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Managing Stress and Anxiety After Surgery

Surgery is a stressful experience. It can affect how you feel both physically and emotionally. Supporting your emotional well-being and addressing symptoms of anxiety is an important part of your overall recovery. 

Anxiety means feeling nervous, worried, overwhelmed, or tense. You might notice: 

  • Worry about symptoms or falling behind in school

  • Difficulty falling asleep or unwinding at night 

How can anxiety affect my recovery?

Feeling anxious can make it harder to manage recommendations from your medical team. You might get too little or too much sleep, find it difficult to exercise, and struggle to cope with headaches or other symptoms. Research shows that patients who experience anxiety benefit from extra support after surgery. 

How can I support my emotional well-being after surgery?

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that aims to identify negative or irrational thoughts and help determine solutions to overcome them. Research shows CBT improves symptoms of anxiety. Read the “where can I get more help?” section below for help locating a provider.

  • Practice Healthy Habits: The same things that are good for your body are good for your mind, so try to get good sleep, eat regular meals, stay hydrated, and, if your doctors have told you to do so, exercise. 

  • Make Time for Fun Activities: You can improve your mood by doing fun or social activities. You might try playing a board game with friends or family, baking something, or getting together with your friends. It is important to make time for these activities even if you are noticing some symptoms and when you are busy with appointments. 

  • Take Breaks: Build in short breaks throughout the day to allow yourself to reset physically and emotionally. 

  • Practice Relaxation: Practice any relaxation skills you already have, like listening to music, talking to a friend, taking deep breaths, playing with a pet, or making art. Use these skills when you take a break before returning to your activity. 

  • Talk About It: Are there parts of your recovery that make you feel frustrated or worried? Try sharing with a friend or family member. Don't be afraid to tell someone, “You can help me just by listening” if they try to be helpful by telling you how to “fix” your feelings. 

  • Look for the Positive: Focus on the progress you have already made, even if you would like to make more.

How do I find a therapist?

  • The back of your insurance card may contain a phone number for mental/behavioral health services. They can provide a list of therapists that are in-network with your insurance and specialize in your specific needs. 

  • Ask your school what resources may be available. Many schools contract with local agencies to provide therapy in school.

  • Ask your pediatrician or primary care provider for a recommendation. They often know of local resources and can provide a referral if needed. 

  • Visit or to search for providers by location and specialty. 

  • There are often wait lists for mental health treatment. Consider putting your name down on any wait lists you can. You can always decline their services later.

When you speak with a potential therapist, ask them:

  • Are you taking new patients? If yes, how long is your wait list? 

  • Do you accept my insurance? Do you offer a sliding scale or other lower cost treatment options?

  • Do you have experience using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)? 

  • Do you have experience treating children, adolescents, and families? 

Having a good "fit" with your therapist is key to successful treatment.

Speak to your therapist or clinic staff if you feel you would benefit from a different therapist or approach.

For immediate help with safety concerns, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), call 911, or visit your nearest emergency department.

Additional Resources:

Books for children and adolescents

  • The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids by Lawrence Shapiro and Robin Sprague

  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner, PhD, and Bonnie Matthews 

  • What to Do When You Grumble Too Much by Dawn Huebner, PhD, and Bonnie Matthews 

  • Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life for Teens by Joseph Ciarrochi, Louise Hayes, and Ann Bailey

  • The Resilience Workbook for Teens by Cheryl Bradshaw

Books For Caregivers

  • Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking by Tamar Chanksy, PhD

  • Helping Your Anxious Child by Ronald Rapee, PhD, Ann Wignall, PsyD, Susan Spence, PhD, and Heidi Lyneham, PhD


Reviewed January 2024 by Christina Rouse, PsyD. 

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