25 ways to calm surgery anxiety

25 Ways to Calm Anxiety Before Surgery

You may be filled with stress, anxiety, and fear in the days and weeks leading up to your surgery. Anxiety before surgery is perfectly normal for the average person. In fact, a recent study of 239 patients preparing for surgery revealed more than half of the participants, 168 to be exact, showed strong signs of pre-surgery anxiety. It also found only 125 of the 239 patients going into surgery knew the type of surgery they’d be having.
If you’re one of the many people going “under the knife,” it’s no shock you’re experiencing some degree of hesitation — and even fear.
The good news for you is, first, you’re not alone. Second, there are things you can do to help relieve your fears and make your surgery a far less intimidating, and in some cases less terrifying, experience.
You’ve probably heard all your life that there is no such thing as minor surgery. To some degree that’s true, but it doesn’t mean you need to be paralyzed by fear going into the surgery — especially if you can do things to minimize those fears and concerns. NJ Spine and Ortho is here to help you understand your options.

If you’re overwhelmed by surgical anxiety, you might have these questions:

  • How do you know if you’re experiencing surgery-related anxiety?
  • What can you do about your surgery anxiety?

This guide answers those questions and more, so you can feel more comfortable in the months, weeks and days leading up to your surgery.

a recent study of pre-surgery anxiety

What Is Surgery Anxiety and Fear?

Most people feel some degree of hesitation or uncertainty going into surgery. This is par for the course. When the feelings go beyond simply being a little nervous about the surgery, though, it can lead to surgical anxiety.
Did you know there is an official term for surgical anxiety? The medical word for this anxiety of going under the knife is tomophobia, which translates to “fear of surgery.”

Other related medical-related fears include:

  • Nosocomephobia — Fear of hospitals
  • Pharmacophobia — Fear of medicine

What Causes Surgical Anxiety?

Different patients fear different things related to surgery. The more you know about where your fears stem from, the better you can prepare for them and plan ahead to help relieve those fears and concerns. Your surgical anxiety fears may stem from your worry over:

  • Death
  • Pain
  • Financial burdens
  • Surgical results
  • Secondary infections or illnesses
  • Surgical mistakes
  • Post-surgery scars
  • Adverse lifestyle impact
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Losing mobility or independence
  • Disfigurement
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Long recovery
  • Being unable to wake afterward
  • Being awake during surgery

Once you understand the types of fear and anxiety you’re feeling, you are better able to address your fears in a more constructive way.

know your fears to prepare for them

Symptoms of Surgery Anxiety

While surgical anxiety is very common, the symptoms can be unpleasant. Your anxiety symptoms may interfere with your ability to relax before surgery. That could, in turn, hamper your recovery efforts after the surgery.
If you suffer from some degree of anxiety in the days and weeks leading into your surgery, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms of surgical anxiety:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Nervous stomach
  • Pounding and/or racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep problems
  • Speedy pulse

For people who need to stay on top of essential information, like pre-surgery instructions, anxiety about an upcoming surgery may make it difficult to understand, retain and remember important things. That’s why you should seek treatment for preoperational anxiety before it becomes a problem that could pose far greater risks to your health.

If left unchecked, these surgical fears can become full-blown panic attacks. You might experience panic attacks if you allow yourself to dwell on your anxiety about surgery without taking action to ease those fears and concerns.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why you feel fear in the face of surgery. You can’t un-feel the fear or anxiety. The most important thing you can do for the sake of your health is to learn to control the anxiety, so it doesn’t have the opportunity to control you.

seek preoperational counseling for anxiety

Why Is Surgery Anxiety So Common?

Fear of surgery represents a common phobia for people to experience, as we discussed above. The link between anxiety and surgery for some people can be almost overwhelming. It’s a logical fear, and that’s part of why it’s so powerful as far as fears go.

Surgeries, after all, are no small things. Whether you’re afraid of your surgery resulting in medical mistakes that may impact the rest of your life or if your anxiety stems from fear of pain concerns related to your surgery, surgery becomes a big deal for many people.

