How to Cope Constructively with Pre-Surgery Anxiety

How to Cope Constructively with Pre-Surgery Anxiety

Living & Loving with Prostate Cancer

If you’re scheduled for a prostatectomy or any other surgery, it’s highly likely you will experience a range of mild to severe anxiety or fear for days, weeks, or months prior to surgery. While pre-surgery anxiety is well-known among healthcare professionals, the majority of folks scheduled for surgery are left on their own to cope unless they ask for specific help.

I’m blessed with a wife who has a wonderful sense of humor. So, before one of my previous surgeries, we decided to hold a contest to determine which one of us had the longest list of pre-surgery fears.

Since both of us are highly skilled worriers and a tad competitive, we both declared ourselves the winner. When we combined our lists, here’s what we came up with:

Common pre-surgery fears

  • The fear of dying on the operating table.
  • The fear of losing control once you are given anesthesia.
  • The fear of waking up in the middle of the procedure.
  • The fear that the surgeon will make a mistake or the surgery won’t go well.
  • The fear of temporary or permanent postoperative changes.
  • The fear of postoperative pain.
  • The fear of staying in a hospital overnight.
  • The fear of the unknown, especially if this is your first surgery.
  • The fear of post-surgery complications, such as an infection or an adverse reaction to a medication.
  • The fear that a previous bad experience will reoccur.
  • The fear of failure that your surgery won’t correct, repair, or cure the problem you hoped it would.

This list is far from conclusive, but it’s certainly long enough and stressful enough to create anxiety, sleep loss, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and ongoing, unwelcome, and intrusive thoughts about surgery. It’s far too common that those facing surgery and their partners, who are coping with pre-surgery anxiety, won’t get help unless they ask.

10 things you can do

Pre-surgery anxiety points you directly to the areas where you can receive help.

  1. If you aren’t sleeping, ask for a short-term prescription for medication to help you sleep and reduce your anxiety.
  2. Prior to surgery, know how your pain will be treated immediately following surgery and when you go home.
  3. Share your history of post-surgical complications and your concerns or fears with your surgeon.
  4. If you’ve had issues with anesthesia or in the recovery room, make sure to discuss this with your anesthesiologist.
  5. The most distressing and anxiety-producing fears can be the ones you imagine. There are ways to rid yourself of these imaginary fears.
  6. Take time to do things you enjoy. Make sure to laugh and plan for fun-filled activities.
  7. If you have trouble laughing or you’re housebound, watch a few comedies. If you have friends or family who make you laugh, make sure they are frequent visitors.
  8. Stay connected with other people and share your fears.
  9. If you are part of a community of faith, ask for prayer and be prayerful.
  10. If you’ve had a bad experience with a previous surgery, you can take steps to reduce the likelihood those issues will reoccur.

For example, I’ve had a history of nausea and vomiting in the recovery room. Now I ask the anesthesiologist for anti-nausea medication during surgery. I also ask my surgeon for anti-nausea medication after surgery. Since I’ve taken these steps, nausea and vomiting are no longer part of my post-surgery experience.

Taking steps to avoid repeating unpleasant problems is an effective way to avoid an unnecessary reoccurrence of previous problems.

Pre-surgery anxiety is a reminder that you are not designed to cope with stressful events alone. It’s a reminder to reach out to friends, family, or God. For most folks, help and support are only available if you are willing to ask. It’s up to you to do something about it so that you don’t suffer needlessly.

Last, but not least, the fact that you need surgery is a reminder that it’s a mistake to take our health for granted. Are there relationships that need repairing? Are your finances in order? Are there people who would appreciate hearing that you love them? Are there priorities that need to change? Now is the time to allow your anxiety to lead you in new directions.

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Note: Prostate Cancer News Today 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 Prostate Cancer News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to prostate cancer.

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Rick Redner received his master’s degree in social work from Michigan State University. He has spent many years working as a medical and psychiatric social worker He is the author of the award winning book I Left My Prostate in San Francisco-Where's Yours? His second book Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Erectile Dysfunction and Penile Implants won the Beverly Hills International Book Awards in Men's Health in 2016.

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