Coping with the death of a patient is a topic that is very rarely discussed among health care professionals, yet it is an important one that affects your day-to-day stress levels and perception of success. Dealing poorly with death can lead to more perceived stress in your work and may lead to burnout over time. If you have never been taught what to do with your emotions when a patient dies, you may instead turn to negative habits to help you cope.

For example, some doctors and nurses turn to avoidance or emotional distance between themselves and their patients so that they do not become too attached. They believe that this will help protect them should a patient die. However, this coping strategy can actually lead to increased stress by keeping you from sleeping properly and by causing you to react poorly to other relationships in your life, distancing yourself from your loved ones.

On the other hand, adaptive coping strategies help you handle your grief well, be empathetic with dying patients and their grieving family members and feel peace no matter how stressful your work day is. Some possible strategies for dealing with the death of a patient include the following:

-Communicating with coworkers about your feelings

-Taking a short time to grieve in private

-Refusing to dwell on your grief

-Finding an outlet for your grief, such as through exercise, meditation or prayer

In addition, you must realize that death is inevitable as everyone must face his own mortality at some point. Realizing that life is a gift, and treating each day you receive as priceless, will help you care for your patients with the same mindset. However, over-scrutinizing exactly how you treated your patient while he was in your care is not going to help anyone. It is only going to bog you down with grief and guilt.

Quality self-care can provide an excellent outlet for your emotions after any brutally grief-filled day. Many nurses find that certain rituals help them find peace after a difficult event at work. Some do something special for the family members of the patient, such as writing them a card or bringing them food. Others find closure in attending the funeral. Some relaxing self-care routines, such as a regular spa day or massage time, help ease stress. Many find that turning to their faith helps them find peace with the unknown and hope for the future.

If you are having a particularly difficult time dealing with a particular patient death or if you feel overwhelming grief that you simply cannot cope with on your own, you must seek out help from a professional. Death changes all who come into contact with it. It will shape your perceptions, your fears and your emotions. If you are unprepared for how you feel after a patient passes away, a psychologist can help you walk through your feelings and understand your emotions. There should never be any shame in seeking help.

Despite your emotions surrounding a patient’s death, you should feel good in knowing that you are making a real difference in the lives of your patients and their family members. When you can stop seeing death as a failure, you have taken the first step in dealing with grief in a healthful manner.