How to Rehab Your Mind After Heart Surgery

Surgery is a traumatic experience...

It's invasive and – at times – brutal. And whether or not you remember living through it, the memories of the experience aren't lost on your body.

Turns out, around 20% of folks experience some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") following a major surgery... but not many people really talk about it.

According to the nonprofit organization Mind, PTSD can manifest as:

  • Vivid flashbacks that make you feel like the trauma is happening right now
  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • Nightmares
  • Intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
  • Physical sensations like pain, sweating, nausea, or trembling

PTSD takes a huge toll on your mind and body... at a time when you're already trying to heal.

PTSD is something you'll want to resolve as best you can – especially when recovering from heart surgery – because you should be avoiding stress as much as possible. Stress puts extra strain on the heart.

One way to help yourself work through the trauma of heart surgery is through guided imagery. Guided imagery is a kind of mindfulness meditation in which one person guides another through generating mental images that stimulate sensory perception. You use all of your senses for guided imagery.

For example, you could close your eyes and imagine yourself in a tropical setting where you can feel the warm breeze on your skin, hear the sound of the surf, smell the salt water in the air, see the bright blue water, and taste a piece of fresh pineapple that you have in your hands. You focus on what each of your senses would experience in that moment.

Studies show that guided imagery can help in the following ways before and after a medical procedure:

  • Decrease pain and the need for pain medication
  • Decrease side effects and complications from procedures
  • Reduce recovery times and shorten hospital stays
  • Enhance sleep
  • Strengthen the immune system and enhance the ability to heal
  • Increase self-confidence and self-control

It's important to reassure your body with positive messaging like this so that your nervous system and hormones can begin to shift and let go of negative energy.

On Tuesday, we told you about J.W. and his story of surviving heart bypass surgery. We also shared some common ways to help your body recover post-surgery.

Luckily for J.W., he knew that recovery after his heart surgery wasn't all about his physical body. At the suggestion of his massage therapist, J.W. spent a few minutes each day practicing mindfulness with his heart.

He told his heart what a good job it had done while it was working harder to compensate for the blocks... He apologized to it for all the stress that the surgery had undoubtedly caused... and explained that his heart is safe now and is doing a beautiful job healing.

There were periods of time when J.W. questioned why he put himself through this heart surgery in the first place.

But happily, just one year later, all of J.W.'s hard work paid off and his life-saving surgery felt like a distant memory. He returned to his pre-surgery level of engagement in only a year's time. Now, J.W. is really enjoying life again...

Last summer, he took a four-day bicycle-riding trip around Europe with some college buddies. They pedaled across 200 miles of road and traversed four different countries.

Even if you haven't gone through surgery, it's important to check in with your body every day.

If you haven't tried guided meditation, there are lots of free and easy ways to do so online. The auditory recordings can be anything from soothing music to instructors walking you through guided imagery or specific messages to help with anxiety, self-esteem, heart health, and more. Get started by typing "guided imagery" into the YouTube search bar.

In the most recent issue of my Retirement Millionaire newsletter, I covered everything you need to know about heart failure, including common symptoms, why it happens, and why it's not a death sentence.

With millions of Americans experiencing heart failure each year, this is one you won't want to miss. Heck, it might even save your life someday... Click here if you're not already a subscriber.

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 16, 2023