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5 Tips for Optimizing Your Psychiatric Hospital Stay

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Most of us dislike the dreaded inpatient hospitalization. It’s because we know we’re at our worst should the time come. Whether we’re back again… or coming as first-timers, I believe it’s worth looking at how we optimize our inpatient stay. If we’re there, we’re stuck. Let’s get all we can out of it, right?

I have five ways to make the best of the situation. For brevity’s sake, some of the classic time-tested tips will be omitted. Stuff like the stockpiling of graham crackers or asking for the TV remote as your favorite channel may not be changed for days, did not make the list.

Here are five ways to optimize your stay.

1. Real healing happens with other patients.

At the hospital, it takes a period of time to warm up to other patients. Their company is usually welcome (not always) because each is in a vulnerable position. Sometimes you can let your guard down with these strangers. It can feel right when one person talks about their life and reasons for being in the hospital. It makes for healing company when patients are willing to share and listen. Sometimes a social circle may get going in the main area. Feel free to listen in. Hear what they’re saying. No one expects you to jump in right away. Listening to others share and support each other can feel attractive. If you feel emotionally safe, you too can be a part of it. It may even be exciting when you feel the healing taking place. Other patients will say they feel something like that, too.

2. Attend all groups during your hospital stay.

From my experience, it’s true attending all groups will make your stay shorter. Hopefully, for the right reasons! All the same, it’s never a bad time to learn (or refresh) on coping skills or participate in healthy activities. Going to group helps you connect with other patients, where, as mentioned, the real healing happens. It gets you a little motivated too when you begin making an effort to get better. Some of the activities such as naming emotions, or sharing something you’re proud of are empowering. Since you’re in deep pain, it never hurts to see what’s out there. To see what’s up. Hey, what’s going on in here? I can sit and listen to this. This isn’t so bad.

3. Enjoy doing nothing.

The inpatient stay usually insulates us from the pressures of the world. There’s no more going to work, familial responsibilities or distractions. It was us who needed help and now, for better or worse, we’re here faced with the one task of how to get better. The most peaceful moments I’ve had on a psych unit were due to (and this is probably due to all patients consumed in their own struggle) the total lack of judgment.

You can often stare at a wall for hours (very relaxing to me!) and not worry about someone coming up to you and asking, “Hey, what’s wrong?” There is zero social pressure. Everyone is entitled to behave however they want to behave as long as it doesn’t negatively affect other patients or caretakers. Remember, you’re not going to see these people again. They’re distracted in their own pain. Really settle in if you feel nervous and don’t worry about the opinions and judgment of others. They really, really, really don’t have time to worry about you.

4. While inpatient, take time to reflect.

There’s a lot of time to reflect on the unit. After about five days, you’re likely going to feel settled into the place. For better or worse, this unit might feel like home for now. Usually the lack of stimulus and distraction will facilitate a little reflection. It’s totally OK to think about your life. Questions like:

“What am I missing about my treatment I could improve on?”

“What situations or behaviors led me to end up on the ward?”

“What actions can I take differently once I’m released?”

A fair warning, you must be careful about overthinking. Catch yourself if you’re perseverating over one issue too much. If anxiety creeps in, you can often head to the TV room, ask to speak to someone, mess around in the arts and crafts room, lie down or just distract.

If I may, I suggest keeping reflection about ideas or actions you can take upon release to improve your situation. A little rationalizing how you got here you’ll find necessary. Just watch for perseverating!

5. Stay connected with friends and family while hospitalized.

During a hospital stay, it’s nice to be visited. Seeing a friendly face breaks up the monotony of a hospital stay. It makes us feel warm inside when someone arrives with cookies or pizza. Be sure to offer some to patients you’re in good relations with, too! The caveat is be sure someone visiting is drama-free, baggage-free and possesses good temperament. You absolutely do not want stress visiting you in the hospital. That is something we face when we leave because we have to. This time is about us. The time to get better and meet the realities of the world come once we are discharged.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Originally published: September 24, 2021
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