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How to deal with fear of surgery

  • by Alan Piper
  • 04 Oct, 2016

How to deal with fear of surgery

surgeon mask

Having surgery is never a pleasant experience whether it’s for medical or aesthetic purposes. It’s common for a sterile and unfamiliar hospital environment to induce stress in patients, however, there is a difference between nervousness and a fear of surgery becoming a psychological issue. If your fear of surgery is causing extreme anxiety there are a few things you can do about it. We asked three therapists to give insight into the physical and mental effects of stress, and way to treat anxiety.

What are the symptoms of extreme fear of surgery? How do I know if I am just nervous or if I’m suffering from anxiety?

“It needs to be understood that anxiety and nerves are normal, we are supposed to be anxious or nervous in some situations and that is healthy. It's when that anxiety crosses the line of becoming an irrational fear or phobia.”
Alan Piper, Wise Blue Owl Therapy Centre

“Patients who are more relaxed prior to anaesthesia are shown to have fewer complications during surgery, and subsequent recovery. In this context, strong anxiety, as an emotion isn’t particularly useful.

Anxious thoughts are usually nothing more than ruminations about the future; a time that neither exists nor is relevant; when little or no influence is available. And it is perhaps that lack of ‘control’ which causes most anxiety. The ‘what if’s?’
If we must engage with ‘what if’s’, be sure to include “what if it turns out okay?”
Fear, on the other hand, is present moment emotion and is primarily involved with the reality of a clear and present ‘threat’ to our wellbeing. Now, arguably, depending on what has been discussed with your surgical team, there may be a threat to be considered. Be sure that the answers to questions you have asked before surgery are exactly what has been said! This means repeating back any ambiguity you may have.”
Bob Brotchie, Anglia Counselling

“The difference between feeling nervous or anxious is determined by:
a) How strongly you physically feel the fear
b) The thought patterns associated with the fear
c) The behaviours this creates

Perhaps, when thinking about your upcoming surgery, you have a mildly increased heart rate and butterflies in your stomach, you start thinking ‘this feels a bit scary but it will be ok’ and you cautiously proceed through the pre-op process. If you're exhibiting these feelings you're probably nervous.

If on the other hand, you feel dizzy, hot and cold and are about to vomit/need the toilet, then this is anxiety. Possible thought patterns may be ‘What if something bad happens? I can't do this!’ and resulting behaviour pattern might include exhibiting resistance to the surgery by finding excuses not to do it.

If you are experiencing a level of anxiety that is causing you distress it may be worth seeking help for this through therapeutic interventions.”
Gemma Greenland, New Steps Therapy

Where does fear of surgery come from? What are patients’ most common fears?

“Most phobia is due to some kind of past bad experience or learning. Either from what someone has said in the negative sense or what a person has experienced in a negative sense. That is what starts the irrational fear or phobia off."
Alan Piper, Wise Blue Owl Therapy Centre

“Less clear causes are often rooted in childhood. As children, we absorb information about the world around us and try to make sense of it the best we can. However, children don't always get this right; sometimes we create internal beliefs that may not be factually accurate. For example, perhaps, as a child, you might have known an elderly relative who had surgery to try and prolong their life, which was unsuccessful. The child's brain processes this to mean: ‘They had surgery and then they died, therefore surgery equals death.’ This message gets internalised and so even as we grow up and can logically assess this as inaccurate, there is still an emotion-led belief that this is the case.

Many other subtle experiences can lead to incorrect subconscious beliefs that result in fear. Maybe your mother experienced the difficult birth (C-section) of a younger sibling, and you lived through the strain at home that this can put on a family? Perhaps you had a friend at school who had an operation resulting in them being away from their friends for a long time, which you internalised as a negative experience? The possibilities are varied and numerous. The good news is that all of this can be resolved via therapy.“
Gemma Greenland, New Steps Therapy

What can I do as a patient to relax before surgery?

