Anxiety in Hospice


Shining a light on the subject during Anxiety Awareness Month

Feeling stressed is common for patients and families in hospice. It’s normal, and it seems to be more prevalent right now because resilience is depleted due to the stress and isolation of

Covid-19. Fear, grief, and uncertainty are real emotions that can’t be pushed aside by a patient approaching end of life. Patients can be fearful of the unknown journey of dying, so asking hospice caregivers what to expect can be helpful. Patients also often worry about unfinished business within relationships and other areas of life. Stress and nervousness can turn into agitation, restlessness, and even panic. Hospice caregivers listen to understand each individual case and help each patient and family member work through it.

Our Lady of Peace hospice nurse Kay Evenson recommends that a patient with anxiety find the places of meaning in their life by asking, what did I do well? What was my purpose? This can help identify where the anxiety is coming from. “Patients know the life they know will end soon and they’re going somewhere else,” she says. “They’re dealing with mortality, and they’re scared. They need reassurance and support from outside the family, but they often fear they will be a burden, if they ask for it. I encourage people to reach out for support because we’re here to help. And if it’s more than we’re able to do, we’ll refer them to sources that can help.”

Family members shouldn’t ignore what they’re feeling either, especially under the added stress of supporting a loved one, amid their own sadness and additional daily responsibilities. For many, wrapping up affairs and making funeral arrangements for a loved one while working and managing their own life is stressful in and of itself. And it’s important to determine specifically what causing the stress.

Our Lady of Peace hospice social worker Carol Kuisle, LICSW encourages people to ask for help and turn to someone who can provide support, without judgement. “Sometimes simply allowing people to talk about what they think is causing their stress and validating that it’s real, is helpful,” she says. “Being able to talk about stress and anxiety with a trusted person can help and sometimes it’s better to talk with someone outside the family, like clergy or a social worker who can work in tandem. With us, there is no judgement.”

It’s clear that end-of-life circumstances can escalate anxiety, especially when heart strings are being tugged, so it’s important to have your toolbox in order. Our Lady of Peace Bereavement Services Director Amy Cotter says the toolbox looks different for everyone. She offers these recommendations for family members experiencing stress and anxiety:

  1. Focus on your breath

Little moments of mindfulness can alleviate what feels overwhelming. Pause to focus on your breath. Breathe in through your nose and let your belly fill with air and breathe out slowly through your mouth.

  • Remember and practice techniques that have worked for you in the past
  • Alert your healthcare provider to your circumstances

They can help you stay healthy amid stress and anxiety.

  • Ask for help

Stress and anxiety in hospice are real, and Our Lady of Peace wants patients and families to know that they don’t have to go through it alone. We’re here to help.