You may be filled with stress, anxiety and fear in the days and weeks leading up to your surgery. Anxiety before surgery is a 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 a 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.
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.
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 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 the 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:
- Financial burdens
- Surgical results
- Secondary infections or illnesses
- Surgical mistakes
- Post-surgery scars
- Adverse lifestyle impact
- Post-surgical pain
- Losing mobility or independence
- 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.
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
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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 Surgery
You’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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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:
- Classic rock
- ‘90s Grunge
- Modern pop
- Techno pop
- 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 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 surgery, contact us at NJ Spine & Orthopedic or call us at (855) 586-2615.