For one reason or another, most of us in our lives will have a surgical procedure at some point. Some may be prophylactic, designed to prevent or reduce the chances of a serious medical condition, while others may be to treat an existing condition. Whatever the cause, the prospect of undergoing a surgical procedure can be extremely daunting, particularly if we’re doing it for the first time. Procedural anxiety is a very real psychological condition, which can have incredibly damaging physical effects. In some worst case scenarios, patients have been known to refuse potentially life-saving surgery because they were so crippled by the prospect of going ‘under the knife’.
Fear of the unknown is one of the defining traits of human psychology. It’s the reason why we have learned to hide in our caves and not to tangle with saber toothed tigers. But in today’s world, our anxiety can take many forms that can be damaging to us, especially when our health is concerned. Let’s examine the anxieties that accompany surgical procedures and what you can do to combat them:
Do I Have Procedural Anxiety? Like many forms of anxiety, procedural anxiety can take many forms. While there are recognizable symptoms, they manifest differently in different people. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms when considering surgery, or in a dialogue with your doctor about surgery, then chances are you are affected by procedural anxiety:
- Nausea or stomach upset
- Dry mouth
- Heart palpitations or accelerating heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to think clearly or speak intelligibly
- A sensation of detachment from reality
- Fainting or fear of fainting
- Fear of losing control.
These symptoms can be brought on by certain triggers. Most of us don’t even have to be in a hospital to start feeling them. In some cases, just the sight of blood or injury in television or movies is enough to make us feel nauseous. These kinds of anxiety are perfectly natural and more common than we may think. They affect us because of three key factors:
Loss of Control: It’s no small feat to entrust the care of our body to someone else if we are unconscious or otherwise anesthetized. This degree of trust in your surgeon is at odds with our every primal instinct to protect ourselves.
The Stakes: Surgery can lead to a better life that is free of whatever impediment the surgery is designed to treat. Often physical conditions or injuries can throw a wrench in the works of our plans for life, and surgery represents a chance to overcome that hurdle. With that in mind, it’s perfectly understandable that we’d invest our hopes in the procedure and the prospect of something going wrong or the procedure failing, which would be devastating.
Mortality: As we live our lives, we become so caught up in the minutes of our day-to-day lives that we subliminally assume that they’ll go on forever. Surgical procedures can be a stark reminder of our own mortality and make us feel fragile and vulnerable.
There’s no denying that procedural anxiety is a biggie, but that’s no reason to let it get the better of you. Here are some things that you can do to stifle your fears and go into a procedure with confidence:
First, remember that you are not alone: Whatever happens, you have support every step of the way. Make sure that you make the most if it. Bring your partner, a close friend, or a family member with you whenever you feel you need some extra love. The medical staff will be there to help you and answer any questions that you may have, so voice anything that’s troubling you. If you’re worried about the prospect of something going wrong with the procedure, the surgeon, or the tools then rest assured that it’s relatively easy and risk free to get an attorney to help you.
Get to know your doctor: There can be no better way to squash the fear of the unknown than by familiarizing yourself with your doctor, medical staff, and the attending physician. Get them to describe the procedure to you in as much detail as possible (if you can stomach it). This will remind your subconscious that you are entrusting your body to a skilled, competent, and experienced professional.
Be as open with them as possible about your anxieties. You’d be astonished how understanding they’ll be. In many cases, they will work collaboratively with you, enabling you to make decisions for yourself when possible.
Educate Yourself: Knowing is half the battle, and nowhere is this more relevant than when discussing procedural anxiety. For some, having the procedure explained by a professional isn’t nearly enough and there’s no such thing as too much knowledge. Researching the procedure is one of the surest ways to rid yourself of fear of it. If possible, try and make contact with friends and family who’ve undergone similar procedures. Some people who’ve undergone surgical procedures write blogs to reassure others. Reading these can be a great reminder of what you have to gain and look forward to after the procedure.
However prepared we are, we often find ourselves overcome by fear and anxiety at times so here are some coping strategies that you may find useful:
Distraction: If you feel your mind dwelling, then it can be very counter productive. Listen to music or read a book or article in a magazine or online. Even focusing on the tiny details of a painting on the wall can give your mind a break from itself.
Challenge Negative Thoughts: We have a tendency to jump to the worst case scenario and it’s important to catch these thoughts and nip them in the bud as soon as they crop up. Use your newfound knowledge to assure yourself that the facts and logic outweigh your worst case superstitions.
Visualize: Many find it helpful to create a positive visualization to calm your anxious mind. Take yourself back to a time when you were carefree and happy and try and transpose that feeling to your future, to a time that you can look forward to after the procedure.
Remember that your anxieties are perfectly understandable and natural, but hopefully using these techniques will prevent you from letting it be the boss of you so that you can proceed with confidence!