Consider the following situation: You just had knee replacement surgery. You are experiencing painful operation recovery, spiraling thoughts, and a rapid heartbeat. Would there be any benefit to meditative intervention?
If not for a knee replacement, you might have your own experience with recovery anxiety. Maybe you linked it to more significant pain. When medical anxiety strikes, is it possible to manage it in a way that helps the pain?
This is something a healthcare team led by Karen Vizyak, Resilience Integration Specialist and physical therapist at Platte Valley Medical Center, sought to discover in a recent study.
It’s well known there’s a strong body and mind connection. Several sources suggest anxiety around surgery contributes to higher levels of pain. A review study showed that anxiety and depression negatively affect pain experience in patients of all ages.
Karen Vizyak referred to the process as a vicious cycle. “You’re having a little pain, and you feel more uptight about it, and you get so focused on the pain, and then you get more anxious,” she said. “We thought if we could break that cycle, it may help reduce their perception of the pain.”
Vizyak’s team tackled this well-known experience with a compassionate interaction and mind-body meditative intervention.
“We talked people through a body scan, focusing on different body parts, breathing, and grounding exercises,” said Vizyak. “We figured that compassionate interaction might also impact their anxiety.”
Vizyak’s team led consenting post-op knee replacement patients through a mind-body practice. They self-rated their anxiety before and after the intervention, and the results were clear: A brief mind-body intervention can reduce reported anxiety and induce physiological benefits.
You might think that’s great for those patients, but how do I manage my medical anxiety? Don’t worry; we have you covered. After the mind-body intervention, Vizyak’s team handed out the following breathing exercise for relaxation.
- Find a comfortable position in your bed.
- Close your eyes.
- Scan your body and notice any areas of tension.
- Feel the weight of each body part sink into the bed and release any tension.
- Notice any tension in your jaw, and let your tongue drop away from your mouth; relax your face
Begin to focus on your breath:
- Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
- As you inhale, your hand on your belly should rise.
- As you exhale, your hand on your belly should fall.
- Your chest hand should feel minimal movement.
- Inhale for four seconds and exhale for 6 seconds.
- Focus on the slow, long exhale.
- Repeat as needed.
- To finish, inhale once more, raising your belly again, then open your mouth for a slow, long exhale like a sigh. Pause. When you are ready, slowly blink your eyes open.
- Notice the subtle sensations created by this activity.
- How do you feel? Calm? Relaxed? At ease?
Check out more breathing technique exercises
The next time you experience medical anxiety, try the above approach. And don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider for more mind-body intervention strategies.
“It’s important to keep exploring how we can help people in a non-invasive way with pain,” said Vizyak. “As an added benefit, it creates a meaningful connection between healthcare providers and their patients.”