Looking after your mental health if an operation has been delayed

profile photo of Dr Helen Hartley
Medical Director, Healthcare Management, Bupa Insurance
20 January 2023
Next review due January 2026

If your operation has been delayed, it can be a worrying time. As difficult as it can be, keeping a positive mindset can make a difference to your health before surgery, and your recovery afterwards too. Here, I’ll share some tips on how to look after your mental health if your surgery has been postponed.

person reading a book at home

Managing anxiety

It might help to think of this delay as an extra opportunity to prepare for your operation. You could also use the time to manage any anxiety you might have about the procedure. Keeping your mind busy will give you something to focus on, and less time to worry. Maybe there are things you want to do but never normally have time for – such as reading a book, baking, or playing a musical instrument. Or perhaps you’d rather get stuck into a longer-term project, like doing some DIY or tidying up the garden?

Being outside can bring added benefits to your mental and physical wellbeing. Spending time in nature, whether that means going outside or bringing the outside indoors, can improve your mood. If you go for a walk outdoors, it could be an opportunity to practice mindfulness, which can also help you to relax.

If you feel anxious, you might find it helps to allow yourself a set time when you’ll think about your worries. This leaves the rest of your time free to focus on other things. Or perhaps you have a trusted, supportive friend or loved one you can talk about your feelings with. Some people find it helpful to write down thoughts and worries in a journal. Once it’s on paper, you might feel happier to move on.

Being active

Being active isn’t just good for your physical health, it’s also important for your mental wellbeing. Physical activity releases hormones called endorphins that make you feel good. It can also give you an energy boost. If you can improve your fitness before an operation, you’ll aid your recovery too.

If you’re able to get outside for a walk, jog or cycle, that’s great. But being active doesn’t mean you have to visit the gym or play sports. There are lots of home workouts and virtual classes available online for many different types of activity, and for all levels of ability.

Eating and sleeping well

What you eat has an important effect on your mood. A well-balanced diet can also help your immune system, which will be important after surgery. Try to eat regular meals with wholegrain carbohydrates and vegetables. These release energy slowly. This will help to keep your sugar levels steady throughout the day, giving you more energy and helping you to focus. Fruit and vegetables contain lots of vitamins and minerals, which can keep you healthy – for example, by helping to maintain your immune system.

Try to avoid sugary foods and drinks that will give you a sharp rise and fall in blood sugar levels, and may make you feel tired. Caffeine – which you’ll find in tea, coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks – can also disturb your sleep. Sleep is closely linked to your mental health, and you may find it harder to deal with things if you aren’t sleeping well.

Taking time to relax

Taking time out to relax is important, especially while you’re waiting for your operation to go ahead. Here are some relaxation ideas – why not try them out and see what works for you?

  • Breathing techniques can be a helpful way of reducing stress and anxiety. And if you can learn them now, you can also put them to use around the time you’re having surgery. Focus on taking deeper, longer breaths. Try counting as you breathe in and out and take note of your tummy rising and falling.
  • Another relaxation technique you can practise is something known as progressive muscle relaxation. This involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in turn.
  • Do something you enjoy, such as listening to music, having a bath, or doing something creative like colouring, or reading a book. If an activity can give you a break from your phone, it may also help to reduce any stress and anxiety you may be feeling.
  • Think about how you can build mindfulness into your day-to-day life. Mindfulness means learning how to focus on the present moment and accepting your feelings without judgement. It can help you to feel more self-aware, and in control of your thoughts and feelings. It might mean taking time to notice the trees, flowers and plants in your garden or the park. Or really focusing on the music you’re listening to.
  • Build these relaxation strategies into your bedtime routine. Feeling worried and anxious can affect how well you sleep, but lack of sleep can, in turn, also make you feel low. Getting into a good sleep routine and sleeping well will help your mental health.

Keeping informed

Finally, making sure you’re well prepared for your operation will help you to feel ready once it’s rescheduled. If you have any choices to make, such as what type of anaesthetic you want to have, you could use this time to review your options. Are there any practical tasks you need to do to prepare for your surgery? Some procedures allow you to play music – maybe you could put together a playlist or find a podcast you want to listen to. The Royal College of Anaesthetists has some great information on what practical things you can do to prepare for surgery.

Don’t forget that your operation will be rearranged – it’s not been cancelled. Although the timing might be out of your hands, being informed about your options and the surgery itself can help you to feel in control. Stay in touch with your doctor and ask about other treatments that may be possible while you wait for surgery. You could also ask if they have any specific advice on keeping healthy.

We understand it's important to get back to feeling yourself again as quickly as possible. That's why with our health insurance you can get fast access to the treatment and support you need, when you need it. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

profile photo of Dr Helen Hartley
Dr Helen Hartley
Medical Director, Healthcare Management, Bupa Insurance

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