Preparing for and recovering from surgery with Somatic Experiencing

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Recently, two friends of mine had to undergo surgery, one of them had local, the other generalized anesthesia. Even though intellectually both of my friends were accepting the necessity to have surgery, on an emotional level they were naturally feeling anxious.

When somebody is going to cut your skin with a scalpel, on an instinct level you feel threatened and your survival responses kick in. Your nervous system and body chemistry will mobilize for high alert and fight or flight. In general anesthesia you are being immobilized which is similar to the state of the freeze response that is our very last option if neither fight nor flight are possible. In surgery, your innate responses get overridden and are unable to complete which makes for potentially trapped fight/flight energy in the body and post-traumatic stress in the nervous system.

Somatic Experiencing shock and trauma therapy will minimize the stress and potential trauma of surgery and can prepare you for and help you recover from medical procedures. Before surgery, Somatic Experiencing will reduce the threat of the upcoming procedure, stabilizing the “Healing Vortex”. After surgery, Somatic Experiencing will minimize potential post-surgical distress.

Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. – Peter Levine, PhD

Somatic Experiencing uses the wisdom of the body to support biological completion of fight and flight responses so that the nervous system can re-regulate and regain its healthy resilience and stress tolerance.

Additionally, there is more you can do to prepare yourself for surgery, feel safer during your stay at the hospital, and have a smoother recovery.

– Meet with the surgical team, anesthetist and surgeon, so you know who they are.

– Get to know the hospital where you will be. The more “at home” you feel and the better you know your way around in the hospital the calmer you will be on the day of the surgery.

– Have a “buddy” with you, somebody who is with you before and after the anesthesia. This person should be someone you trust and who makes you feel calm, comfortable, and safe. His or her task would be supporting you and being your link to the hospital staff, also if needed softening potentially rough treatment by stressed nurses and physicians. Calm and safety now will ease your recovery. Your buddy will hold the space for you while you are “out” and will welcome you once you are back. It is important that somebody is there with you or holds your hand when you wake up or at least when you come back to your personal room. This person should tell you: “You are ok now.” Or if you are not, your buddy could say something like “You are back now. And we can talk more later.”

– Prepare with hypnotherapy if hypnotherapy speaks to you. There are downloads available online. Practice “letting go” rather than “fighting it”. This will help you to make it through more smoothly.

– If you are getting generalized anesthesia, INSIST on additional local anesthesia in the area of the incision. The less pain signals reach the brain the smoother the recovery!

– For the same reason: Take your pain medication after the surgery, don’t wait for the pain to be back before taking your next dose. Again, the less pain signals reach the brain the smoother your recovery will be.

– Arrange for the time afterwards by bringing some personal things that wil make you feel better, a picture, a blanket, music and headphones, to the hospital room.

– Prepare for your recovery at home by arranging things in advance – make life easy for you during that period of time.

– Once you are home, practice accepting help from others. Take rest and let the body heal.

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