Surgery has been suggested to you because it is believed to be an appropriate medical choice for dealing with your current condition.
Although you may accept that surgery is the best treatment approach, it is very natural to have some thoughts and fears around the “unknown”. It is important that you discuss any questions or concerns with your surgeon and specialist.
You may be relieved to know that there are other things that you can do to prepare for your surgery and recover in the best possible way. What your surgeon brings is his/her skill and expertise, which you have confidence in. But what can you bring? You have the ability to bring the most positive emotional attitude about your body’s’ ability to heal and recover.
Only you are in control of your thoughts/cognitions which in turn affect the emotions that you will experience and how your body responds.
The mind and the body are connected in an amazing way and your belief in your “self” as your greatest resource in the healing process is important for your optimum recovery. By taking an active approach to your healing and recovery, you become an important team member with your surgeon and other health professionals.
It is empowering to know that these are ways for you to prepare for surgery and optimize your healing and recovery. If you are challenged with an illness that you must still manage after surgery, there are valuable skills that you could learn that may help you cope better.
The Stresses of Surgery
The overall experience and outcome of surgery can be enhanced when the patient takes an active role to impact their healing and recovery. The stress of a diagnosis, an illness or injury, the impending surgery and the recovery process all can have a significant impact on the patient’s physical, psychological and social state. From the time a decision is made to have an operation until the recovery is complete, there are major physical and psychological processes that can either enhance or impede healing and recovery.
If the patient’s physical response to the stress is negative, this stress can have harmful effects on one’s body including
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Increased muscle tension
- Release of stress hormones, like cortisol
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Lowered immune system function
If the patient is experiencing physical stress reactions (fight or flight) these reactions feed into other processes further aggravating the stress and impacting healing. For instance, if the patient is experiencing pain this can also be a significant stressor causing emotional distress. It becomes important then to manage stress and pain as effectively as possible to influence one’s recovery in a positive way.
Benefits of Psychological Preparation
Several benefits are possible from taking an active role in preparing for surgery. These include:
- Less distress and anxiety both before and after surgery
- Less pain
- Faster return to health
- Shorter recovery period
- Reduced healthcare demands due to empowering the patient to take more responsibility for their recovery
- Increased patient satisfaction and outcome
How To Psychologically Prepare
With the assistance of a psychologist, you can receive a program that is individually suited for your specific needs and concerns. The program could include:
- Gathering information about the surgery and recovery. This will be influenced by your style of coping since some individual seek out information and others are overwhelmed by it
- Discuss pain control so that you can be prepared for the type of pain you may experience and how to best manage it
- Cognitive Restructuring which is helping the patient learn to think differently so that one can positively influence the emotional and behavioral responses to the situation. This is a well known technique for directly decreasing fear and anxiety and an excellent mental coping strategy.
- Learn relaxation training which can counteract the negative physiological changes that occur during times of stress
Many people underestimate the importance that prayer and belief in a higher power have to some patients. As with other emotional concerns, many patients are also reluctant to bring spiritual issues up for discussion. However, if the individual has strong spiritual beliefs, incorporating these thoughts into the psychological preparation can have benefits in these ways:
- Provide the patient with some comfort in the face of their illness, fears or surgery
- Help provide a sense of meaning and purpose beyond the other explanations provided
- Combining prayer or meditation can assist in the relaxation response which can contribute positively to the patients overall feelings of wellness
Having assertiveness skills helps the patient cope with many aspects of illness, surgery and recovery. Being able to assert oneself allows patients to communicate their symptoms and concerns and get the information they need. The patient may find themselves in a variety of environments like work, home or hospital where they need to manage situations that may come up.
Assertiveness also is an important skill for communicating in relationships so that issues, needs, boundaries and limits can be discussed. Being assertive is part of the skill that contributes to the patient’s feelings of empowerment.
Effective Coping Strategies
There are many coping strategies to assist the patient in being able to cope as best as they can with their illness and with impending surgery and recovery. There is a concept called the “sick role” which one should try to avoid. This does not mean ignoring or denying what needs to be attended to, but rather assists the patient in still being mindful of all that they may still have and do in spite of their health condition or pain. These coping techniques include:
- Relaxation Training
- Guided imagery and visualization
- Pain control techniques
- Positive intention/affirmations
- Preparing auditory tapes for surgery, recovery and rehabilitation
Benefits of Psychological Preparation
As you have been reading, there are many things available to you as the patient in assisting you to enhance your ability to cope with an illness, with surgery and in your healing and recovery.
It is empowering to know that you have choices in how you manage some of what you may face. There will be some things that may unfortunately not be in your control. If you feel that you are doing your part the best that you can to enhance your psychological and physical wellness then it may become easier to let the rest go.
Your body is an incredible gift and it has within it the wisdom and power to influence your emotional and physical well-being. There is no such thing as failure…health and healing is a lifelong journey. There are times that the goal may not be for a cure or for complete recovery. Instead, the rewards could come from discovering new aspects of life and your inner self, from new lessons learned to the joy of facing the difficult challenges, or from the deepening of relationships and the appreciation of the value in life.
Whether you are dealing with an illness, preparing for surgery or concerned about your recovery, it is my hope that you would know that there is assistance available to guide you along your journey. If you would like to discuss any of the issues addressed or other areas of concern to you, please feel free to contact me for a consultation on how counselling could be of value to you.
Click here to contact SoulSpring Counselling for information on how you can become an active partner in the surgical experience and healing process.