Having bariatric surgery is very stressful. As a bariatric success story, I know this to be true. I suppose the good news is we have become familiar with stress as obese people. Hopefully, we can utilize that training we’ve had in stress tolerance to our advantage. Maybe we have developed some emotional padding because of it. Nevertheless, we can’t just rely on our experience in tolerating stress. There’s no way to sugar coat it: getting where you need to be physically, psychologically, emotionally…will require an ability to tolerate the stress of going through bariatric surgery. First of all, think of all the hoops patients go through to get approved for surgery. That alone will get your stress level up, and that’s before we even get started. There are so many other things that need to get done, too. The medical evaluation will be comprehensive, and the preoperative diet is often challenging for some patients. Needless to say, surgery itself and the lengthy postoperative process will present a new set of stressors.
How does a patient prepare for all of this stress? Learning how to care for yourself is a key component of preparing for bariatric surgery. Many people are really good at taking care of other people yet fail to properly care for themselves. It’s my job to carefully point this out. Oftentimes, patients will also get so caught up in the paperwork and procedural nature of things that they forget to reflect on how well they are coping.
A useful exercise is devoting some time to reflect on how well you have dealt with difficult situations in the past. This process of self-reflection will provide quality insight into your own ability to cope with difficulty. Do you notice any patterns? Can you identify situations in which you dealt with the stress in similar, or even identical, ways? Make a real effort to think back on particularly stressful times. Write those events down on a piece of paper. Next to the situations, write down how you coped with each one. I ask patients to then spend time adding/refining that list. In therapy, these often turn out to be pure gold, because patients feel empowered by their newfound sense of self-awareness.
Patients can now see with their own eyes how many times they turned to emotional eating, for example, to deal with stress and negative emotions. A close evaluation of your negative coping skills will be enlightening. Not only will it highlight the importance of removing those negative coping skills from your repertoire, but it will motivate you to develop your own ‘toolkit’ of effective coping skills.
People use a variety of coping skills to manage stress. The key is to find a set of positive coping skills that work well for you. Finding and selecting a personal set of positive coping skills is not a complicated process. Frankly, most positive coping skills are obvious things that we just aren’t doing regularly. For example, most people understand that regular exercise is good for your physical and mental health. However, implementing it is not so obvious in busy and complicated lives.
Working with a behavioral health specialist would be helpful in creating a self-care plan. Some of the more common positive coping skills, aside from regular exercise, include prayer, getting quality sleep, eating healthy foods, and drinking enough water.
Many find the business of their lives stressful, so cutting back on obligations is their first move. Others realize they surround themselves with toxic people, and their newfound self-awareness motivates them to seek out positive and well-meaning people. I often remind patients how self-destructive your own thoughts can be. This is particularly relevant to those who surround themselves with toxic people. A pattern of negative thinking can be exhausting, for everyone. As you might imagine, there is a very long list of positive coping skills to choose from. The important part is finding what works best for you.
Dr. Hodges highly recommends patients attend monthly support group meetings. The meetings are led by Dr. Collins Hodges, both a licensed clinical psychologist and someone who has had bariatric surgery himself. The support groups are offered on the first Monday of every month from 6:30pm – 7:15pm CST via an online GoToMeeting. The meetings are open to the public, and there is no charge to attend.