By emphasizing active listening, targeted feedback, patient involvement in decision-making, flexible options, and encouragement of mindfulness and movement, you can provide practical strategies to help your patients navigate holiday challenges while maintaining a focus on long-term health objectives.
For many patients, the holidays can be a challenging time to stay focused on health goals. Change from a usual daily schedule, the social dynamics of family, higher than usual stress levels, and eating differently than the norm can all account for people veering off track. As healthcare providers, we can play a huge role in helping patients feel their health goals are still achievable during the holiday season by demonstrating we understand the difficulties they face and encouraging positive change. Here are a few tips for helping patients feel empowered through the holidays and beyond.
1. Take the time to listen.
As healthcare providers, we know it’s a vital part of our practice to leave our preconceptions about patients at the door. Listening to their concerns not only prevents the insertion of bias but builds trust. What have they attempted before to improve their health through dietary changes? What challenges have they faced when trying to implement those changes? What type of support and guidance are they looking for from you as their physician?
Helpful ways to respond to these questions, and to demonstrate active listening could include:
2. Provide targeted feedback.
As providers, we often default to being educators and disseminators of information, which is why it’s important to identify where and when a patient has provided specific details that might help to craft more targeted clinical recommendations. What health goals did the patient say they want to achieve? Where are they in their readiness to change? Taking into account their expressed needs helps us tailor our guidance and prevent information overload or directives. Ensure they know there are many paths to reach their goals, and that even small changes can make a large impact.
3. Involve patients in the decision-making.
Shared-decision making and motivational interviewing are coaching strategies you’re probably very familiar with and may already use in your practice. Forming a partnership with patients that involves their direct input can greatly impact their motivation for change. The patient will feel that they have ownership over the actions they choose to take.
4. Provide the patient with options.
Patients thrive on information that helps them take action, including knowing that there are many ways to accomplish a goal. Offer them different strategies or paths to take in order to achieve their health goals. Supplemental materials and information can also help them understand not only the “how” by the “why” behind the strategies you’re recommending.
5. Choose flexibility over rigidity.
We know that the holidays are filled with food and recipes that commonly utilize indulgent ingredients. For many, family and cultural meal traditions can be a huge part of the holiday experience. Ensure your patients know that they can still make meaningful changes and focus on long-term goals, while still supporting flexibility, moderation, and joy. Balance is key when it comes to food and the holidays, as well as when instilling long-lasting changes.
6. Encourage mindfulness and movement.
The holidays can be an incredibly stressful time of the year. Support your patients by providing suggestions as to how to adapt to deviations in their usual movement routine. Provide them with tools to find relief from holiday stressors and cut through the noise, including morning meditation or taking a walk in nature.