coping with anxiety before operation
January 23, 2017 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I have an operation under general anaesthetic due on Thursday, even though I've sorted out my head about it, it feels like the fear and anxiety has just moved into my body and that I'm constantly in fear (anxiety feelings in chest) even though I think it should all be OK - what will help?

I've been using mindfulness meditation and CBT. It's too late now to see my GP (NHS, UK) as by the time I get an appointment the operation will be over. I can distract myself from this for short periods by working but then it comes back and I don't have a lot of work at the moment to bury myself in. I'm not wanting to take anything that might interfere with the anaesthetic. What might help?
posted by highanxiety to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you eat a lot of carbs? That can calm anxiety. I know you'll have to stop eating a while before the procedure, but it could help in the meantime.

Also: social activity.
posted by amtho at 7:01 AM on January 23, 2017

You might not be able to see your GP, but could you call them? I think that even having a conversation where you can ask some questions might be reassuring.
posted by Fister Roboto at 7:02 AM on January 23, 2017

Get ahead of daily-living type work so that you can properly recover after the surgery (this is like burying yourself in work, but more personal stuff, and in my family is termed "better doing than stewing").

Some examples: do your laundry and clean up around the house and set a date with a friend in a few weeks and get your bills paid or ready to go and make sure the larder is stocked and visit the library to be sure you've got enough reading material for your recovery and maybe if it's slow at work go on-line and research best recovery methods or someone's upcoming birthday present... basically, give yourself busy work of the sort that will make your life during recovery a little easier. It helps my anxiety if I feel a little more prepared.
posted by ldthomps at 7:20 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

hugs to you, highanxiety. I know this feeling and it sucks.

I came to suggest CBT techniques and mindfulness meditation, and it sounds like you're already using those. Great. Are those giving you any relief?

If you can't get in touch with your GP before Thursday, I would let the anesthesiologist know that you're very anxious as soon as they come see you on Thursday, and ask if there is anything they can give you. There is.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:22 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not wanting to take anything that might interfere with the anaesthetic

I've had anastesiologits prescribe Valium (or whatever) for a few days before a procedure. Call yours and see if she can prescribe something for you. This is so common, they will know what to do. Sending good thoughts your way!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:23 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

On jinx-view, it's definitely possible to get knocked out early. I'm not squeamish about surgery but I never, ever want to see the OR. Four surgeries, I never have.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:25 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have they discussed with you the sedatives you'll be given before the procedure?

The last time I talked with my doctor before she performed my surgery, I asked about specific fears (general ick body horror, and then vomiting from anesthesia) and she communicated those to the other doctors and nurses working on the surgery so that I got a wonderful combination of anti-anxiety and anti-emetic medicine with the rest of my anesthesia.

I also asked, straight-up, "what will my subjective experience be?" What she told me was pretty much exactly what happened: You might be nervous in the morning; it will be uncomfortable not eating or drinking anything prior, and then waiting around for a while; then you will be sedated, fall asleep, and wake up. Nurses will be with you and you might feel dazed, but in kind of a sleepy pleasant way.

What stands out as the most unpleasant bit from that day was the nasty snack of crackers + Coca Cola that they made me eat just after I woke up. Worst taste combination. Dryest mouth. Would not recommend.
posted by witchen at 8:07 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Basically, what helped me was to name the specific things I was worried about, and then address the likelihood of those things happening.

And what will probably be the most unpleasant after the fact (pain management, wound care, going to the bathroom) is also more or less under your control, and you can handle it from home. It's less daunting than being under bright lights at the hospital. And you might have medicine that helps you rest.
posted by witchen at 8:11 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

It seems silly, but walks in the woods. Time in nature really helps. Studies show, time after time, it's just good for you mentally. Adding a walking partner helps, too.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:30 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

My favorite 'la-la-la don't want to think about it now' technique is to listen to an audiobook. With someone else telling me a story, there's no space for my voice of worry to get in the way.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:13 AM on January 23, 2017

Response by poster: Yes I've discussed it with them - and they're taking me early in their list and letting my partner stay with me except in theatre, which addressed the worst of my worries. I've just been surprised by anxiety which, if you see what I mean, doesn't seem to come from my head.

I came to suggest CBT techniques and mindfulness meditation, and it sounds like you're already using those. Great. Are those giving you any relief?

Yes they're helping - which I think is why my heads seems clear, but my body is full of uncomfortable anxiety feelings. This, weirdly, feels like progress, so I'm wondering what the next step of improving that is?

Some very useful suggestions here!
posted by highanxiety at 9:17 AM on January 23, 2017

For those physical feelings of anxiety, how about yoga? I love Yoga with Adriene - free on YouTube, no equipment necessary (you can do it in stretchy pants on a blanket on the floor). I'd suggest Yoga for Anxiety, Yoga for Anxiety and Stress, and Bedtime Yoga (even if it's not bedtime).

If that doesn't work for you, maybe a vigorous walk instead? Sometimes breaking a sweat helps me with chest tightness and other bodily anxiety symptoms (if that's okay for you pre-operation).

Good luck!
posted by bananacabana at 9:36 AM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I hold all my stress in my body too. For me it helps to think of it as a physiological thing. If you were a rabbit and a fox was chasing you, once you were out of harm's way you would take a breather and physically shake it off. I do a small amount of INTENSE physical exercise - running or riding a bike. And I physically try to shake it off. Just burn off some of the nervous energy. For me it only works for so long, so you may have to do it every few hours. Stress kind of builds up on me throughout the day.

It also helps me to label what's going on in my body. For example, my abs are tight. I'm breathing quickly. I feel like I can't relax. This is happening to me because I'm anxious and it will be okay. Try to acknowledge it and accept it. I don't know about you, but my kneejerk reaction is kind of "Oh God, this is happening and I can't control it and it's just going to be terrible forever." and that just piles on and makes things worse.

Also, do you have any pets? I cuddle with my cat and it really chills me out. That or a warm bath. Also venting to my friends if they're up for it.

Good luck with your surgery, I'm sure it will go well.
posted by Bistyfrass at 10:57 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hey! I am also having surgery under general anesthesia this week. I've managed my anxiety by keeping as busy as possible. I've done the shopping, did laundry, cleaned the fridge, clean clean clean. All the things I won't be able to do for awhile after surgery. If you will be able to do those things while you recover, then lift weights, go for a swim, walk in a park, etc Whatever you're capable of. Just keep as physically busy as possible. The more exercise you get the less anxiety your body will feel.

Good luck!
posted by AFABulous at 11:06 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Sounds weird but I've found screaming into a pillow can be really good to release anxiety. A deep breath and then AGGHHHHHHHHHH!

All the best to you.
posted by kitten magic at 1:54 PM on January 23, 2017

All the cool kids have upcoming surgeries under anesthesia. For me, physically doing anything that I have to concentrate on just enough to distract me helps. Coloring those adult coloring book pages, cross stitch, hand sewing, Play-Doh, household chores, shooting hoops, dribbling a soccer ball, take your pick.

The last three aren't available to me, but are further examples that might help you.

The idea is to distract your body, not just your mind.

And don't underestimate the value of Valium beforehand. I had a procedure today under local anesthetic, and I thank every god there ever was they gave me Valium.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 4:37 PM on January 23, 2017

Prepare for Surgery and Heal Faster is a program that is used in several hospitals here in the US to help with this exact issue. The book comes with music you can listen to as well, before and after, and it's really effective.
posted by ananci at 10:08 PM on January 23, 2017

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