“In order to cope with reasonable fear it is helpful to acknowledge this emotion when it is present. The old adage is: ‘Name it to tame it.’
I am frightened … yes … it is true… and I can choose to find acceptance for this, for now.
With any and all these emotions, the challenge is learning to find new perspectives in order to relinquish our false sense of control – and trust in the outcome. This isn’t just a nice thing to do, as I mentioned earlier, it can actually influence the surgical procedure itself!”
Bob Brotchie, Anglia Counselling

“There are many techniques available to help you relax. Here are my top four:

1. Deep breathing Inhale through your nose, hold the breath, then exhale through your mouth. It can help to add a count to the breaths, for example, 4-4-4 breathing means to breathe in for a slow count of 4, hold it for 4 and breathe out for 4.

2. Muscle relaxation exercises Starting at the top of your head, focus on releasing and relaxing the muscles throughout your head and face, followed by neck and shoulders, then chest and arms, and so on, all the way down through your body, to the tips of your toes. A good way practice this is to relax a new muscle group each time you exhale during your deep breathing.

3. Positive self-talk Positive self-talk is a way of reassuring yourself, allowing you to feel safer and calmer. Choose a sentence or two that you can say to yourself, silently in your head that you would help you feel better, if you heard it from someone you trust. Perhaps it's "I'm safe, everything's okay", or maybe "I'm calm, relaxed and safe".

4. Visualisation Finally, picture in your head a place that makes you feel happy, relaxed and safe. Many people choose tropical beaches or cosy rooms with roaring fires. Pick what is right for you and imagine yourself there.

Techniques one and two relax your body, three and four calm the mind. When used together they work effectively to ease anxiety.”
Gemma Greenland, New Steps Therapy

How is fear of surgery treated with therapy?

“When a client and therapist collaborate, they can explore and understand what makes this situation overwhelming for the patient. Depending on the patient, and the skill and scope of practice of the therapist, one or more therapies may be employed for optimal results. These are likely to include exploration of the client’s past, how resilient they are ‘emotionally’, teaching relaxation techniques, and strategies for managing the thoughts associated with fears.

Ultimately, I want the patient to feel empowered over what they currently fear. That they feel (rightly so) they have a choice, and with all the information required available, they can safely choose surgery, and all that is associated with the process for recovery from whatever has brought them to this place in time.”
Bob Brotchie, Anglia Counselling

“Hypnosis is used to address the underlying subconscious fear. Here, the client is taught to relax body and mind, before listening to hypnotic suggestions designed to eliminate the fear. Often the client is asked to imagine themselves undergoing surgery whilst experiencing a strong feeling of safety and calm. From this, the subconscious mind is able to associate surgery with new, positive feelings, therefore removing the old fear response.

The client is also taught to identify their unique anxiety reactions and, based on these, shown how to use the relaxation techniques discussed above, and a number of others, in a way that is quickly effective.

Psycho-education and counselling are used to teach the client what anxiety actually is, and that it is nothing to be afraid of in itself, to allay any specific concerns through talking about them and to address any past incidents or connections that may have triggered the fear in the first place.
Through this powerful combination of therapeutic methods, the fear is removed on both a conscious and subconscious level, leaving the client feeling safe, relaxed, willing and able to undergo their surgery.”
Gemma Greenland, New Steps Therapy

Bob Brotchie

He is a counsellor at Anglia Counselling in Newmarket  (www.angliacounselling.co.uk) . He worked as a senior emergency paramedic for two decades during which time he won awards for his work, before receiving his license in Counselling and Psychotherapy and a Diploma in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Gemma Greenland

She is a therapist at New Steps Therapy in Cardiff  (www.cardiff- therapy.co.uk) . Her qualifications include an Honours Degree in Psychology, a Diploma in Hypnotherapy, a Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling and a Masters Degree in Play Therapy.

Alan Piper

He is a therapist at the Wise Blue Owl Therapy Centre in Surrey  (www.wiseblueowl.co.uk) . He is a member of the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council and General Hypnotherapy Register. He also holds a diploma in neuro-linguistic programming and complete mind therapy and is a Reiki and Shamanic master specialising in panic disorders.

Hypnotherapy in Ashford,Staines,Sunbury,Chiswick

by Alan Piper 21 May, 2017
We are based in Ashford Surrey, Just 8 Mins from Heathrow Airport. For all your corporate and conference needs, call us on 01784392449
by Alan Piper 18 May, 2017

Alan Piper - HPA, DipNLP, MUFH, GHSC/GHR, DipCMT

I am Alan R Piper, a member of the General Hypnotherapy Standards Council and General Hypnotherapy Register. I also hold a diploma in neuro-linguistic programming and complete mind therapy.

