I’m recovering from laser eye surgery. It’s not exactly the most invasive procedure, but it’s awkward as hell (hello, laser in the eye!) and leaves you with blurry vision and a feeling of glass shards piercing your cornea for a day or so.
But as you no doubt know, anxiety is rarely about the reality of an experience. It’s the buildup that freaks us out. The anticipation of what’s to come. The fear of what could go wrong.
So even if you just have to go to the doctor to treat a migraine, your anxious mind is thinking, “Brain cancer!”
I was worried about the eye surgery. I kept cancelling and re-booking the appointment. I found reasons to postpone it (“Oh drat, I’ll need my eyes for that pole dancing class next week!”) and I even waved away advice that I’d need someone to take me home afterwards. “Nah, I’ll just walk or get a bus,” I shrugged. Seemingly nonchalant, but absolutely crapping myself on the inside. (Fun fact: downplaying my anxiety is a symptom of my anxiety.)
Anywho, I got the surgery. Shaking on the table to the point that the nurse had to hold me down. Worried that I’d never see again. And having a mild panic attack at home, when my eyes were on fire and I realised I should have accepted my new husband’s offer to cancel work and look after me.
That’s my story. Now let’s talk about yours.
Perhaps you’re going to the dentist for a filling. Or you’re having cosmetic surgery (no judgement, I love my new nose). Or maybe you’re being admitted for something serious.
If you’re feeling anxious, know that it’s totally normal. And then try these techniques to help prepare your mind for what’s to come:
Often, we’re anxious because we feel unprepared. An easy way to nix that is to arm yourself with information, so you have time to read, reflect and digest it.
Ask silly questions. Serious questions. Curly questions. Your surgeon’s job is to answer them all, and ensure you feel 100% comfortable from start to finish.
Hop online and read other people’s experiences having the procedure. I find that these ‘real person’ stories help complete the picture of how I might feel after surgery.
Some surgeries (like laser eye clinics) will even let you contact past patients, so be sure to ask. This can help you fill in the gaps, and feel more prepared.
When reading up on your surgery, have a look at success rates – and focus on why you’re getting the procedure. How will your life improve? How much better will you feel? Keep these outcomes in mind as your surgery date approaches, as it can help trump your fears.
In my surgery consultation, I had to say if I had ever experienced depression or anxiety. I was so tempted to tick ‘no’ and pretend all was fine and dandy in my messy mind. But I ticked ‘yes’. And I’m so glad I did.
It’s really important your surgeon knows about your mental health. They’ll then be able to help you navigate your fears, which can help build trust. Believe me, you don’t want to go into the operating room worried the surgeon is a hack!
Plan your pre-surgery ritual
What are your go-to strategies to relax before something scary, like a work presentation? Try to schedule these in before your surgery (just check first, because some activities might be off-limits).
- Visualisations (picturing yourself being calm, and having a successful surgery)
- Deep breathing exercises
- Walking in nature
- Going for a run
- Phoning a supportive friend
- Colouring in
- Yoga or gentle stretching
Eating a healthy meal can help get your body in the best shape for surgery. Just skip sugar and stimulants like coffee, as these could make you super jittery!
Prepare for your surgery
A few days before your surgery, take the time to get prepared. Pack your bag with the things you’ll need, such as a change of clothes, toiletries, PJs, phone charger, and any other essentials.
Also, get your bed ready. Change the bedding and add extra pillows, and set up an area that’s within reach to keep your medicines, tissues, water, TV remote and phone charger, and other items. Your future self will thank you!
Plan for post-surgery
Your surgeon should have already told you what to expect after surgery:
Will you be given anaesthetic, and how long will it take to wear off?
What happens if you need painkillers?
Do you need to stay overnight, and when can you go home?
Who can you contact for emergency help or reassurance?
Knowing this info can help you create a recovery plan. Be sure to have a friend or family member look at your plan, so they know how they can best support you.
And, unlike me, speak up and ask for help! Our loved ones actually like helping us when we’re vulnerable, so you don’t have to go it alone. Have someone take you home, and stay with you for at least the first 24 hours after surgery. You might also need to ask or hire someone to take care of cleaning and everyday chores while you recover.
For extra support, consider speaking with a counsellor or therapist before and after your surgery. There are also loads of support groups (online and offline) that can connect you with other people sharing your experience.