Anxiety After Surgery: Is it Normal, Causes, Symptoms & 6 Effective Ways to Cope

Being unable to depend on yourself after surgery can be stressful. But is it normal to have anxiety after surgery and is it manageable? In this article, we will describe what causes anxiety after surgery, its symptoms, causes, and how to cope (treatment of anxiety after surgery).

We will also go through how common anxiety after surgery is and the psychological effects of anxiety after surgery including whether it causes insomnia, depression, emotional trauma, including other daytime and nighttime effects.

Anxiety after surgery: Causes, symptoms, treatment and duration


What is anxiety after surgery?

Anxiety after surgery is a type of anxiety that affect people after surgery due to being unable to carry out the tasks that they could do independently before (incapacitation), their general health, postoperative discomfort and pain, uncertainty regarding the future, as well as fear of death. The anxiety about surgery is normal.

Post-operation depression is persistent while anxiety after surgery in most cases gets resolved without requiring treatment in some people. Several symptoms of anxiety after surgery including fatigue and irritability can persist longer than two weeks while symptoms of depression such as hopelessness can persist for months even with successful surgery.

Anxiety can be as a result of surgery. This is because surgery is intimidating and thus for patients already with an anxiety disorder, surgery can trigger a panic attack. This calls for an examination of the mental health status of patients who will undergo surgery.

Depression after surgery is due to stress, disappointment, and discouragement, due to fears, incapacitation, and uncertainty about the future and prognosis. In case you are anxious after or during the peri-operative period we recommend consulting a psychologist to help you reduce either anxious or depressed symptoms.

There are other causes of anxiety after surgery including the reason for the surgery, the nerve block, epidural, spinal, breathing tube, general anesthesia, pain, and recovery challenges among other causes.

Causes of Post-Surgery Anxiety

There are many causes of anxiety after surgery. Moreover, various factors for those in the peri-operative period can make anxiety depression symptoms worse for those with anxiety or depression already. The symptoms and causes of anxiety and depression overlap with the symptoms of the surgery itself.

Some of the common causes of post-surgery anxiety include:

  • Having a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression beforehand;
  • Chronic pain emanating from the surgery and nerve block;
  • Anxiety associated with the body’s reaction to anesthesia;
  • Stress and fear associated with the surgery itself;
  • Stress that is related to the prescribed processes after the surgery eg being bedridden, change of diet, lack of social gatherings, etc
  • Anxiety due to the body’s reaction to the medication especially antibiotics and painkillers;
  • Fear of poor prognosis or even mortality;
  • Concerns about your recovery period and whether your body will go back to normal;
  • Fear of hospitals
  • Anxiety over epidural, spinal, and breathing tube
  • Reason for the surgery can also cause anxiety before and after surgery for example fear of relapse in case of cancer, osteoarthritis, masses, etc.

Therefore, so many things surrounding the surgery, environment, socialization, and even a change of lifestyle can cause anxiety. Anxiety before, during, and after surgery is a common occurrence and most people are able to cope with it even without any medical intervention.

Some people may be more susceptible to anxiety after surgery or post-operative depression. This may include the increase in hormones for new mothers that may cause a multitude of emotional and physical changes.

Symptoms of anxiety after surgery

The symptoms of anxiety after surgery and post-surgery depression normally overlap. You need to talk to a psychologist or a doctor to better understand if you are suffering from anxiety or depression after the surgery and to prepare you for the effects of the surgery.

Even simple surgeries or cosmetic surgery like a facelift or a tummy tuck can lead to anxiety. This is because there is fear of the unknown for every surgery. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety after surgery include:

  • Intense fear
  • Irritability and restlessness;
  • Fatigue;
  • A loss of interest in activities including sex;
  • Indecisiveness;
  • Memory problems;
  • Change in appetite- eating more or less than usual;
  • Change in sleep patterns including insomnia and sleepiness during the day
  • Slow movements and speech;
  • Feelings of guilt, stress, or even a combination of all of them;
  • Feelings of despair or hopelessness without any cause;
  • Thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or harming others.

Some of the symptoms above border on the people experiencing post-surgery depression. Therefore, you should not be quick to judge the reason for the symptoms but take your time and if possible talk to a doctor to ensure your symptoms are checked.
Anxiety or depression after surgery can slow down the healing process for your body. Therefore, if the symptoms are persistent, we recommend seeing a doctor for a plan of action to manage the anxiety after an operation.

Surgeries with a Higher Risk of anxiety after surgery

Every surgery has a potential risk of developing anxiety. This is the reason why after surgery a mental health examination is important to reduce instances of depression and anxiety. However, some surgeries can increase the risk of anxiety as compared to others. Current studies indicate that surgeries with a higher risk of anxiety and depression afterward include:

  • Patients who undergo amputations, especially of the limbs or hands are more susceptible to post-operative anxiety and depression
  • Anxiety and depression are common in women who undergo mastectomy for up to a three-year post-surgery period
  • Cardiac surgery can increase instances of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression known as cardiac depression, and other cognitive effects. For example, up to 50% of coronary artery bypass surgery can lead to anxiety and depression, and approximately 25 percent of all people who undergo heart surgery experience anxiety and depression.
  • Knee surgery has been shown to cause anxiety and depression in up to 10% of the patients undergoing the surgery

Your mental health after surgery can be affected by various factors such as other mental disorders, diabetes, intensive care, early Alzheimer’s disease, and aging. You should note that not everyone will experience the same effects after surgery.

