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How do I prepare my body and mind for an operation?

Surgery arouses great fear in most of us. Dr Jeske discusses how you can best prepare for surgery.

How do I prepare my body and mind for an operation?

Surgery arouses great fear in most of us: the sense of uncertainty, the fear of being out of control, entrusting your life to a medical team, the fear of pain, the fear of prolonged loss of function and dependence on others. How can we best prepare ourselves for surgery? How can we find comfort, peace and acceptance in the face of pending surgery? Deepak Chopra wrote: ‘no matter what the situation is, no matter how chaotic, no matter how much drama is around you, you can heal by your presence if you just stay within your centre.’ I have listed some suggestions to help decrease anxiety before surgery and exercise advice that can improve your resilience and stamina to assist and accelerate the recovery phase.

Mental Preparation

Mental preparation is highly underrated in modern day medicine but is probably the most important part of getting yourself ready for your operation. High levels of anxiety before surgery cause hardship on the day of the procedure and have a negative impact on your recovery. Statistics show that 40 percent of all adults undergoing surgery experience high anxiety and adverse effects, both during and after the surgical event. This also translates into the need for more pain medication which in turn may lead to a longer hospital stay. For this reason, mental preparation and alleviation of anxiety should form an integral part of preparing for surgery. Below are a few tips on how to prepare mentally for an operation.

  1. Understand as much as you can about the procedure using reliable medical sources and not random blogs.
  2. Prepare a list of questions and review the details with your medical provider.
  3. Understand your options for pain management after surgery by speaking with your anaesthetist.
  4. Use guided imagery, a method of relaxation, which concentrates the mind on positive images to reduce pain and stress.
  5. Soothing music is a wonderful tool that has proven to be highly effective in calming the mind.
  6. Speak with your surgeon and anaesthetistabout the availability of short-term anxiety medication such as Ativan or Diazepam to use before surgery.
  7. It is important asking for and having your social support system behind you during the time of your surgical event and healing.


I meditate on a regular basis and according to 47 studies in the JAMA, Journal of The American Medical Association, meditation also helps to manage anxiety, depression & pain.

How to meditate:

  • Commit to 5-30 minutes a day.
  • Eliminate outside distractions by e.g. putting your phone on ‘Do not Disturb’.
  • Relax and choose a seated or lying down position in which you can comfortably remain for the meditation.
  • You may close your eyes or leave them slightly open and start focusing on your breathing.
  • Breathe slowly, purposefully and deeply.
  • If your mind wanders or is over-active, bring your attention back to your breathing, observe your thoughts like watching a movie, do not analyse them and allow them to pass.
  • End your meditation by wriggling your fingers and toes slightly and then slowly opening your eyes.
  • Acknowledge and thank yourself for the time spent in meditation.

Please feel free to watch this suggested guided meditation to prepare you for surgery


This is the act of imagining yourself in a peaceful and safe environment – a place that makes you feel relaxed and happy. You can calm your mind and body by transferring yourself there mentally.

The practice is based on the idea that your body and mind are connected. By providing positive pictures, creative imagery and self-suggestion, visualisation can change emotions that subsequently have a physical effect on the body, proponents say. Athletes use it to help them perform better, therapists use it to help patients heal from trauma, and experts conduct visualization seminars designed to help people realize their dreams.

An example of a visualisation technique during states of anxiety:

  • Step 1: Breathe deeply and slowly
  • Step 2: Visualise ‘quiet and calm’ as a thick, clear liquid, trickling down your head.
  • Step 3: See it slowly pouring down your body, your spine, your chest, right down to your toes, calming and soothing every part of your body and mind until you become the peace and quiet.
  • Step 4: Once you are in this space, continue and focus breathe deeply and stay in this position for a few minutes.

Meditation and visualisation may be used in the days leading up to surgery as well as the day of surgery. Visualisation is a helpful tool to use when the anaesthetic is starting to reduce anxiety and calming the mind as one drifts into sleep.

Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing exercises move air down to the base of the lungs. It opens the air passages and moves mucous out, this makes coughing easier as well. It helps the blood and oxygen supply to the lungs, this in turn boosts circulation. It is thought to lower the risks of lung complications such as pneumonia and infections. Furthermore, deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. Meditation, visualisation and deep breathing can be used in conjunction to alleviate stress before your procedure.

How to do deep breathing exercises:

  • Sit upright.
  • Take a few normal breaths, then take a slow, deep breath in.
  • Hold your breath for about 2 – 5 seconds.
  • Gently and slowly breathe out through your mouth.
  • Practise deep breathing for 5 to 10 minutes 3 to 4 times per day.

Pre-operative smoking cessation

It is well known that smoking has a negative impact on postoperative outcomes, the following three risks are of greatest clinical importance:

  • Pulmonary (lung) complications
  • Cardiovascular (heart) complications
  • Impaired healing of bones and surgical wounds

Evidence based studies have suggested that pre-operative smoking cessation can improve pre-operative outcomes. The following benefits have been definitively reported:

  • Reduction in risk of post-operative pulmonary complications
  • Improvements in cardiovascular function
  • Reduced risk of wound related complications

It is advisable for smokers to abstain from smoking from as early as 2 months pre-operatively in order to reap the maximum benefits, but at the very least smoking should be abstained from at least 12 hours before surgery.

Balanced diet

When preparing for surgery, diet may be one of the last things on your mind. The best food to eat before surgery are foods filled with nutrients which supports healing and fights infection. Individuals who are not sufficiently nourished are more likely to develop infections, loose muscle mass and have prolonged hospital stays.

Healthy foods to eat before surgery include:

  • Healthy proteins – fish, chicken, lean red meat, eggs, beans, soy, tofu, nuts
  • Grains – whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa
  • Vegetables – leafy greens, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, bell peppers
  • Fruits – citrus, strawberries, apples, berries, bananas, avocado
  • Dairy – milk, cheese, yoghurt, fortified plant-milk alternatives
  • Healthy fats – olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds

You should start making changes to your diet as soon as your surgery is scheduled. The earlier you start the more benefits you will reap from the increased healthy nutrient intake. Please do not hesitate to discuss specific dietary needs with us or contact our dietetics partners.


Some side effects of surgery are easier to overcome if walking exercises are done before surgery. In studies, reduction in the risk for the following has been found:

  • Post-operative pneumonia and blood clots in the deep veins of the lower legs
  • Skin breakdown and pressure ulcers that can be caused by prolonged bed rest
  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Difficulty passing gas and constipation
  • Decreased fitness and de-conditioning from inactivity
  • Feelings of sadness, stress and anxiety

You should try to build up your activity level gradually.  The longer you maintain an exercise programme before an operation the greater the benefit.  The recommended amount of time that gives the most benefits is 30 minutes, exercising at a constant level so that your body feels warm.  Depending on your normal fitness level, this can be anything from:

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Running
  • Dancing
  • Exercise Classes
  • Yoga

To start with, you can build up to 30 minutes by doing short periods of different things at different times, such as 10 minutes of housework, 10 minutes of walking and 10 minutes of gardening.  Try to keep a diary of the activities you do. This can help to motivate you to keep going. Try to find something that is enjoyable and vary your activities or do them with a friend or as a group to make it more fun. Any amount of exercise is beneficial. Start as soon as you can to give you the maximum exercise exposure prior to surgery.

Chronic and acute medication

If not already discussed during your consultation with the surgeon, please inform reception staff or the anaesthetist during the pre-operative visit if you have any concerns regarding your chronic/daily medication. Your query will be discussed with your surgeon and instructions will be communicated to you. If you take blood thinning medicine and it was not discussed during your consultation, please inform the practice:

Undergoing surgery is an especially stressful and unfamiliar experience for most of us. We sincerely hope that the information provided in this sheet will help you in dealing with some of the fears you may face during your hospitalisation and aid you in attaining an expedient, uncomplicated and blessed recovery.

We are dedicated to helping you. Please note that this information is not exclusive and other exercises, advice and techniques can also help. For any questions please send us a mail, call us and see below information that can also assist you in your road to a healthy bowel movement and lifestyle.

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Image: Pixabay

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