Pre Surgical Anxiety: 17 Tips on How To Stay Calm Before Going Into Surgery

Dr. Sandro LaRocca MD of New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C.

The feeling of anxiety before going under surgery, also known as preoperative or preoperational anxiety, is incredibly common. A lot of patients who know they will have surgery will start to experience it. Anxiety before surgery is essentially described as unpleasant stress, uneasiness, or tension that results from the fears and doubts of patients.

What Causes Fear of Surgery?

There are numerous reasons why someone may be scared of surgery. The most common reasons are:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Worrying about the surgery not working
  • Fear of the anesthetic
  • Losing personal identity
  • Having to recover around strangers
  • Losing control
  • Pain
  • Not being able to recover
  • Being in an unfamiliar environment
  • Death

It is perfectly normal to experience a degree of surgery anxiety. The intensity of this fear will depend on a range of factors, including:

  • The experiences people have had in hospitals in the past
  • Their demographic background
  • Their personal psychology
  • Their gender

Three Levels of Anxiety before Surgery

According to specialists, everyone experiences a degree of anxiety before going into spine surgery. However, they agree that there are three separate levels of that anxiety:

  1. Low level, which happens in those people who are inclined to ignore any signs of impending danger. This can be anyone from the eternal optimist to someone with a schizoid personality disorder.
  2. Moderate anxiety, which is seen in people who tend to respond directly to any information they are given. This means that the information provided about the potential complications of surgery is likely to make them scared of surgery, but this can rapidly be resolved by providing them with information on the rarity of these complications occurring.
  3. High anxiety, found in people who have a neurotic predisposition or those who have an almost irrational fear of surgery and bodily harm.

The Impact of Pre Surgery Anxiety

Being afraid of going into surgery has an impact on people in a variety of different ways. These include:

  1. Psychological effects, including cognitive and behavioral changes such as aggression, nervousness, apprehension, and tension. Sometimes, this makes the patients finding it impossible to follow instructions and others becoming so aggressive that they may pose a danger to others.
  2. Physical effects, which include things such as heightened senses, nervous diarrhea before surgery, a fever, hypertension, and tachycardia. Peripheral vasoconstriction is also common.

Behavioral Strategies

In the past, patients would simply be provided with pre surgery anxiety medication for their anxiety. Today, however, it is known that other techniques are far more appropriate. It is important that spine surgeons and patients work together, however, to determine how nervous patients are, what they experience as a result of that, and how to resolve the problems.

For instance, this pre surgery anxiety medication could be beneficial for those who experience an irregular heartbeat as a result of their fear. Those who experience nervous diarrhea before surgery may need to take electrolytes to retain their strength.

Unfortunately, patients often don’t admit just how nervous they feel. This means physicians have to become more adept at recognizing the signs and symptoms of anxiety. These include appearing almost too calm and relaxed, which could be seen in someone who experiences low level anxiety.

Effects of Anxiety on Surgery

Anxiety is a natural response and should therefore not be completely denied either. If patients experience it before surgery, it can help them prepare and have realistic expectations. Indeed, the right amount of anxiety can help psychologically prepare someone for the experience of pain.

Too much, however, and they will become over-sensitive to it and the experience will be far less pleasant and even increase future anxiety. Indeed, research has shown that highly anxious individuals are more likely to experience postoperative pain, prolonged hospital stays, and greater requirements for pain medication.

17 Tips on How to Stay Calm Before Surgery

Thankfully, there are numerous things that you can do in order to remain calm, or experience a healthy level of anxiety and no more, before a surgery.

  1. Develop trust in your medical team.

If you want to reduce your overall fear and anxiety, it is hugely important that you trust the practitioners involved in your care. Trust and anxiety are each other’s opposites. If you feel that you can trust the nurses and doctors who are trying to help you, then you will immediately start to feel in control again.

By knowing beforehand that you have this trust, you will enter the situation more put together and in control as well. Trusting your medical practitioners is down to looking into their credentials, having pre-operative consultations, and simply accepting that they are trained to do their job.

