Pre Surgical Anxiety: 17 Tips on How a Doctor Can Stay Calm


Procedure anxiety is a severe problem, but it’s not something reserved for the patient. Even doctors get nervous before surgery.

If this is you, we’ll start by reassuring you that it’s okay. You’re stressed about how you’ll operate because you realize your job’s importance. Someone’s life is in your hands, and you’re taking this responsibility seriously.

This stress can be eustress, a positive response to stimuli that will help you perform better. It’s beneficial as long as you get past the nerves and into the zone.

How can you maximize your eustress and minimize anxiety before surgery? Try these 17 simple methods to calm your worries.

1. Warm Up

Unless you’ve been practicing for a long time, it’s hard to have experience performing every possible surgery. When you’re going into something you’re not confident about, use computer simulators to warm up first. This gives you “hands-on” practice moving the necessary muscles you’ll need to use during the surgery.

2. Review the Paperwork

Concerned about doing the wrong thing? That’s smart. You’ve heard the stories about doctors operating on the wrong patient or the wrong body part. Take time to review the patient’s entire case file before you step into the room, then compare the pre-op notes with what you see in front of you on the operating table.

3. Eat Healthily

The last thing you want to happen while you’re in the middle of a procedure is for your stomach to start acting up. Avoid greasy foods or heavy meals within a few hours of surgery, and eat healthily as a general rule to keep your energy up and your body in peak condition.

4. Get Rest

Getting enough sleep as a physician is vital to your health, but it’s not the easiest thing to do. No matter what your typical schedule is, if you have surgery planned for the next day, schedule at least a few hours of uninterrupted rest into your night.

5. Don’t Overbook Your Schedule

Are you rushing to get to your next patient? Hurrying is a surefire way for mistakes to happen. Yes, you make more money when your schedule is full, but sometimes those “routine” procedures are anything but. Give yourself some cushion between appointments. If you have extra time, you can easily fill it with paperwork.

6. Focus on One Patient at a Time

Telling your staff not to fill your schedule is important. Your next step is to ignore the schedule completely and focus on one patient at a time. Trust your medical team to handle everyone else, and if an emergency happens, you can’t do anything about it anyway.

7. Only Operate at Your Best

Feeling under the weather? We promise that your patient does not want your germs interfering with their recovery. And if you’re tired, they don’t want you accidentally making mistakes.

Always operate at your best. If you’re out sick for an extended period, let your backup physician take care of the surgeries, and your disability insurance policy handle your finances. Check out this article by Physicians Thrive if you don’t have short- and long-term disability insurance yet. It’s a must-have part of the job.

8. Practice Breathing

Deep breathing techniques are expert-recommended ways to reduce anxiety. When your nerves threaten to take over your body, find a quiet corner to engage in focused breathing strategies.

9. Trust Your Team

When you know the team you’re working with, it makes it easier to trust them to do their part. Before surgery, get to know each person, if possible, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Trust that they were hired because they know what they’re doing and don’t hesitate to delegate.

10. Ask For Help

Delegating to your team reduces your stress load. Still, sometimes, you need to ask for help on tasks that you’re supposed to be the one in charge of. When you’re not feeling up to par or your anxiety will limit your performance, ask for help.

11. Listen to Soothing Music

Music soothes the savage beast and your anxious thoughts. Slow tempos relax your muscles and quiet your mind, slowly eliminating stress and relaxing you. There’s a fine line between relaxed and asleep, so make sure you’re active while listening to the peaceful tunes.

12. Know Your Triggers

What is setting off your anxiety? Is it because you aren’t prepared? Worried about mistakes? Didn’t sleep well? When you recognize your triggers, you can try to avoid them in the future.

13. Quit Smoking

As a doctor, you know the dangers of smoking and using other addictive substances. Yet, nearly one in five doctors smoke cigarettes. There’s an adrenaline rush that makes you feel like you’re energized. But when you’re in a long surgical procedure, your brain will begin to send signals that it’s time for your next hit, and you can’t take a cigarette break until the operation is over. The craving is distracting, making it easy to mess up in surgery.

14. Take Calming Herbs and Supplements

Chamomile, lavender, ashwagandha, and valerian are calming herbs and supplements that reduce anxiety. Help your brain relax by breathing these scents in or taking them in herbal or capsule form.

15. Have a Support System

Is something bothering you, and you need to vent? Have someone nearby that will listen to you so that you can get the anxiety-inducing thoughts out of your system. These supporters should be able to encourage you and remind you of your success stories when you’re insecure.

16. Journal it Out

Consider keeping a pre-surgery journal to “brain dump” your thoughts onto paper and get them out of your head before entering the operating room.

17. Meditate Before Surgery

Channel your thoughts into deep, dark space by taking a few minutes to meditate before surgery. Meditation enhances your peace and calmness, promoting mental and physical health.


Feeling anxious before surgery? Turn those nervewracking thoughts into eustress with these 17 tips, and you might perform better than ever.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here