The good news is surgical anxiety is temporary. You can take practical steps to lessen your fear of surgery.

15 Tips to Prevent Pre-Surgery Anxiety

Preventing pre-surgery anxiety can help you relax in the days and weeks ahead of your surgery. It can also help you focus on healing and positive energies, rather than expending time and attention dwelling on negative things like pain, jitters, and fear.

While you cannot turn severe anxiety on or off at will, you can take steps to cope with or alleviate it in the days, weeks and months before your surgery.

Below you’ll find 15 simple things you can do to help ease some of those fears and reduce the amount and severity of anxiety you may feel as the day of your surgery approaches and on the day of your operation.

stop smoking before surgery

  1. Avoid Smoking As a Response to Stress and Anxiety 
    According to the National Institutes of Health, many people turn to smoking with greater frequency when they feel nervous, anxious and uncertain. Unfortunately, smoking is not only bad for your overall health, but it can have an effect that slows your healing process after the surgery. Consider starting smoking cessation efforts at least two months ahead of surgery to reduce your risks of developing smoking-related or exacerbated complications.
  2. Educate Yourself About Your Surgery
    The more you know about your medical condition and the surgery you’re having, the better you’ll feel about having the operation. Pay close attention to information about success rates and why you need the surgery. For instance, if you focus on how much better you’re likely to feel and all the things you’ll be able to do after having surgery for a herniated disc, for example, it may help reduce the negative feelings associated with the fear of that surgery.
  3. Discuss Your Fears With Your Surgeon
    With some surgeries, it’s possible the surgeon can help you with fears and anxieties related to the operation by offering medication to soothe and calm you. Also, discussing your fears with your surgeon allows you the opportunity to build a trusting relationship and bond, which can be crucial if some of your fears stem from the potential for surgical errors or a lack of trust in your surgeon. The more opportunities you give your surgeon to earn your trust, the easier it becomes to put some of your fears to rest.
  4. Take Care of Pre-Surgery Instructions
    Sometimes it’s as simple as filling your mind with other tasks to do and other thoughts to think. If you’re focusing on the things you need to do to get ready for your surgery and marking items off your “to-do” list, then you’re too busy to allow these fears and concerns an opportunity to fester and grow. It can be small tasks and thoughts, such as:

    • Packing your bag and making sure you have the right items to bring along.
    • Preparing a “recovery area” in your home where you can get in and out of bed easily.
    • Putting all the necessary items to aid in your recovery close at hand, such as mobile device chargers, television remotes, facial tissues, water bottles, books, extra pillows, and healthy snacks.
    • Arranging for rides to and from the surgery and having someone on hand to assist you with day-to-day chores and activities.

counseling relieves anxiety

  1. Consider Counseling or Therapy
    Some people fear surgery anxiety may be too minor or not important enough for therapy. But when dealing with the side effects of stress before surgery, therapy or counseling might help. Whether you’ve been recommended for a Sacroiliac joint fusion, cervical disc replacement or surgery to remove cancer, counseling can help you overcome the fear so you can get the treatment and relief you so desperately need. You could consider cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety.
  2. Seek Alternative Therapies for Anxiety
    While surgery may be the only treatment option for certain conditions, therapy isn’t the only treatment option available for people who are nervous before surgery. In fact, many great alternative medicine treatments offer promise for surgical-related anxiety, including:

