Surgery is traumatic, both physically and mentally. Besides the obvious physiological disruption is causes, the whole process can take a toll on your psyche that for some people, is worse than any physical ramifications they suffer post-op.
To help with that, a variety of techniques based on the concepts of mind-body-spirit connections can be called upon. These techniques range from listening to music to hypnosis…and there’s a wealth of science to back their efficacy.
Here, you’ll find some of the most common ways to prepare for surgery …not physically but mentally and spiritually. Of course you should also keep the physical aspect in mind- eat right, drink plenty of fluids, etc. This article focuses on the other two legs of the trilogy that has come to be known as the mind body spirit connection.
Why Does it Help to Prepare Emotionally for Surgery?
One of the worst things about surgery is thinking about it. The thought of a stranger cutting your body open taps into a primal fear humans are born with. You will be knocked out, laying on an operating table with absolutely no control over what’s happening.
It’s highly invasive, and you are powerless to do a thing once it’s underway. Sounds scary, right?
Tomophobia- the Fear of Surgery
It’s definitely one of the most terrifying events one could experience. Some people are so afraid of surgery they’d rather not have it, even if it means risking death. A woman in the UK who has a brain tumor is just this way. Surgery is required to remove the tumor, and if she doesn’t have it soon, it will be too late. The tumor will become inoperable.
She has what is called Tomophobia. It’s often caused by psychological trauma earlier in life or a very strong aversion to death. Some peoples’ fears are based on what they fear life will be like after surgery (diminished). Others fear the scars and bruises, while others simply fear pain.
Normal Anxiety Over Surgery
Tomophobia only affects 1 – 2% of the population, while the rest simply have normal fears about surgery. The first thing to recognize is that this is normal and healthy.
Of course we all know how anxiety can wreck your life. It’s no different for people facing surgery. According to the National Institutes of Health, here’s what they often suffer:
- can’t stop thinking about surgery, the anesthetic, or the adverse affects
- pounding heart
- irregular pulse
The worst thing is, the symptoms of anxiety over surgery make things even worse because they are often mistaken for signs that whatever condition the person has is getting worse!
In another ironic twist, anxiety cripples your memory and other brain functions. People may give advice or instructions on how to prepare for surgery but the afflicted person might not understand them or remember to put them into practice.
Why it’s important to get your mind and your spirit involved in preparing for surgery.
To alleviate all these fears and the secondary symptoms you’ll suffer if you let fear get the best of you, it’s very important to prepare for surgery not only physically but also mentally and spiritually. If you can practice your relaxation techniques for weeks (better yet: for months) ahead of the big day, you’ll be all the more prepared. Even your recovery process will benefit from sound mind-body-spirit techniques.
5 Ways to Mentally & Spiritually Prepare for Your Surgery
Adopt not one but all of these methods and do it soon. The better you get at doing them, the better off you’ll be right before surgery, during, and after surgery.
#1. Acknowledge your fear.
Pretending you’re not afraid or at least nervous about your surgical procedure and life afterwards could result in a welling up of all those hidden emotions at the wrong time. Imagine fooling yourself for weeks, telling yourself you’re not afraid, just to have all that fear strike you as you’re being rolled into the operating room. The effect this will have on your experience could be devastating.
#2. Ask friends and family to pray for you or send positive thoughts during your operation.
Whether or not you believe it will help, the simple act of communicating your desire for help and the warm response you get will alleviate anxiety. Deep down, no matter how gruff and tough you are, it’s nice to know that people close to you care.
#3. Believe in Yourself
Much of the fear you might experience about surgery comes from a belief that you won’t be able to handle the post-op experience. You’re afraid you won’t recover and your life will be forever changed for the worse.
Probably one of the most recommended ways of changing that outlook is through the use of guided imagery. This entails picturing yourself recovering successfully. Play it out like a movie scene in your head every day: you, after surgery, very calm and doing really well.
This is a form of self-trust. Trust that you will rise to the occasion and be extremely impressive with your recovery efforts. Picture yourself surprising everyone with how well you bounce back after surgery.
The Women’s Center for Mind-Body Health suggests tapes to help with imagery.
#4. Practice daily relaxation techniques leading up to and after the surgery.
There’s a whole wide world to explore when it comes to relaxation techniques. Do yourself a favor and find what works for you as soon as you learn you’ll be having surgery. Here are a few popular methods that work:
- deep breathing
- listening to a playlist that soothes you (music, ocean sounds, bird, etc)
#5. Keep a gratitude journal.
Even conventional medicine powerhouses like WebMD suggest gratitude as a way to combat anxiety. Keeping a small notepad with you wherever you go can actually help calm you. What you do is use it to write down everything you’re thankful for. It helps you remember all the things that are good in your life.
You can also refer back to it when you’re feeling stressed out before or after your surgery.