  1. Trust yourself.

When you feel anxious, you become fearful of others. Psychologically speaking, this actually translates into paranoia against yourself. You need to trust the fact that you know your own body and that you can listen to it and understand what it needs. Based on the messages that your body sends you, you are capable of making decisions and you must trust in your ability to do so. You should trust in the fact that the decisions you make today will give you the greatest chance of recovering as well.

You must look after your body as well by eating properly, following the guidelines from your physicians, take part in occupational therapy and rehab, and so on. Additionally, give yourself some positive affirmations, thanking yourself for the decisions you have made. In fact, even guided imagery, in which you visualize yourself recovered and doing well after surgery, can be of benefit.

  1. Allow yourself to help yourself.

By requesting surgery, or accepting a referral for surgery, you have accepted that you have a medical problem. Anxiety is just as much a medical problem and you need to treat it as such. Meditation, for instance, is a really good way for you to treat this particular medical problem.

As previously mentioned, positive affirmations and visualization techniques are really good. But you should also allow yourself to do other things that give you more trust and belief in yourself. That could be anything from sitting by the beach and watching the waves, to painting a picture or going for a long walk, to cleaning your house or volunteering.

  1. Educate yourself.

Once you know what your medical condition is, you should research it properly. This can help you to overcome the fear of the surgery, the hospital, and the condition itself. At the same time, be aware of the fact that doing research about your medical condition can also increase anxiety.

A Google search for what could go wrong, for instance, will list a wealth of possibilities that you would rather not have known about. This is why you should only use trusted sources and why you should also get to know yourself. If you have a tendency to think the worst of any given situation, then it is perhaps best not to do any research other than read the information that your physician gives you.

  1. Plan properly in advance.

When you are ill or have a medical problem, you need to focus all the energy you have on getting better and healing. You should not waste any energy on anxiety. One way to do that is by having a plan in place for after your surgery. This means that you keep your mind occupied on the healing process even before it has begun.

Find out what will be expected of you, who will help you, what they will have to do, how long your recovery will take, what you can do to fill your days during recovery, what to do about work and childcare, and so on. You need to make sure that everything is ready for you to focus all your energy on healing itself.

  1. Listen to all the preoperative tips and instructions provided by your physician.

Keeping your mind occupied is very important and even simple tasks can do that for you. Creating a to do list, based on the information provided to you by your physician, is a fantastic way to keep occupied. When you are busy doing constructive things, as well as important things, then you don’t have the time to then give in to your anxiety and fear. Your physician should have provided you with a lot of information in terms of what to expect from your surgery, what you should do before it, what to expect during, and what to do afterwards.

Make sure that you get things ready, including your hospital bag. Set up a recovery room and make sure you will be able to move around in there with ease. Look at the little details such as healthy snacks, your telephone charger, water bottle, remote control, tissue, and so on. Think about such things as who will be visiting you, where, and when, and so on.

  1. Distract yourself.

Sometimes, the simplest thing is to simply distract yourself from what is going on. If you feel yourself getting anxious, pick up a book or a puzzle, switch on the television, go for a walk, or do anything that puts your mind elsewhere. Some may see this as hiding from the inevitable, but if it stops you from getting anxious, then it is a good thing.

  1. Play or listen to music.

Music is a powerful healer and relaxant, which has been proven by numerous studies. In fact, listening to music just before surgery will make you far less anxious, not in the least because it will distract you and make you feel relaxed.

Your personal taste in music will determine what type of music you need to listen to. Have a device with a playlist available that includes all the music that you like. Make sure that the device is properly charged and that you either have enough mobile data to listen to it, or that you have downloaded the music to listen offline.

  1. Get access to professional support.

If you know that you are an anxious person, tell your physician about this. He or she could put you in touch with volunteers, social workers, counselors, and others who are able to help and support you before your surgery. There are many different types of professional supporters available, ranging from psychiatrists to companions, and you need to make sure that you get the right one for you. Do make sure, therefore, that you also explain what you are anxious about. There is a lot of difference between being afraid of being in a hospital and being afraid of going under anesthesia, for instance.

