Recent plastic surgery patients can feel something of an emotional rollercoaster in the first several weeks following their procedure and surgery.
For some patients, this mentally noisy and dispersing feeling may set in within as few as two to three days after surgery.
And while it is accurate to say that these feelings are “perfectly normal,” that’s not an exactly helpful statement, nor is it an entirely complete one.
At what point do anxiety, feelings of being distraught or regretful, and even outright panic become red flags? And what can be done to help calm these feelings for the patient who is experiencing them?
After discussing the likely cause of these many mixed emotions, we will cover several solutions to them and then close out by covering when panic after plastic surgery should raise red flags and necessitate seeing your surgeon or, much less often, your primary care physician.
What causes panic after plastic surgery?
At its most basic level, panic after plastic surgery is a result of the sometimes extreme amount of changes, and the trials and tribulations involved in all phases of the ordeal.
Specifically, the intense period of physical, mental, and emotional work can bring large amounts of stress to both the body and mind.
- Your body will always experience a degree of extreme trauma and change, as it has been physically cut open or cut into (or repeatedly stabbed, as in liposuction) and then altered in some way: Skin, fatty tissue, and possibly bone are heavily manipulated (changed, altered, and managed), in many plastic surgery procedures.
- Your mental and emotional state may also take a hit of its own due to a) The changes your body has just gone through and the pain and trauma it has endured, and b) All of the non-physical aspects of planning, preparing for, financing, scheduling, and finally doing the surgery.
Panic or stress after plastic surgery can be exacerbated (made worse) if:
- The decision to have plastic surgery was rushed for any reason.
- The financial arrangements surrounding the procedure are daunting.
- The surgery was done by a doctor who was unprofessional, inadequately trained, or was unknown to the patient prior to the day of surgery.
- The surgery was done in a facility that was unsanitary, or that the patient perceived placed him or her at risk.
- Long distance air travel was required to get to the surgical center, and the patient is in a foreign or unfamiliar country.
- The patient is experiencing what they perceive to be signs of complications, including side effects they were not warned of in advance, or extreme levels of pain or blood loss (both of which are red flags).
- The patient received their preoperative information from one source (their surgeon or his or her office staff) and their postoperative information from another source (forums, social media, and/or other persons not familiar with the exact surgery that was done, what its recovery period is like, and what the red flags truly are or aren’t for that procedure.)
- The patient was told their postoperative results are unflattering or that they look wrong or ‘off.’ (Note that while there can be some signs of a poor surgical outcome early on, the results of a plastic surgery procedure are not seen for anywhere from several weeks to, usually, several months after the surgery.)
For coordinated context, let’s look at “Brittany,” a fictional female patient who decides she wants a mommy makeover, shortly after having the last child she plans to for at least a while.
Emotional gymnastics that led up to the surgery are unsettled
Well before any physical discomfort begins, Brittany will (may) go through emotionally difficult experiences including the following:
- Decision process: Delving into possibly long suppressed (hidden, bottled-up) feelings of inadequacy, or of not looking quite the way she has always wanted to.
- External emotional stimuli: As Brittany is scrolling through her pre-pregnancy photos, she remembers what she once looked like, how she felt, how quickly she could run and move, and the energy levels she felt daily. Her mind, constantly computing, automatically compares her current self with the self she “was before.” In reality, she is the same person, and has only gone through an empowering and life-granting experience of bearing a child. But the mind partitions these feelings off, and the beautiful child she is now the loving mother of does not entirely explain, justify, or make right the body she now sees herself in. Perhaps she feels she should “be skinnier by now,” or fears she’ll “never look like that again.” She experiences a slew of varied individual emotions, many of which take a toll on her body and mindset. Collectively, the combined emotional fluctuations may also affect her.
- Consultation: Discussion of possibly long-harbored feelings of insecurity; new hope offered (at a cost) for the resolution of these feelings, or as a way to improve whatever about her body that has caused her mental anguish; an emotional roller coaster, or as social media is so fond of saying, “emotional damage!” Reminders of her insecurities are lightened with promises of what she might look like after surgery. Up. Down. Up. Down.
- Financial hoops: Feelings of failure or inadequacy could crop up while a patient is trying to get approved for various financing arrangements. On its own, money is another hot-button topic for anyone who feels they have too little of it or that a lack of it holds them back. Just as the feelings of physical inadequacy send “Brittany” on an emotional roller coaster, so, too, do the financial feelings.
Other sources of panic after plastic surgery
While any one of the following five factors are unlikely to cause feelings of panic after plastic surgery, when you combine them all, panic is definitely a possible outcome.
