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Dealing with stoma surgery anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, which can be mild or severe.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam or having a medical test or job interview.

For those awaiting surgery, you may find yourself experiencing feelings of anxiety and it might be comforting to know that research shows that 75% of people having surgery experience feelings of anxiety. During times like these feeling anxious, can be perfectly normal.

Although stoma surgery can prolong the lives of patients and help them return to a normal life, this process may also cause individuals to experience various problems with regards to the physiological, social, psychological aspects.

Adapting to having a stoma is much more than simply the person’s physical well-being following surgery. Learning to live with your new stoma and accepting how your body has changed, may feel isolating and overwhelming at times. Feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, sexual problems, and stigmatisation are some of the psychological issues an ostomate may be faced with.

Recognising feelings of anxiety and knowing what to do with them can really help. Here are some tips on what might be making you feel anxious and how to manage these feelings.

Anxiety about stoma surgery

Anxieties surrounding stoma surgery may build up around the weeks before surgery and may peak on the day of your surgery. Anxiety can look and feel quite different for each person, but here are some of the most common feelings, which you may relate to if you have had surgery in the past:

  • Excessive worrying about the surgical procedure
  • Worrying about the risks linked to the procedure, such as possible complications.
  • Worrying about receiving anaesthetic
  • Symptoms of stress, such as heart palpitations, a racing heart, or an irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Nervous stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleeping issues

How to help with these anxieties

It is important to remember anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and change. It can feel quite unpleasant and create a tension which stems from doubts and fears. There are many things you can do to remain calm or to keep your anxiety levels manageable before surgery.

Here are some tips of what you can do to help with your anxieties to overcome your fears of surgery:

  1. Talk to your doctor about your worries in advance of your procedure day
  2. Understand what to expect and follow instructions given to you.
  3. Keep your mind and body healthy for surgery
  4. Talk to the hospital staff on the day of surgery, it will help calm your nerves
  5. Keep yourself distracted with music on the day of surgery
  6. Have a support group of family and friends to talk through your worries

Anxiety following stoma surgery and the future:

For ostomates the anxieties surrounding surgery may not end when surgery is over. There may be many additional long-term worries and fears about recovery, adapting to life with a stoma and how the future looks for you with your new stoma. There are many questions ostomates many have and here are some of the most common questions:

  • How will my stoma look after surgery?
  • How will I adapt to having a stoma?
  • How having a stoma may affect my body image and relationships?
  • How will I manage to get back to activities and exercise?
  • Will my stoma behave when you go out?
  • What can I eat?
  • How will I go on holiday again?
  • Will I be able to be intimate with my partner again?

For ostomates it is important to take time talking with your Stoma Care Nurse before and after surgery, who will provide support and be able to answer all your worries and fears including the above questions. You will be given information in the form of literature to take home and spend the time reading, at your own pace, which you can also share with your loved ones who may also be feeling anxious for you.

There are online and telephone support groups who are available to provide both knowledge and support about the type of stoma you have had and will offer for you to talk to another ostomate buddy who has been through similar surgery.

Don’t forget there are so many people wring about their experiences online now. Blogs are available with information and ostomates have bravely stepped forward to talk about their experiences living life with a stoma.

What helps with surgery anxiety?

Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation or muscle relaxation can be helpful. These techniques can be learned in classes or with the help of pre-recorded audio training courses.

Other options such as alternative therapies like massages, acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy, or hypnosis are sometimes offered to help relax you before surgery too.

Music has a wonderfully relaxing affect, whether you play and instrument or listen to music, it can all be incredibly relaxing and take your mind off things which are troubling you.

If you feel your anxiety is really bothering you, before your surgery then do highlight this to your surgeon or GP in advance of your surgery as they may prescribe you some anti-anxiety medication, if appropriate.

Reach out to your stoma care nurse after your surgery as this is the best way to be supported and guided during your recovery.

For more help and advice on dealing with anxiety and life as an ostomate, please visit our helpful stoma care advice centre, speak to your stoma care nurse or contact your GP.

Useful links: 

Colostomy Association

Ileostomy & Internal Pouch Association

Urostomy Association

Anxiety UK

MIND – mental health charity

Talking Therapies

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