Heart beat starts to quicken, palms get a little sweaty, your mouth gets dry, and that awful pit in your stomach gets worse and worse. These are all NORMAL feelings of anxiety that most of us experience on a regular basis for a variety of reasons. One reason that is particularly anxiety provoking is surgery, or rather, the anticipation of surgery. Maybe you haven’t ever had surgery. Maybe you haven’t even had a cavity filled at the dentist (lucky you). Or maybe you have had surgery, and it went well. But there is still this feeling that everything is going to go wrong. In fact, an article I recently reviewed found that 85% of patients undergoing surgery had feelings of anxiety going into surgery.
So what are we all so nervous about? For some of us it’s the fear of complications. For others it might be the fear we will not wake up, or that we may wake up during surgery. Some just don’t like doctors and hospitals. I’ll tell you what it was for me. When I was in college I had to have my wisdom teeth out like many of us need to do. The sedation I received was like something out of the Matrix. I was teleported into a world so real, that I in fact thought it was reality. When I “awoke” I was knocking instruments on the floor right in the middle of the procedure. In the recovery area, the nurses looks told me the whole story…..I was out of control.
So a few years later when I needed another procedure done, I was anxious…almost terrified. But why? There were no complications with my previous procedure. So what was the problem? The problem was the fear of losing control. Being a surgeon, and Type A personality, I feel a need to control my life and as many facets of it as possible. But during surgery and anesthesia, we lose that control. We hand our bodies, our fates, and our lives over to almost complete strangers and hope we come out in one piece on the other end of the rabbit hole.
So what can we do? Here are 5 tips I have learned from the experts:
- BREATHE: If you don’t do yoga then start. If you do, then do it more. Breathing and relaxation techniques can be used in the days leading up to surgery as well as the day of to help slow heart rate and lessen the stress response.
- VISUALIZE: It sounds so corny, but THINK POSITIVE THOUGHTS. Studies have shown that thinking positive thoughts will actually trick the mind into thinking what Bob Marley was preaching “Every little thing, is gonna be all right”. Picture yourself going into the operating room, going to sleep, and waking up without anything going wrong and just a wonderful, painless experience.
- INFORM: this is a tricky one. For many of us, having a deeper understanding of what we are going through helps us cope with the situation at hand. But know yourself. For some, too much knowledge can lead to more anxiety about possible complications and side effects. If that’s you, then less is more.
- LISTEN: to music. Studies have shown decreased anxiety levels prior to surgery when patients listened to relaxing music beforehand.
- PLAN: if you are like me and need to feel control, then go ahead and make a plan to try and get back some of that control. Plan out your trip to the hospital, who will drive you, when will you leave, what will you wear. Then plan out the post-op recovery. Who will take you home, where will you stay, how will you get to your post-op appointments. The more you plan, the more control you will feel, and the less anxiety you will experience.
So if you have an upcoming surgery or procedure, just remember that you are not alone. We ALL have gone through these feelings. It is normal, and there are things you can do to minimize the anxiety and hopefully make your surgical experience a good one.