- Large financial outlay: Plastic surgery isn’t covered by medical insurance, nor is it inexpensive. All plastic surgery procedures involve at least several to even tens of thousands of dollars in surgical and other fees. Not having that money, having to borrow it, and fears/uncertainties about the best ways to spend it—”Is he really the best BBL surgeon?” “Shouldn’t I just get a nonsurgical BBL?” “But in Mexico it’s so much cheaper…”—can all contribute to postoperative panic and/or uncertainty.
- Lymph system disrupted: Your lymphatic system is interrupted as a result of plastic surgery. Some of the vessels that make up this system are cut when incisions are made and when the skin is lifted and separated (as is necessary in some surgeries, such as a facelift, liposuction, breast augmentation, and more). This system, sometimes referred to as the “sewer system” of your body, is responsible for a number of processes that are important to to healing: Protecting your body from toxins, maintaining body fluid levels, and removing cellular waste. Special massages are usually done after plastic surgery to stimulate the lymph system, help it drain the body of toxins, and reestablish the proper flow of special cells that help the body heel but (when the lymph system is affected) can also cause lumps to form in a condition known as “fibrosis.”
- Physical Trauma; Surgery!: Though plastic surgery is very common and popular, nothing changes the fact that when an individual patient goes in for a procedure, he or she is getting surgery. The body is cut open, rasps, chisels, and hammers may be used, sharp knives and dangerous blunt objects are everywhere! This is surgery, real and raw. Being under general anesthesia, you missed the vivid sight of blood and gore, and openings into the body, but they did occur. And your body feels that.
- Uncertainty about your results: We all want to look our very best but, let’s be honest, there are very rare moments in some of our lives where we would be willing simply “not to look like —.” Imagine a car crash, if you’ve ever been in one, or a life-threatening emergency where not everything was yet known, done and over with. My gosh! That uncertainty! That’s panic! What will I look like when it’s all said and done?! Will this droopy face last forever?! (No, and laughing is part of the Dr’s orders for it, FYI). The truth is, you’ll probably be alright and look great, especially if you did a decent level of due diligence before your surgery.
- Plenty of downtime: When we have nothing to occupy our mind and time with, we sometimes come up with the bleakest possible scenarios, and, honestly, sometimes do things that are goofy or not quite “who we really are.” After your plastic surgery—in fact, as you sit or lie here reading this—there’s not too much you can physically do for at least the next several days. Try to keep your mind busy and preoccupied: Catch up on that TV show, read that book, plan that new nursery, focus on something, anything, that is purposeful and will probably impact your life.
Above all, remember this:
It’s most important to remember the following:
- That feelings of panic after plastic surgery are a combination of physical and mental/emotional factors.
- The mental and emotional factors can be addressed by each of: A) Isolating (working out, identifying) for yourself what might be the cause, B) Thinking up any possible solution(s), and writing it down, and C) Simultaneously (at the same time), addressing any physical concerns the surgery caused.
- That the physical aspects of your panic should be addressed with standard healing protocol, such as diet, light mobilization, lymphatic massages [speak to your surgeon about this], pain medication, and rest. Hundreds of thousands of men and women get plastic surgery every year. The very day you get your breast augmentation for instance, another 1,000 women in the United States alone are getting that very same surgery! Relax, but be sure to immediately tell your provider if something doesn’t feel right. It is always better to call for help or an answer than it is to “wait and see.” Trust your gut.
What can be done about panic after plastic surgery?
By discovering which of the above possible causes of panic after plastic surgery might be affecting you, dealing with these feelings becomes far more manageable.
Patients typically find these suggestions helpful in resolving any panic or misemotion after their surgery:
- If you feel there is something physically wrong and that you may be in danger, contact your surgeon or their staff and do your best to paint the picture of exactly what you are experiencing.
- Do your best to pinpoint the causes of the panic, the feelings or dispersal, or the misemotion.
- Write down or make note of what these are and whatever solutions you feel would work best. If it is a financial hardship, perhaps you can talk to your significant other about your concerns. If there is no significant other in your picture, is a missing piece of information about the financing possibly causing you undue concern?
- Without physically moving more than you should during recovery (a light walk is usually fine, and even exercise can be done after breast augmentation surgery, though be sure to check with your surgeon), try to occupy your mind with tasks that take your mind off of your current condition.
- Do your best to stick to the same source that provided you information and reassurance before your surgery. Ideally, this would have been your surgeon and their staff, and they are the best people to get information (and opinions from) after your surgery, merely because they have been tracking with your case in particular since your first pre-op visit, and assuming you sought out a credentialed surgeon, surgeries like the one you just had are what they do day in and day out.