Surgeon consulting a patient, holding hands, getting ready for surgery

How to Mentally Prepare for a Major Medical Procedure

The prospect of a major surgery or medical procedure can often be overwhelming, no matter if you have months or days to prepare. While doctors and surgeons will advise you on how to physically prepare your body – like fasting – it’s also important to prepare your mind for the challenge before you.

Studies have shown that increased anxiety before surgery can delay your recovery – and that the more anxiety someone might have beforehand, the more pain medication the person might need afterwards.

Doing your best to address and overcome as many of your fears before the procedure can put you on the right track for a successful recovery.

Here are some tips to prepare your mind – or to help a loved one – before surgery:

Educate yourself on what will happen.
  • Using literature from your medical provider or a trusted, reliable medical source, learn about the upcoming surgery and procedure. Hospitals may offer videos or diagrams to explain the basics. The more you know, the better you will be able to communicate with your medical team.
Talk to your medical team about your questions and concerns.
  • Write down what you want to ask your doctor or surgeon before you meet with them to guide your conversation. No question is too big or too small to ask. Talk to your health care providers if you are experiencing signs of anxiety and/or depression, as it will help guide their care plan for you.
Understand your medication options before and after surgery.
  • Depending on the situation, there may be sedatives available to you prior to your procedure. Not everyone may need them, and not everyone may be eligible for them. Additionally, providers may advise changing your existing prescription medication regimen to accommodate for the procedure. Discuss what kind of pain management options are available to you and come up with a plan for how you’ll get your prescriptions after the surgery.
Make a game plan for the first few days.
  • The more prepared you can be in advance for how you’ll eat, sleep and get around for the first few days after returning home from the hospital the better, as it will take some stress off your shoulders to know you won’t have to figure it all out alone.
Set up your support team for before and after the event.
  • While it’s important to secure help at home from family, friends or other caregivers before and after the procedure, help doesn’t always have to be in person. Having someone you trust you can talk to about your fears, anxiety and recovery challenges can help you mentally process what’s happening.
Make a goal.
  • Identify something you want to do about four to six weeks after surgery. Hold that image in your mind as you go into the surgery or procedure. Keeping your mind orientated to the future and having something to work towards during recovery can help motivate you to overcome challenges after the procedure.
Find your calm.
  • Find a strategy to help you relax and calm yourself. Some people may use music or scents therapy to help settle their nerves.

The more you know about the medical procedure, the hospital you’ll be at and what you’ll need for your recovery, the better you can address your fears and overcome some of your anxiety.

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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