Just the thought of surgery sends my anxiety into overdrive. After having over a dozen surgeries in my 27 years of life, some would assume I am a pro at it. Most people don’t realize the kind of anxiety that goes along with the word “surgery,” even for those who have had numerous ones.
The “what if” scenarios that I create in my head when thinking about a surgery make me panic. My mind can easily jump to the worst-case scenarios. I wander to negative thoughts about surgeries, hospital admissions, and procedures in the past that have gone wrong instead of focusing on more ways they went right. Although a surgery is extremely stressful and anxiety-provoking, I have learned some tricks to help calm my racing thoughts.
Reach out for support: It has always been hard for me, especially when I am going through a particularly stressful time, to reach out for support and ask for help. When I am feeling physically and mentally weak, I shut down and distance myself from those who care about me. It takes reaching out to the right people that support me to realize how helpful it is to have people there to vent to. Before a surgery or procedure, hanging out with friends and watching a movie, going out for coffee or lunch (if I feel up for it), or just to sitting and talking make a positive difference in my mindset.
Write down any questions and concerns: In the past, my mom has kept notebooks of questions, thoughts, and comments that she wants to go over with a doctor before the surgery. Now that I’m 27, I have prepared myself to take over some of this responsibility. It has always been hard for me to ask questions the day of the surgery. When I am worried and in an anxious state of mind, it’s difficult to get my thoughts together to think of any concerns. If I allow myself time before the surgery to think about this with a clearer head, it gives me some sense of control and makes me feel like an important part of my treatment team.
Utilize positive distractions: For the few days or week leading up to a surgery, I rely heavily on distractions. Some of these distractions include watching my favorite TV shows, reading, writing in a journal or blog, baking, and planning things to do with friends to get myself out of the house. Distracting myself in positive ways and doing things that I enjoy help me think less about the negative things that could happen.
Another way I use distractions is to think about a positive thing I could look forward to after the procedure or surgery is over. I like to plan a small trip a few months after the surgery. This gives me something to do on surgery day, too, as I’m waiting to go to the OR.
Be open about fears and worries: Holding onto my fears and worries about a surgery has always turned into a panic attack the day of. It has been helpful for me to discuss my fears about surgery with my closest family members who understand and with my therapist. I try to see my therapist a few days before a surgery. This is a way to clear my mind of all the built-up worries and last-minute negativity. It is never good to take this negativity into a surgery with me.
Focus on the ways it can go right: Instead of thinking and worrying about the ways a surgery can go wrong, it is important to think about the times that things have gone well during a surgery. Positive thinking can seem impossible when in the midst of physical and mental stress. Envisioning things going right is a good way to ease tension and allows the body to accept what is going to happen.
Surgery for anyone is never easy. I have always found that the hardest part about any surgery is the few days or the week that lead up to it. It’s only human to feel scared and worried. Advocating for ourselves, finding support, using distractions, and making room for positive thinking will help ease pre-surgery anxiety.
Do you experience higher levels of anxiety before surgery? Have you practiced any of these tips? What advice would you add to this list to help ease anxiety and worry? Share your thoughts in our PH forums.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.