Self-Hypnosis for Surgery and Recovery

Today many kinds of surgery are considered “routine”-by the surgeons who perform them. But some of their patients might disagree. For some people, a cataract removal can be just a traumatic as a coronary bypass.

The truth is, the body considers surgery an attack, and reacts to it the same way that it reacts to any trauma or assault. First, it releases hormones that increase the heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, and suppress the immune system. Then, after the threat has passed, it relaxes and repairs the damage caused by the overabundance of stress hormones. But if the threat doesn’t end-or at least, if the person doesn’t think it’s over-the initial reaction (increased vital signs and immune suppression) continues, to the point where the body becomes exhausted, and eventually may not be able to repair itself at all.

This natural stress reaction is certainly useful when the body really is under attack. But it can be detrimental during surgery, which is intended to help the person get better. And even though anesthesia and muscle relaxants should curb this reaction by preventing the person from being aware of what’s happening, they don’t always succeed at this. Many people can recall quite a few details of what went on while they were supposedly unconscious-including the conversations of the operating room personnel. And if they know what’s happening, even on a less conscious level, their bodies can certainly react to it.

This is where self-hypnosis can help. The patient can be taught how to go into trance before surgery and stay in it throughout the procedure. During this time, they can give their body instructions on how to deal with what’s happening. For example, they can be taught to stay relaxed, telling themselves that they and the doctors are working together to help heal their body. At the same time, they can keep a part of themselves alert enough to monitor what’s happening, telling the body to keep the area being operated on clean, dry, and free of infection, with bleeding minimized. This “training,” even though it’s supposedly on an unconscious level, can help the person get the most benefit-and the least harm-from the surgery.

During the postoperative period, the patient can continue to use the trance state. But now they can focus on getting well, to the point of actually seeing themselves doing the things they were able to do before they had the surgery. For example, they can picture themselves doing all kinds of activities, from getting dressed without help to playing their favorite sport. This kind of visualization has been used by people to help themselves successfully deal with all sorts of circumstances, but doing it while in a trance state makes it much more effective.

For some people it helps to have a clinical hypnotherapist do the initial training. But the therapist can’t be with the person all the time, so the person must become adept at putting themselves in trance. The best way to do this is to practice it as frequently as possible. The more often it’s practiced, the easier it will become, and eventually the person will be able to go into trance whenever they need to.

Self-hypnosis has been known to have the following benefits:

– decreased anxiety

– decreased need for anesthesia and (postoperative) painkillers

– reduced blood loss

– shorter recovery period, with faster return of normal body functions (like hunger, thirst, urination, and defecation)

If you’re facing a surgical procedure that has you even a little nervous, you might want to look into self-hypnosis. As many of its advocates have said, “It can’t hurt, and it might help.”

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