support groups to patients can significantly help in reducing feelings of isolation and anxiety. By meeting with others living with the same condition, patients can vent to someone who understands and shares their frustrations. Additionally, as patients have exposure to others with the same condition, they can find hope in looking beyond their diagnosis. 


Practices to Reduce Stress


As chronic conditions are long-term ailments, feelings of stress may come and go with patients. As such, there may not be a permanent solution to being overwhelmed. Fortunately, providers can suggest that patients take up a stress-reducing hobby or activity that they can easily turn to when overwhelmed. 

Common activities may include walking, reading, listening to music, meditating, cooking, and spending time with loved ones. Depending on the patient’s condition, it is important to offer an activity that is possible with chronic pain or limited mobility. 


Easing Patient Concerns


Being diagnosed with a long-term chronic condition can cause anyone to become overwhelmed. In addition to making changes to their lifestyle, patients must deal with feelings of frustration, fear, and anxiety. To add to this stress, most patients don’t know anyone with the same condition, resulting in feelings of isolation. 

Left unchecked, these stresses can become overwhelming and do nothing to help patients manage their condition. For this reason, it is essential that healthcare providers can identify the signs of an overwhelming patient and help ease their concerns before they become harmful. 

By educating patients, providers can significantly soothe patient anxieties and help them manage their condition. As a result, patients can understand how to maintain their health and independence, allowing them to live a fulfilling life with a chronic condition.


Once of the best ways to stay in contact with patients and help them self-manage their condition is through telehealth. If you're interested in learning more, download our guide. 


Download "Future-Proof Your Practice" Free


About the author - Mircea Popa

Mircea Popa is the CEO and co-founder of Medicai. Mircea previously founded SkinVision, a mobile app designed to detect melanoma (skin cancer) through ML algorithms applied on images taken with smartphones. He believes that a multidisciplinary approach to medicine is possible only when everyone has access to a better way to store, transmit and collaborate on medical data.