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An Overlooked Side Effect From Cosmetic Surgery: Post Operative Depression

Most people who decide to undergo cosmetic surgery understand that there are several risks involved. However, the decision to alter one’s body has mental and emotional ramifications, which most do not expect to experience. It is common to face a whirlwind of emotions as you recover from surgery. Depending on the procedure, recovery could take several months and it's normal to feel apprehensive as your body begins to heal. As you prepare for surgery, it is also important to understand what you can expect emotionally during this period.

Why Do Many Patients Report Post Operative Depression?

Pain and Associated Side Effects of the Procedure

It is no secret that cosmetic procedures take a physical toll on you. The first couple of days is usually the hardest! Whether the results are dramatic or not, cosmetic surgery can create a series of obstacles that will accompany your recovery. As soon as the anesthesia starts to wear off you will become aware of the toll the procedure has on you. The general anesthesia used for many cosmetic procedures can remain in your body for approximately three weeks. This can affect you physically and emotionally, many report feeling lethargic and depressed. These emotions can be emboldened by narcotic painkillers that are typically required for a short period. When you are not feeling and looking your best physically, it is expected to not feel well emotionally.

From the day after surgery to around three months post-op, there are many different phases of recovery that everyone reacts differently to. The first two weeks post-op, your body is working hard to heal from a traumatic experience. Traces of that will be visible to you through pain, inflammation, bruising, and scarring. Seeing your body in that state may affect your mental and emotional state. This might bring feelings of regret, anxiety over what your body will look like after it is healed completely, stress, and heightened sensitivity. It is important to be patient and provide your body with the optimal conditions to heal!

Expectations vs. Reality

The more dramatic the procedure, the higher your expectations might be. Immediately after surgery, you will find that your body is inflamed and bruised. You will not be able to clearly see the results of the surgery. Initial results may be visible but the final result will not come until several months post-surgery. Make sure your expectations for the cosmetic procedure are realistic and that you are patient during your recovery. My patients frequently share that they are worried about how their body looks and how it will heal. After a painful couple of weeks, they are excited to see the new them! I always tell my patients to remain patient and that persistent inflammation, irregularities, and scarring are common for the first three months.

Stress-related to Financial Costs

Another factor that makes cosmetic surgery such a big decision is its typically high price point. The delay in results might provoke a feeling of doubt, known as “buyer’s remorse”. This usually happens when you make a big payment and its outcome doesn’t seem to be worth it. Additional costs such as post-operative care, travel expenses, and recovery items will increase the total spent on this surgery. Continuous unexpected payments post-surgery might be quite stressful for some.

Prior Depression

Deciding to undergo surgery is a very personal decision. Feelings of insecurity, lack of confidence, and obstacles prohibiting you from reaching your goals may motivate you to get cosmetic work done. You might go into the surgery thinking that it will solve your mental and emotional problems. Most people expect cosmetic surgery to help them feel more confident and positive about their self-image. I have seen many wonderful results and very satisfied patients! But as mentioned before, these results take time to manifest and are typically not exactly as expected. If you are approaching this procedure as an immediate solution to your concerns, the first months of recovery might be hard on you mentally and emotionally.

A popular procedure,” mommy makeover” is a cosmetic procedure tailored to address the common concerns on women's bodies after giving birth. Postpartum depression is typical for several months after surgery. If you decide to undergo cosmetic surgery, please note that your feelings can only be heightened by the physical and emotional toll both childbirth and cosmetic surgery will have on your body.

How Can You Minimize Post-Operative Depression

  • Make sure to keep realistic expectations! Engage in some research to find the best surgeons suited to creating the results you are looking for. Look at their past work and if they have been able to create the desired results on a similar body type to yours. Once you have chosen a surgeon, make sure you have an honest conversation on what you should expect after surgery. What do they expect your results to look like, how long will it take for you to see them, and which post-operative care schedules should you follow for optimal results. Be patient with the healing process. Don't be overly critical especially before you’ve healed completely.

  • Having a stable and strong support system throughout this time is very essential. Talk about your anxieties and worries with them. After surgery, you might want to organize for a friend, family member, or nurse to stay with you for a while after the surgery. You will be in no position to care for yourself. Have a trusted support group that you can depend on for physical help and emotional assistance as you heal.

  • Prepare for your recovery. There will be a lot of unknown variables after surgery that will be impossible to foresee. However, there are a lot of details you can iron out and prepare for before the surgery. If you are traveling for surgery, make sure all your flights, accommodation, and transportation are booked beforehand. Make sure you have all your necessities, like the appropriate compression garments, clean clothes, access to food, and a plan to fill up your time while you are healing (like a new Netflix show). If Post-Operative Care is recommended, reserve your appointment with a medspa prior to the surgery. Going through the hassle of vetting different places can be quite stressful after surgery. Make sure you prepare yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially for the different obstacles recovery might bring. Your surgeon will be an excellent resource for you to make sure you are doing all that you can to support yourself physically and mentally post-surgery.

  • Focus on your health! Pre-surgery, your surgeon most likely gave you recommendations on how to make sure your body is in top shape to receive the procedure. These recommendations are still applicable post-surgery! Your body is going through a traumatic time. Make it a point to eat the most nutritious food in order to promote recovery, drink plenty of fluids, and get lots of rest. That is why it is so important to have a support system in place and prepare for your post-op so that all you have to do is listen to your body and focus on how you are feeling! Prioritize giving your body the best conditions for it to heal and avoid getting caught up in your physical state post-surgery. If you are taking care of yourself and following your surgeons' instructions, you will feel and look better in no time!

The bottom line:

Everybody reacts differently to surgery. This might be a positive and liberating moment for many – but some might be experiencing something else entirely. It is important to approach this procedure with a positive and healthy mindset. Unforeseen circumstances may arise after surgery that may negatively impact your experience. It is very common to feel worried and anxious about the outcome of your surgery. Having the support you need can really make a noticeable difference in your mindset during your recovery. If you are feeling low after surgery, please find healthy ways to cope and address your feelings and concerns.

We hope these tips can help you recognize the causes of post-operative depression and guide you in preparing on how to reduce the risk of falling into a negative mindset post-surgery.

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