I trained exclusively on a one-to-one basis with the late and most respected of clinical hypnotherapists Bob Neill. (Bob Neill was one of the forefathers of hypnotherapy and had studied, developed and practiced hypnotherapy since the 1950s up until his death in 2006).

Some of my qualifications and certifications include:
  • Diploma in Complete Mind Therapy - (CMT) Dip.C.M.T
  • Diploma in Neuro-linguistic programming - (NLP) Dip.N.L.P.
  • Diploma in Clinical Hypnotherapy - HPA (Hypnotherapy Practitioners Association)
  • Philosophical Counselling Practitioner in Hypnotherapy Practitioners Association
  • Member of General Hypnotherapy Standards Council (GHSC)
  • Member of General Hypnotherapy Register (GHR)

I am also a  Reiki  and Shamanic master specialising in panic disorders, stress, and anxiety. I am GHR and GHSC registered, following a strict code of ethics and practice (as part of membership conditions). I am fully insured with Public Liability and Professional Indemnity Insurance.

If you are looking for a professional  hypnotherapist  or psychotherapist, simply get in touch with me. Based in Ashford, my services are easily available to those across the London and Surrey regions.

by Alan Piper 16 May, 2017


Begin by feeling into your body lying here.

Feeling the areas of contact at this moment.  Where your feet are touching the ground.  The legs, your back, the arms, the head.

Noticing your breath, entering and leaving your body.

The intention of the this is to be present with our body without wanting anything at all. Not even relaxation. Of course, it’s nice to relax and its great if it happens, but that is not the goal of the body scan. The goal is to be checking in with each area of the body in a non-judgmental way. We simply feel what is there to feel. No need to stir up sensations by moving the body.

You will notice that there are a number of areas in the body that you might not be able to feel at all. And that is normal and ok. Just check into those areas as if you could feel something.

Starting with the feet, feeling into both feet right now.

Feeling into the areas where your feet are touching the ground or chair.

Maybe feeling your toes – or not. Maybe feeling tingling or temperature.

Now moving the attention to your ankles and lower legs. What is here to feel – if anything at all? Pressure of your calves against the mat? Perhaps the fabric against the skin?

And if you notice that your attention is suddenly somewhere else, just gently returning it to your legs. It’s not a problem at all, the mind likes to wander.

If you find it helpful you can imagine that you are breathing into your lower legs. As if your attention could ride on the breath. Or as if your attention would light up the area like it was a flash light.

Now letting go of the lower legs and moving the attention to your knees and thighs, what do you feel, again maybe pressure, temperature, the position of your legs, or nothing at all, numbness counts as a sensation in this practice.

Noticing that thinking about an area or picturing it in your mind’s eye is different from actually feeling it.

Now letting go of the thighs and moving the attention to the lower trunk. The pelvis and the tummy up to the tummy button. Noticing any sensations in this area. Maybe feeling the breath in the tummy or maybe not.

Then letting go and now feeling into the upper trunk … the stomach area… the chest, feeling the sensations of the breath here… with each inhalation and exhalation.

Feeling the spine against the floor, noticing any sensations that are here or the absence of sensations.

From here now moving the attention into your hands. Feeling your hands, you might notice how well you can feel your hands without having to see the, feeling individual fingers/position of hands.

When you are ready, moving the attention to the wrists/forearms. What is here to feel? Touch/ Pressure: Warmth?

Moving attention to your elbows and upper arms. Noticing any sensations here. And if your mind wanders off, just bringing It back to wherever we are. Just starting again.

From here, moving the attention to your shoulders, back of your neck and then your head. Feeling into your jaw, face, mouth nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, your entire face.

Now opening the awareness to include the entire body again, being alive, breathing.

If you like, imagining to be breathing from the crown of your head all the way down into your toes and up and out again.

Noticing all the sensations of the body and allowing them to be just as they are in this moment.

