After surgery, you may have feelings rushing through your mind. One minute you may be sad, feeling worthless, and then all of a sudden, you become anxious and overwhelmed. These are all very normal feelings after surgery, so be assured, no, you are not going crazy- but perhaps are feeling depressed or anxious.
Experiencing depression after surgery is pretty common. However, if you or someone around you feel it is more than just fleeting feelings, contact a doctor, and please note I am not a doctor and cannot give medical advice. I can, however, share with you what I have found to be true with myself and others and depression after surgery.
Feelings – Nothing more than Feelings
Your body has just gone through to what it views as a traumatic event. You have, more than likely, been put under anesthesia, you have been cut open, your body has been manipulated probably in a way that it hasn’t been before – you bet you have feelings and they can be very powerful.
And on top of the feelings, you may have questions rolling through your mind -Will you ever feel better? Will you be able to do things for yourself again? Will you be able to do the “normal” things you did before surgery? Will you ever be able to sleep soundly? Will this ever end? These are just a few of the questions that might be running through your mind, and the list can go on and on.
Yes, what you are experiencing are normal feelings and questions following surgery. Though it’s been said that feelings are nothing more than feelings – feelings and questions can also go on to manifest as depression and anxiety. Depression, which is more than just a few fleeting thoughts, can become debilitating if allowed to go on without addressing it, as too, can anxiety.
Signs of depression can include the following:
- Sleep patterns – more or less than usual
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies
- Problems with memory
- Change in appetite – more or less than usual
- Thoughts of suicide or hurting oneself or others
As shown above, depression can encompass so many thoughts and feelings. Having overwhelming sadness, despair, fatigue, being discouraged are also seen in depression. But be assured, in most cases, as you move along in your recovery, these very signs and feelings will begin to shift.
How is that? As you pain lessons, as you’re able to sleep better, as you can to do more for yourself, as you get back to your normal activities, your feelings of depression and that cloud of darkness should start to lift.
Reasons that Contribute to Depression after Surgery:
- Effects of anesthesia – this may last a few weeks
- Reaction to antibiotics and other medications
- Pain and Discomfort
- Concerns about your quality of life
Some Surgeries Have A Higher Risk of Depression
As discussed in a study, “Depression and Postoperative complications: an overview,” certain types of surgery see a higher rate of depression afterward. Knowing what these surgeries are and you’re having one, you can be better prepared and informed. Three of these surgeries include:
- Heart Surgery
- Spinal surgery
- Bariatric surgery
In another study, it was found that women undergoing a mastectomy for breast cancer experience depression more frequently than healthy people but that depression lifted in the post-op period.
Another issue you might wrestle with following surgery is anxiety. Anxiety is a close relative, if you will, of depression.
Who’s going to pay my bills? When will I get back to work (to be able to pay the bills)? What happens if something happens to me when no one is here to help? And if you let your mind continue down the path of anxiety, you can come up with so many “what if” scenarios. Again, be assured that many people have these types of anxious feelings following surgery.
Anxiety can be real in the sense that maybe you have good reason to believe your bills won’t be paid; you are living alone what then? I believe if you face the issues head-on, it will relieve some of your anxiety. For instance, have someone with you in the early days of recovery, ask your doctor beforehand when you can anticipate going back to work, etc. As you progress through your recovery, some of the anxiety will naturally lift.
Ways to Help Yourself
So, you’ve identified that you are feeling depressed after surgery, or perhaps you are being flooded with anxiety – what can you do to begin to feel better?
- Be sure you are eating a well-balanced diet.
- Try to eliminate sugar, or at least limit the amount of sugar. Sugar, in itself, can set you on a roller coaster of feeling up and then crashing.
- Limit processed foods. What are some examples of these – hot dogs, frozen dinners, and bacon. These are just a few examples of processed foods – there are many more.
- Don’t limit protein because protein helps restore muscle and muscle growth.
- Drinking enough water – a good measure of water intake you should aim for 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water. Example – If you weigh 200 lbs. aim for 100 oz of water a day. Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration, and your body may not function as it sure, from your kidneys to your brain, so get that water in.
- Getting enough sleep can be tough when you’re still recovering and have pain.
- Medications can interfere with sleep. So be sure to take naps during the day if your sleep is interrupted throughout the night. Remember when we used to hate naps as children – nope, not anymore more lol.
- This is the time for you to relax so, don’t do too much and get as much sleep as you are able – this may be the only time you can give yourself permission to do so without others complaining about all you do is sleep. Seriously though, don’t underestimate the value of rest.
I know, I know – you may loathe exercise. But there are so many types of exercise that you can participate in – I’m not talking running a marathon at this time.
- Exercise has been proven to aid in the production of endorphins, which in turn, lift your mood.
- What type of exercise – well first and foremost, you want to ask your doctor. Find out when is it okay to begin exercising.
- Short walks are an excellent way to start.
- As you progress through your recovery you can also increase the amount of exercise and also incorporate other types of exercise into your program – yoga, walking with the goals of further or longer time increments, biking (even stationary bikes if needed), and at some time in your recovery you may be able to resume weight workouts – but again confer with your doctor and get his release for any exercise.
- Medication, most times, is needed after surgery. It helps with pain, and pain can lead to feelings of depression after surgery. So be sure to continue with your medication and keep an open line of communication with your doctor.
- Take the prescribed amount, and don’t quit taking your medication without letting your doctor know. Sometimes cutting out meds can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms, and we don’t want that.
Depression after surgery is not uncommon. So many things are going on with our bodies after surgery that it’s surprising that more people don’t experience depression.
It’s true: feelings are nothing more than feelings, but those very feelings can be intense.
Always, always talk with someone if you continue to feel depressed or have thoughts of harming yourself.
As you progress through your recovery, those feelings of depression and anxiety should start to lift, especially if you take steps to conquer them.
Have you experienced depression after surgery? Comment below with your story or if you have any questions.