Many people feel uncomfortable about undergoing surgery and may experience anxiety about the unknown or what could happen during the surgery. However, some methods may help to ease this anxiety.

For example, getting accurate information about an upcoming procedure, trying relaxation techniques, and certain medications can help to relieve such anxieties.

According to older data from the World Health Organization (WHO), about 266–360 million surgeries occur around the world each year. Research indicates that approximately 75% of people are anxious before surgery.

The severity of anxiety differs among people. It may depend on factors such as age, past experiences with surgery, and current health status.

Feeling uninformed about surgical procedures can also result in fear and anxiety among people due to have surgery.

This article discusses what surgery anxiety is, its signs, and the effects it may have on someone about to undergo a procedure. It will also discuss ways of helping to prevent and manage anxiety about surgery.

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Many people undergoing surgical procedures can experience surgery anxiety, also known as preoperative anxiety. It may manifest in several ways, including physical symptoms and mental symptoms.

Surgery anxiety can look and feel different for every person. It may include:

Surgery anxiety may begin when the planning of the procedure starts and will typically reach its peak on the day of the surgery.

The preoperative period can produce specific physiological, cognitive, and emotional responses.

Learn about how anxiety feels and ways it can affect the body here.


The main causes of preoperative anxiety can include fear of:

  • the unknown
  • long-term complications
  • risks associated with general anesthesia
  • the recovery lasting a long time
  • the possibility of life ending

Effects of anxiety before surgery

Preoperative surgery anxiety can cause several physical changes in the body, including:

  • increase in the release of hormones
  • increase in body temperature
  • episodes of tachycardia
  • electrolyte and fluid imbalance
  • hypertension
  • reduced immune response
  • increased wound healing time

Preoperative anxiety can also lead to a need for an increase in the dosage of sedatives and anesthetics on the day of the surgery. This can increase the risk of adverse events and may affect postoperative recovery.

Both presurgery and postsurgery anxiety have links with complications. Research suggests preoperative anxiety can increase the level of postoperative pain, meaning the higher a person’s anxiety is before the surgery happens, the more pain and discomfort they may experience during recovery.

It can also cause delays in wound healing and may lead to other complications, such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • respiratory problems
  • cardiovascular problems

Postsurgery anxiety can result in issues with mental health, such as:

  • depression or an overall low mood
  • loss of energy
  • difficulty in making decisions
  • sleep disturbances
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were enjoyable before

Both preoperative and postoperative anxiety may contribute to an increased hospital stay duration, reduced satisfaction, increased recovery time, and effects on a person’s quality of life.

Severe anxiety due to surgery can result in certain symptoms and stress. These may include:

  • pounding heart, also known as palpitations
  • irregular heartbeat
  • nausea and vomiting
  • shortness of breath or issues with breathing
  • sleep problems
  • excessive worrying about the surgery, what it entails, and what can happen

The first step in reducing anxiety is understanding it. Anxiety exists to help protect the body from danger as well as prepare it to escape danger. This increases heart rate and blood pressure. However, in the absence of any real danger, such responses can lead to negative outcomes.

Although many people find ways to manage their anxiety over time, undergoing surgery is often a completely new situation. People may wish to try several different methods to manage their anxiety before surgery.


Methods that might help to ease anxiety before surgery include the following:

  • It may help to gather information about the surgery beforehand. This could include what it entails, possible complications, and expected outcomes.
  • Talking about anxieties with family, friends, and healthcare professionals may also provide relief for some people.
  • Relaxation techniques to try include box breathing, yoga, meditation, and exercises
  • Listening to music before surgery can help relieve anxiety. People can listen to different types of music based on their personal preferences.
  • Having cognitive behavioral therapy before surgery.
  • The use of music therapy.
  • The use of essential oils from aromatic plants, also known as aromatherapy.
  • The use of acupuncture.

Learn about ways to calm anxious thoughts here.


A doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines, melatonin, or sedatives to people to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation before surgery.

What can doctors do to help?

Doctors can help ease anxiety by providing accurate, clear information regarding the surgical procedure. This helps the person undergoing surgery to understand what will happen, which can help reduce fear and anxiety.

It can also help to keep the wait time as short as possible and make the hospital stay pleasant for those undergoing surgery.

A doctor can recommend counselors, volunteers, or social workers who provide assistance and support to reduce anxiety.

Read more about ways to treat anxiety.

Many people experience anxiety about impending surgery. The severity of their anxiety can depend on different factors. It may arise due to the fear of general anesthesia, experiencing pain following surgery, surgical complications, or not recovering for a long time.

Getting information from healthcare professionals, relaxation techniques, sedatives, and a few other interventions can help to reduce and prevent surgery anxiety.