Allowing some movement back into the body, like wiggling your fingers and toes. Stretching the body. Coming all the way back into the room.

Just take a few moments to notice what sensations are present in your body right now observe the thoughts going through your mind and check in with the emotions of this moment.
by Alan Piper 16 May, 2017

Starting the Day

Starting your mindfulness right when you wake up requires taking stock of yourself. Hear the sounds outside, notice your breath, look around the room.

Dial your senses into the sensations you encounter as you shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast; all of the things that we do in the morning. Mindfulness incorporates a keen attention to the little details. Make your morning count, be present in it. Don’t think about that meeting at 11 or the presentation this afternoon. Taste the eggs and toast on your plate in front of you at this very moment. You are laying the groundwork for the rest of your day.

Arriving at Work

When you get to the office, don’t get distracted by the inevitable bombardment of information and distractions that are inherent in a workplace environment. Emails, files, voicemails, phone calls, your boss and co-workers, all of them provide continuous, multi-layered stimuli that can affect your mood from one minute to the next. Even the nature of the work that you’re tasked with completing can bring on large amounts of stress quickly.

But try not to get caught up in all of it. Stop periodically. Take a deep breath. Check in with all of your senses. Do some quiet meditations from time to time, it can take the form of a short walk to the break room, sitting upright quietly at your desk for a brief minute, or listening to a calming piece of music in a pair of earphones.                

Remaining centered throughout the day will go a long way towards improving your mood and productivity.

Stop and Think First

The fast-paced nature of a successful workplace can threaten to overwhelm anyone into a stressed rhythm. This may cause undue amounts of pressure and force us to react hastily. How you respond to things is a large part of practicing mindfulness in your daily life.      Being more conscious of your practice at work will probably take a greater commitment at first, but the more you remain aware of yourself and your surroundings the easier it will come.

Many of us tend to react quickly to stimuli, because we automatically feel that is the required action in certain situations. Instead, take pause and deal with the stimuli around you in measured answers. The same goes for solving difficult challenges and problems that might occur during the day. A crisis is not an excuse for you to stop being mindful, in fact it’s a call for you to focus on your training even harder.

The Little Things

Mindfulness comes at all times and in all things. It’s not only about staying in the present and focusing on your behavior when people or situations become intense, it’s also about noticing the minute details and remaining present in them constantly. The way you respond to stress starts in how you react to the little things.

Take pause and just notice the hum of the computer, the way the coffee tastes as you sip, re-read that email because you may have missed something the first time. Remain attentive in everything that you do. It will make the difference between having a good day at the office and one you’ll want to forget. Try it right now as you’re reading this article. Look around you. What do you see, hear, and feel?      

  These are the building blocks to becoming more mindful.

Research studies have found that people who practice mindfulness irrespective of whether they had practised meditation before or not reports:

Feeling less stressed, anxious and depressed, happier, inspired, satisfied with life.
by Alan Piper 09 May, 2017

Mindfulness coach near Heathrow Airport : 01784 392449

by Alan Piper 09 May, 2017

Mindfulness practitioners near Heathrow Airport:  01784 392449

by Alan Piper 07 May, 2017
For stop smoking hypnotherapy in Surrey call us at Wise Blue Owl Therapy Centre: 01784 392449
by Alan Piper 07 May, 2017
by Alan Piper 06 May, 2017

As a professional footballer, if he is fortunate, begins his career as a child and ends it as an adult having known nothing but the same well-organised, rigorous daily schedule. There are even some of us who spend all those best physical years of our youth and adulthood at the same club.

Institutionalised is a description I would apply to my life as a footballer at Manchester United.

I had been there from the age of 14 to 42, and my life had been so distinctively shaped by the rhythm of life at Old Trafford that I realised, when it was coming to the end last year, I had to make some preparations for the change.

Aaron Lennon’s story has made mental health of footballers an issue again and I think that for his sake and everyone else in the game it is important to be open about how we feel as professionals, and how we cope with stress.

I know that those outside of the game will point to our wages and the kind of lives we live and to an extent that does cushion us from the challenges that many face, but it does not make us immune.

by Alan Piper 03 May, 2017
Looking for a motivational coach or speaker for your business. Call us on 01784 392449
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