    • Yoga: Yoga has been used for stress relief for centuries as it involves various physical poses, relaxation, controlled breathing and meditation to help reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and stress.
    • Hypnosis: Individuals and clinicians have used hypnosis as a tool for many things over the years, including stress reduction, smoking cessation, weight loss and more.
    • Acupuncture: A study conducted at Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies revealed biological proof that acupuncture relieves stress.
    • Massage: Massage is one of the first thoughts that comes to mind, for many people, when it comes to stress relief. Anxiety relief is no different. Massage can be an excellent, not to mention relaxing, tool to help you prepare for surgery.
    • Tapping: Also referred to as EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique, tapping combines the use of acupressure and psychology to help reduce stress cortisol and send calming signals to the amygdala of your brain.
    • Acupressure: Another ancient Chinese art known to help relieve anxiety and reduce the likelihood of panic attacks is acupressure.
    • Herbal remedies: There are many herbal supplements and remedies on the market today that offer relief from stress, anxiety and more, which can help you get past being afraid of surgery long enough to see the potential benefits surgery has to offer. Of course, always speak to your doctor about taking any herbal remedies before surgery.
    • Mindful meditation: This very simple meditation involves focusing on your breathing and your thoughts. You learn your thoughts come and go of their own accord, and, most importantly, that you’re not your thoughts.
    • Neuro-linguistic programming: More and more people are relying on NLP all the time to assist with confidence, weight loss, smoking cessation efforts and even reactions to stress and fear.
  3. Get Support From Family and Friends
    Support comes in all shapes and sizes and can be found in a few surprising places. Friends and family can be your best resource when it comes to overcoming being nervous before surgery. Ask for their own funny surgery stories and gentle reminders that they’ve been there and had outcomes that were very positive.
  4. Join a Support Group
    Support groups offer authentic help for some of the biggest problems plaguing the world today. There are many support groups for surgeries. Some are for specific surgeries, while others are for surgeries in general. In these groups, you’ll find people who share their experiences as well as their fears and concerns. You will find a wide range of supportive, sympathetic listeners and people who have been in your shoes and been through the same types of surgeries and are now on the other side. Talking to these individuals can be immensely beneficial for calming your fear of the unknown.
  5. Prepare Your Body for Surgery
    Your physician has probably given you a pre-surgery checklist of things to do to prepare for surgery, and you’ve probably made a fair amount of headway on your list. One thing that can help immeasurably is for you to be in your best shape possible. This means taking care of your body to get it ready for surgery:

    • Eat healthy meals
    • Take appropriate, physician-approved vitamins and supplements
    • Get plenty of rest
    • Exercise to the extent it is currently possible for you to do
  6. Keep a Journal Detailing Your Fears
    Sometimes, something as simple as putting your fears on paper can exorcise them from the front of your mind. As your fears flow onto the paper, they lose their power over you so you can focus your thoughts and actions on more positive and productive activities and prepare yourself for a positive outcome from your surgery. This is much better for you and your state of mind than focusing all your thoughts and energy on being scared of surgery. How to Find Your Calm on the Day of Your SurgeryYou’ve reached the day of your surgery, and half the battle is won. You’ve hopefully put some, if not all, of the above tips to calm your surgical anxiety in place. Now is the time to cross the finish line, and that may take a little more work and effort on your part. The payoff, though, can be anything from a life free of daily pain to freedom from illness or disease to a healthier existence, depending on the type of surgery you’re having. You can do these things on the day of your surgery to help reduce your anxiety and fear.

pets dissipate anxiety

  1. Spend Time With Your Pets
    If you have pets, it’s a great idea to “use” them for calming reassurance before going into surgery. In the morning before your surgery, spend time with your furry friends:

    • Pet them.
    • Talk to them.
    • Allow them to soothe you with their calm devotion and unconditional love.
    • Your pets bring so much joy into your life, and times like this are no exception. They can sense your fear and will often work doubly hard to provide reassurance at important times like these. Studies have revealed playing with a pet calms and relaxes people. (Ready to become a first-time pet owner? Check out fuzzyrescue.org’s guide on “How to Adopt a Dog.” or Fluent Woof’s “102 Scientific Benefits of Having a Dog.”)
  2. Have Your Post-Operative Plan in Place
    This may help calm your feelings of being nervous before surgery simply because it’s one more thing you’ve managed to mark off your list of things to do. Knowing what’s coming next will also help you move, in your mind, beyond thoughts and worries over the surgery itself to what comes next. Have someone lined up to help with household chores you’ll be unable to attend to, pick up your prescriptions, and help you get around until doctors clear you to drive. Also, make sure you have a recovery area in your home where everything is accessible for you and plenty of entertainment has been lined up to avoid boredom as you recover.
  3. Meditate
    Some people may prefer quiet prayer to meditation. The key is to take a few moments to breathe deeply, clear your mind of fear, and focus on healing, calming and otherwise reducing your fears until they are so small they no longer have any power over you. music can help you relax
  4. Play Music
    Everyone has a favorite type or genre of music. Some people become energized by music. Others find it relaxing. The key is to listen to music going into the surgery that makes you feel mellow and relaxed rather than music that might feel you with nervous energy. There are many great genres to consider, including:

