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Why preoperative emotional and psychological preparation matters

The human psyche constitutes four primary building blocks: the physical body, the emotional body, the mental body and the spiritual body. A deeply interdependent system that exists only due to the relation between each ‘body’. Without knowledge of the constituent pieces that give rise to this system - one that permits us to exist as humans - the outcome of a surgery may appear to be purely physical by nature. Yet when we consider the rise in preoperative fears and anxiety - that our mental and emotional bodies have an effect on our physical body, we are able to acknowledge the importance of attending to our psychological and emotional experiences before and after our operation.

The past few decades have seen a increase in preoperative anxiety experienced by adult and paediatric patients. A preoperative emotional and psychological experience that skips only a rare few, and one that was found to have a profound effect on the outcome of a surgery (Psychology Today, 2017).

The biological and psychological trauma associated with life-changing and life-saving surgeries can be greatly eased through psychological preparation, which has been found to not only lessen the anxiety that comes with most surgeries but additionally aids in physical recovery times. Lower levels of preoperative anxiety have led to a decrease in the amount of pain medication required by a patient, meaning that the patient is discharged from hospital earlier (Psychology Today, 2017).

How to practice psychology and emotional preparation.

Preoperative preparation means different things to a variety of patients. Information could greatly serve one patient, but could act as an overwhelming threat to another. “The information and training given to patients before surgery should fit their personality,” says Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, Dr Malcolm Rogers “some people naturally want as much information as possible, others prefer to deny the [psychological] threat” (The New York Times).

Preparation practices include, but are not limited to:

  • Relaxation practices. This includes relaxation videotapes and/or music. The University of Massachusetts found a strong correlation between ‘relaxation’ practices and a reduced amount of pain medication following the surgery. For adult patients, the practice also gives one a chance to actively participate in one’s recovery. Music additionally keeps your mind from overthinking.

  • Breathing exercises. Practiced and studied on adult cases predominantly. Breathing exercises aid in lung capacity expansion and contribute towards one’s recovery.

  • Asking questions. Surgical briefing and information relays should be conducted as far in advance as possible to ensure the information is absorbed. Patients and their family’s are then able to ask any crucial questions which may be causing them stress “When people gather information to handle stress, at first it raises their anxiety,” says Dr Erling Anderson, a psychologist in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Iowa. “But as they think over and find ways to deal with it, they end up with a reassuring sense of control."

  • Social support systems. Family and friends are crucial throughout the surgical period, from preparation right through to recovery. Never under estimate the power of the mind and the power that lies in acknowledging one’s emotions. Its been shown to lessen medical complications, soothe pain and fear, as well as ease feelings of helplessness and anger.

© Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute 2018 | Featured Image: Roman Kraft Resources:

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