  1. Make use of relaxation techniques.

There are lots of good relaxation techniques you can use. Muscle relaxations, breathing exercises, meditations, are all excellent techniques. You can take part in classes before your surgery, or you can use YouTube videos or other pre-recorded courses to learn how to do it. Best of all, you can use these techniques whenever you start to feel anxious, and equally just before your surgery and in fact right up to the moment when you go under anesthesia.

  1. Use alternative therapies.

You can also try various holistic and alternative therapies. For instance, you can use hypnosis, aromatherapy, homeopathy, acupuncture, massages, and so on. Sometimes, hospitals can even offer these types of treatment to you. Most of the time, however, your insurance will not cover this, except in exceptional circumstances.

  1. Stop smoking.

If you are a smoker, you may feel that you need to smoke cigarettes to help you relax. That is because, whenever the body craves cigarettes, it feels stressed. It is certainly true that a cigarette will calm your nerves down, but it will only do that in the short term. The problem with smoking is that it significantly increases the chances of having complications during your recovery.

Additionally, it makes the healing of your wounds much slower and increases the chance of the wounds becoming infected. If you know you will have surgery and you smoke, ask to be put forward for nicotine replacement therapy so that you can stop smoking before you have the surgery, thereby reducing your chances of having complications.

  1. Have compassionate support available.

You should find someone to take you to hospital and bring you back home afterwards as well. They should know what you have just gone through and understand that you are likely to have been very anxious before your procedure, which you may still be feeling afterwards. Make sure they are aware of this and compassionate of your feelings. Do also tell them how they can help you, if you know.

  1. Have your home in order.

You should make sure that your home is ready to receive you when you get back. You won’t have time to make your bed, decide which movies to have ready, have your chargers ready. Find out how much time you will need to just rest and recover in your home. You probably don’t want to have guests straightaway, no matter how good their intentions are. If you know beforehand that you won’t disturbed during your recovery, that is one less thing to feel anxious about.

  1. Create a support system.

You need to build a support system as well. Make sure that it is made up of people whom you trust and like, and whom you know you can count on. Tell them about your anxiety and that you need someone to make you feel better every once in a while. Again, knowing that you will not be ridiculed or made to feel bad before or after your surgery for your anxiety is often enough to help you feel slightly better.

  1. Join a support group.

There are lots of really good support groups out there waiting to welcome you. The reality is that you are not the first person to have experienced this type of anxiety, nor will you be the last one. And once your surgery is over, you will wonder what it was that you were feeling so bad about and you may even want to help others who are feeling the same way.

Others have experienced that exact same thing and have now set up support groups to provide this type of help. These groups usually include professional therapists and counselors, and people who have experienced the same thing that you are going through.

You can also join a support group that is not focused specifically on anxiety, but rather on the surgery you are about to have. This means you will be with others who have had the surgery and have come out the other end, as well as with those who are waiting to have it and feel just as anxious as you. Being together with people who truly understand is often enough to make your feel better.

  1. Try anxiety reducing herbs.

Last but not least, you could try taking anxiety reducing herbs. Ashwagandha and L-Theanine are two excellent anti-anxiety herbs that can be purchased online and from various health stores. Many people have used these to help them relax before surgery and generally calm their nerves.

For more information about spine surgery please contact our friendly staff here.

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*New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C. offers surgical treatments for a variety of spinal and neck conditions, and does not treat or consult on hip, leg, ankle, knee, or non-spinal conditions.

*New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C. does not provide personalized consulting or advice over phone or email. All interaction must be done via appointment at one of our 4 main offices listed below.

*We are located in New Jersey, USA and do not provide medical advice via email or phone. We do not accept Medicare or Medicaid, however we do participate with commercial insurance as an out of network provider.

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