Mind Over Matters

Studies suggest mind-body surgery prep may reduce anxiety and help healing.

DON VAUGHAN
PUBLISHED: JUNE 19, 2013
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
When Paula Young of Brockton, Mass., received a diagnosis of stage 1 endometrial cancer in 1998 and was told she would have to undergo surgery, she decided to use relaxation techniques she had learned prior to an earlier surgical procedure. She was confident that guided imagery and deep relaxation could reduce presurgical stress and enhance postsurgical healing.

"I had a total abdominal hysterectomy and went home the next day, "instead of the usual two- or three-night stay, Young says. "I had an amazing recovery as every day I visualized my healing."

The integrative technique of mind-body surgery preparation Young used has been embraced by some of the nation's top medical centers, including Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center in Santa Clara, Calif.

"The goal is to empower patients to reduce anxiety and to turn their worries into positive healing imagery," says Peggy Huddleston, author of Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster: A Guide of Mind-Body Techniques. Her program "gives patients the mind-body techniques they need to shift themselves out of fear into feeling peaceful," she adds.

Mind-body surgery preparation can benefit hospitals, too, Huddleston says, because calmer patients may require less anesthesia, which saves money. Moreover, by "visualizing a positive recovery," she explains, "patients can reduce stress and the use of pain medication and strengthen their immune system."

Preparation for surgery, we believe, is a particularly important time to engage in mind-body practices because it is a time of tremendous stress.

There is a clear connection between how people process events in their minds and how that can impact all the systems in their bodies, says Lorenzo Cohen, a professor and director of the integrative medicine program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"Preparation for surgery, we believe, is a particularly important time to engage in mind-body practices because it is a time of tremendous stress," Cohen adds.

According to Cohen, pre-surgical anxiety can trigger the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine, which can adversely affect immunity and other body systems involved in healing.

"We know from the research that chronic stress can lead to exacerbation of hypertension, a decreased clotting time, suppression of cellular immunity and a decrease in type 1 cytokine response," Cohen says. "There has also been some research showing that chronic stress can actually slow wound healing, which is not something one wants after surgery."

A variety of strategies can be incorporated into mind-body surgical preparation, including guided imagery, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, yoga, tai chi and qi gong, Cohen explains. 

"The more conventional forms of stress management, such as guided imagery and relaxation skills, have been part of the perioperative period for 20 or 25 years," Cohen says. But only recently has presurgical preparation included other mind-body practices, he adds.

[Read how surgical teams play a role in healing in "Encouraging Words"]

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
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