Therefore, in case you get anxiety or depression after surgery you should see a doctor. Moreover, you can go for the surgery with the knowledge that surgery can lead to mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Coping With Post-Surgery anxiety

There are a few ways to cope with post-surgery anxiety. Some can be practiced without any cost or seeing the doctor but if the symptoms are severe, we recommend talking to your doctor. Some of the ways to cope with anxiety after surgery include:

1. Talk to a doctor

If you feel like you are developing a mental disorder such as anxiety after surgery or depression, it is the high time you talked to a doctor. The doctor will make a diagnosis and recommend the therapy that suits your post-operative care. The solutions from the doctor include the following:

  • Anxiety and depression medication that does not interfere with your post-operative care. There are few anxiety medications that can be used by people undergoing postoperative care.
  • Natural supplements– A doctor may also recommend some natural supplements such as vitamins and minerals that can help in case you have anxiety during the postoperative period. You should not take natural supplements without getting recommendations from your doctor.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)- if you are consulting a suitable mental health physician, they may recommend CBT. CBT is better suited for such cases since taking medication at this stage may be contraindicated.
  • Other anxiety and depression management techniques such as the ones described below. Your doctor can help put your post-surgery status into consideration when helping you decide the other natural techniques to help cope with your anxiety and depression.

2. Change the scenery and get fresh air outside

After surgery, most people become more sedentary with minimal movement, especially for major surgeries. You need to talk to your doctor about when you can start walking out for fresh air if you had major surgery. The doctor will give you directions on when you can get outside without the risk of infecting the surgery area at the location you will visit.

A change in scenery, environment, or getting fresh air outside or in a place you love to visit can be therapeutic when it comes to anxiety and depression.

Nature has a profound effect on mental health. Therefore, if you feel like you are getting anxiety or depression after surgery, you should try and walk for at least 90 minutes in a natural area. If you can’t walk, get another person to help you move to a place where you are changing the scenery.

3. Exercise

With any major surgery, there is a limit to the amount and intensity of exercise you can do. However, once the doctor has given you the green light to start exercising, then we recommend exercising as soon as possible. Exercise can help you cope with or manage anxiety symptoms as well as depression.

You can work with your doctor and other specialists to come up with exercises that can suit your treatment plan. Some of the exercises you can do is lifting small weights or stretching in bed. Exercises help to release natural endorphins that help with anxiety.

Some surgeries can influence the type of exercise you can do. Cardiac surgeries may take time before getting the go-ahead to do some exercises. Knee or hip replacement surgeries will include exercise with a qualified physiotherapist as part of the treatment plan.

4. Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is good for anxiety among other mental disorders like depression. You should strive to take a balanced meal, frequently after surgery. A healthy meal helps to provide nutrients that are necessary for the body to heal as well as manage your weight so that you don’t lose or increase your weight drastically.

The foods that you should take in plenty after your surgery to help cope with anxiety include:

  • Plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains including legumes
  • Healthy oils
  • Lots of water
  • Animal products such as milk, eggs, fish, and meat

You should also avoid the following foods or take them in moderation:

  • Processed foods such as canned foods, bacon, sausages, cakes, crisps, pies, and others
  • Sugary foods such as candy, sodas, cakes, and non-alcoholic beer
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Foods with added fats

5. Regular Sleep Schedule

Getting regular sleep is important for healing if you have just had surgery. A regular sleep schedule is important for the body to balance the body’s chemicals as well as rejuvenate. Moreover, the body is able to repair torn body parts during sleep.

Sleep helps regulate brain chemicals thus healing your emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.

You should try to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. You can also avoid daytime naps to ensure you get enough sleep during the night. Finally, be sure to leave all your electronics and blue-light emitting devices out of your sleeping area.

6. Set up goals and be positive

To enable you to cope with anxiety you can set up manageable goals which can assist you to be positive. The progress in the goals set should be celebrated to give you a positive outlook.

You should not stress yourself with the prognosis as well as long-term goals as you recover. Your short-term gains can be noted in a journal to help reinforce the positive outlook.


We have gone through the definition of anxiety after surgery with the causes, symptoms, and treatment methods described. Anxiety after surgery should not bother you since you have learned ways that can be applied with minimal costs with great positive results.


Dr. David Barlow

David is a well-known researcher and author in the anxiety disorders area with extensive research on their etiology, nature, and treatment. He started the site to share his real-life experiences on the management of anxiety disorders with successful diagnosis and treatment being his motivation to write or review the content on this site.