How to Strengthen Mental Wellness Post Surgery
No matter what the reason for it, and regardless of how successful or unsuccessful the outcome, surgery is always a trauma, not only for the body but also for the mind. After all, when you must take the step of subjecting yourself to so drastic an intervention, it means you’ve already been through something. And the recovery period itself is yet another thing to endure, even if at the end of the process is a healthier and happier life.
When you’re recovering from surgery, it’s important to focus not only on your physical health but also on your mental health as well. This article explores the psychological impacts of surgery and what you can do to protect your mental wellness post surgery as you recover.
The Impact of Surgery on Mental Health
When you’re recovering from major surgery, it’s easy to become so focused on your physical health that you forget to tend to your mind and spirit. But that is one of the worst things you can do not only for your mental health but also for your physical recovery.
Studies show that depression, for example, is very common in the aftermath of surgery. And it’s not difficult to understand why. Whatever factors might have led to the procedure in the first place, odds are you have been dealing with ill health for a while, which inevitably takes a toll on your mental wellbeing.
However, even if the precipitating condition were largely asymptomatic, surgical recovery, in itself, will not be. There will be pain. There will be at least some temporary loss of your “normal” functioning. You almost certainly will need to modify your normal lifestyle for a while. You’ll likely need to depend on others for help.
Such disruptions to your normal routine, combined with what may be a lost sense of independence and self-determination, can have a debilitating effect on your mental health.
Minor and Outpatient Procedures
Even if you are not facing a major operation with an extended recovery time, there can still be significant mental health impacts.
For example, even outpatient procedures may take an immediate toll on your mental and emotional health. If you have undergone a procedure to clear a blood clot or open an artery, then you may feel immediately better but may be faced with lifestyle changes to address your condition, combined with the reality of having experienced a potentially life-threatening health condition.
The inevitable changes that surgical recovery brings to your life are not the only factors that can lead to depression, anxiety, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Detrimental mental health impacts can also arise as a side effect of the anesthesia or other medications used during the recovery period, including antibiotics and analgesics.
What Can Be Done?
Whether your recovery is proceeding smoothly and on schedule, or you are facing setbacks, you don’t have to resign yourself to suffering mentally and emotionally in the wake of surgery. There are steps you can take to protect, preserve, and even restore your sense of mental and emotional wellbeing.
It all begins, of course, with making your mental health a top priority. Self-care post-surgery is about more than following your prescribed treatment regimen and complying with doctor’s orders. It’s also about remembering that the body is an integrated thing — a mind and spirit housed within a material being. And that means that if you neglect one, all will suffer.
So, protecting your mental health post-surgery will also involve promoting your physical recovery through adequate nutrition, gentle physical activity, and healthy sleep.
So interconnected are the health of mind and body that even something as seemingly innocuous as your posture can make a tremendous difference in your overall recovery. Proper posture can help reduce pain and improve blood circulation while also boosting your energy levels and your overall mood.
After all, so much is expressed in the way we carry ourselves, and square shoulders and a straight back immediately convey confidence and self-esteem. When you’re recovering from surgery and adjusting to a new sense of identity in the wake of illness and injury, holding yourself upright can help to remind not only those around you but also yourself that you are still you.
Because recovery from surgery can be an incredibly stressful experience, another vital strategy for managing your mental health in this period is to integrate stress-reduction techniques into your recovery plan.
Meditation and mindfulness are particularly important tools, especially if your anxieties threaten to overwhelm you. You might find yourself worrying about your recovery or potential complications. You may fear the financial impacts of your surgery and recovery. You may worry that you “won’t be the same” post-recovery. Meditation and mindfulness will help you to turn your focus to those things you can control, to live in the present, and to stop borrowing trouble that may never come.
Recovering from surgery is difficult in the best of circumstances. But it’s not only the physical aftermath that you have to be concerned with. It’s also the mental and emotional impacts. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms are commonplace after surgery, but they don’t have to be. Tending to your mental wellness post surgery will help smooth the recovery process — body, mind, and spirit.
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