Anxiety and Joint Replacement Surgery
Joint replacement surgery is a big step, so it's perfectly normal to have some fears and worries about it. Says William Deardorff, PhD, a health psychologist from Beverly Hills, California, "anxiety is probably the most thoroughly researched emotion with regard to preparation for surgery and surgical outcomes." Not surprisingly, he says, studies have found that anxiety and stress levels tend to be higher among people about to undergo joint replacement surgery than in the population at large.
Dealing With the Anxiety of Joint Replacement Surgery
It's important to differentiate between the normal concerns that virtually everyone has and the more severe or sustained anxiety that may need professional treatment. When the anxiety or stress is both high and maintained for a long period of time, it's not only upsetting, but can also lead to slower healing and a less satisfactory outcome after joint replacement surgery.
Be Alert for these Warning Signs
- Repeated episodes of intense fear that strike often and without warning
- Panic attacks that include physical symptoms, such as chest pain, a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, upset stomach, an "unreal" feeling, or fear of dying
- Repeated, unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to stop
- Extreme, irrational fears of things that pose little or no actual threat
- Fears that lead you to avoid things and unnecessarily limit your life
- Constant, exaggerated worries and tension about everyday activities
- A habit of expecting the worse, even when there is no rational reason
- Unexplained physical symptoms, such as tiredness, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea
Managing Your Anxiety Before Joint Replacement Surgery
Fortunately, there are things you can do for yourself to help keep anxiety from getting out of hand. For example, you can start practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or imagery exercises, well before your joint replacement surgery. This will help you prepare when the fear and stress of joint replacement surgery strike, as they often do.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed just how valuable this can be.1 The study looked at the hospital roommates of 84 men about to undergo coronary bypass surgery. On average, the men who roomed with patients who had already been through surgery, rather than those still waiting to have it, were less anxious, walked sooner after surgery, and had shorter hospital stays. The men also tended to fare better if they roomed with another heart patient, rather than someone with a different diagnosis. Those without any roommate at all generally had the slowest recoveries.
If you try incorporating these self-help measures and you're still consumed by intense fear or stress of surgery, talk to your doctor. You may need additional counseling or medications or both to help manage the fear and stress of joint replacement surgery. It's reassuring to know that resources are available if you need them.
Kulik JA, Mahler HIM, Moore PJ. Social comparison and affiliation under threat: effects on recovery from major surgery. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1996 Nov; 71(5): 967-979.