    • Jazz
    • Classical
    • Classic rock
    • Country
    • ‘90s Grunge
    • Modern pop
    • Disco
    • Blues
    • Technopop
  5. Read a Book
    Conversely, consult your surgeon about the possibility of listening to an audiobook as you go into surgery. This gives your brain something other than fear to focus on, and there are so many amazing books to enjoy you should have no trouble finding an excellent choice to bring you through the surgery and keep you hooked while you recuperate afterward.

pre-surgery consulation can relieve anxiety

Pre-Surgery Anxiety Is Common: Talk to Us About Your Fears

Last, but certainly not least, accept the fact that anxiety about your surgery is normal. Every day people have surgeries, and every day they have anxiety and fear of these surgeries.

Know, however, that you cannot simply decide to put fear away and move on. Fear of surgery, while a common fear, can lead to undue stress and anxiety. That’s why you should take advantage of the many resources available and things you can do that will help you cope with your fears of surgery. In some cases, they can help you overcome those fears.

Now it is up to you to take the first steps to relieve your pre-surgery anxiety and fears so you can have a successful surgery and retake control of your health and quality of life. Keep your thoughts focused on the positive outcome waiting for you after surgery and recovery, and try one or more of the methods mentioned above to put your fears, concerns, and anxiety into perspective.

To request a pre-surgery consultation or ask any questions about the surgery, contact us at NJ Spine & Orthopedic or call us at (855) 586-2615.


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9 Bonus Activities to Take Your Mind off of Surgery

  1. Gardening
    Gardening is an excellent hobby to pick up if you’re dealing with stress and anxiety. As a matter of fact, many gardeners say that they partake in this hobby precisely because it’s so relaxing. In addition, gardening doesn’t have to require taking on a complex project. Distracting yourself with simple chores such as pulling weeds, digging in the dirt, and taking care of your plants is an excellent way to escape from surgical anxiety. As an added bonus: you’ll be populating your yard or windowsill with beautiful flowers and plants that you can enjoy for a season (or even years to come). This can also inject a bit more color to your usual living environment—a natural mood booster. Some people also claim that gardening makes them feel nostalgic, which makes sense considering how strongly your olfactory senses are tied to the hippocampus region (or memory center) of the brain.
  2. Hiking
    Hiking is another great way to take your mind off of your upcoming surgery. Not only is hiking an ideal activity for your health, but you can also explore nature as a social outlet with friends and family. After all, hiking can very easily be turned into a group activity. But sometimes, just escaping into the beauty of nature on your own is really all that you need to push away unwanted thoughts. Moreover, hiking keeps you physically active. And, if you’re feeling especially spry, you can even turn a hiking trip into a camping one. Or if you’re not feeling up to that—you are about to undergo surgery, after all!—you can at the very least enjoy a picnic in the woods. Whatever you decide, there is no doubt that hiking is an excellent way to escape from the more hectic aspects of your daily life.
  3. Pick Up an Artistic Hobby
    Sketching, drawing, painting—whichever activity that you find the most appealing—is an awesome way to calm yourself down during stressful times.Of course, you don’t have to be the next Picasso or Vincent Van Gogh for this to be effective. Simply doodling in a notebook can help tremendously with your overall mood and anxiety. Aside from being relaxing, drawing is also an ideal way to improve your visualization skills as well as your hand-eye coordination. Likewise, drawing also boasts cerebral benefits, as both sides of the brain actively participate when you draw. In other words, it’s an excellent way to give your brain a little bit of much-needed exercise and respite.
  4. Get an Early Start on Spring Cleaning
    Cleaning your living space is an absolute must before undergoing your procedure. For one, cleaning makes your living space a lot more… well, livable. But, in reference to your surgery specifically, freeing your home of unnecessary clutter will allow you to safely navigate your home without avoidable falls after your procedure. In fact, take as many pre-operative steps as you possibly can to ensure that your life is as easy as possible during the recovery period. Think about things like easy access to meds and meals. In addition, freeing up clutter in your home can improve your mental health substantially. Studies show that a clean living environment correlates positively with happiness and a general sense of well-being.
  5. Binge-Watch a Bunch of Movies
    You can’t exactly just make your anxiety disappear, but you can minimize it by distracting yourself with other activities. Watching movies is an excellent option for those with conditions that restrict them to living a more sedentary lifestyle. (Just don’t abandon any exercises that your doctor has prescribed!) Of course, binge-watching a bunch of movies is a great way to eat up large chunks of your time before your procedure date. Again: You don’t want to go too crazy with this, as there are other important pre-operative steps that you should be taking in conjunction with this activity. But watching movies can be an excellent way to sidestep some of that awful anxiety you’re having. Plus, you can always turn a movie marathon into a group activity by inviting over a number of your friends and family.
  6. Host a Board Game Night
    Remember, a body in motion stays in motion. If you have anxiety, one of the worst things you can do is nothing. Doing nothing almost always makes your feelings of anxiety fester and worsen. If you have friends and family who are interested, go into your closet and dust off your set of Exploding Kittens or Dungeons & Dragons. After all, there is no better way to distract yourself from the hectic nature of life than casting fireball on a group of unsuspecting goblins or summoning a dancing skeleton. The social aspect of these activities should also greatly improve your mood and allow you to temporarily forget your fears when it comes to your upcoming procedure.
  7. Do Jigsaw Puzzles
    Much like drawing, tackling jigsaw puzzles also exercises both the left and right sides of your brain. This is because the left side of the brain works in a logical, linear fashion, while the right side is responsible for creativity and intuition—all of which are necessary for solving a jigsaw puzzle. Essentially, this makes solving jigsaw puzzles a mental workout that enhances your problem-solving skills as well as your attention span. Additionally, jigsaw puzzles will also build upon your visual-spatial reasoning as well as your short-term memory. This activity also has the added benefit of being a completely solo endeavor. So, there is no need to synchronize your schedule with a party of other members in order to engage in the hobby.
  8. Pick Up Crochet
    Really, participating in any artistic endeavor is a good idea when it comes to battling your anxiety. There are just so many benefits to engaging in activities of this variety that extend beyond controlling your rational fears of surgery. Furthermore, crochet can be worked into group therapy sessions because of its power as a tool for defeating anxiety and depression. Plus, as an added bonus: Crocheting will also help you fight insomnia and reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 30-50%. If you develop enough skills, you could even sell some of your works to those who are interested.
  9. Cook All of Your Own Meals
    We have to eat food every day. It’s just a part of life. But instead of making it an inconvenience that you deal with by going through the drive-thru, turn it into an activity by making your own meals. Not only is home cooking healthier, but it’s also often a much cheaper alternative to fast food. Many people find cooking meals especially satisfying if they are feeding more than just themselves. We often obtain a satisfying mental boost from nurturing one another—there’s just a very primal satisfaction that cooking for others fills within us. You’re essentially weaponizing your own evolutionary instincts and using them as a powerful tool to combat mental obstacles such as anxiety, fear, and depression. Not bad, if we do say so ourselves.

Trust Your Doctors

Activities serve as great distractions from your anxiety and fears, but there is nothing truly better than having trust in your doctors. Whenever you need surgery, you want to know that you’re being treated by a team of doctors and surgeons who you can trust. Finding a good group of doctors isn’t easy, but luckily for you, if you’re reading this, then you have already found some. NJ Spine & Orthopedic is home to award-winning spine surgeons and medical staff who offer the latest in research, technology, and minimally invasive surgical procedures. Each and every one of our doctors is extremely passionate about putting you on a treatment plan that serves the individual needs of your case. For more information, contact our office at (855) 586-2615.


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