When you go under general anesthesia, you rarely form new memories… but that doesn’t mean your body isn’t communicating. Your body's secrets are sometimes revealed under anesthesia.
Your body is revealing secrets about your history and experiences
But what about depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use, and others? Yes, those also become evident in some patients.
Why is your body revealing its mental health history under anesthesia?
Why? We don’t always know. The easy explanation is because you take medications when you have these mental health conditions, and those medications change your brain and body in ways that are identifiable under anesthesia.
What if you don't take psychoactive medications?
But what about patients who don’t take medications? Well, in some cases, they self-medicate with substances like marijuana, opioids, and others. And yes, anesthesia affects their brains and bodies differently, depending on how often and how much they use.
They also have increased risks of cardiovascular complications and vocal cord spasms under anesthesia.
What if you don't self-medicate or take pharmaceutical drugs?
So what about patients who don’t use medications or any substances. What happens to their bodies under anesthesia?
In some patients, there are still some signs of past trauma. Objectively, we can sometimes see it in higher anesthesia requirements (and here). This can be dangerous because it also increases the risk of side effects.
Remember, the more anesthesia, the more side effects, like nausea, pain, grogginess, etc. The more anesthesia you need, there’s also a higher chance that you may have awareness under anesthesia. That’s because the risk of underdosing anesthesia is higher.
Don’t forget that certain medications and substances also increase anesthesia requirements, especially drugs like marijuana and alcohol.
But what else do we see under anesthesia in patients that have severe mental health conditions. It depends on the specific condition. Patients with severe anxiety may be more responsive to the surgery and have greater swings in their heart rate and blood pressure. This is in addition to having more pain when they wake up.
Anxiety before surgery isn't fixed and your body shows it
Remember, anxiety typically goes up before surgery, so if you have baseline anxiety, called trait anxiety, it jumps before surgery!
But there’s a big exception! This all depends on how prepared you are! More on that in a bit.
How does the body show its secrets under anesthesia?
So what other changes do you see under anesthesia? Some of the biggest ones show up after you wake up. Like more delirium. Have you experienced that before, like waking up emotional or hysterical? Maybe crying or even swiping at your doctors? A lot of patients may not even remember waking up like that because they’re still unconscious.
And then there’s waking up with more pain depending on how much anxiety you fell asleep with. And the tendency to catastrophize. These are all metrics to help predict who is going to wake up with more pain after anesthesia. And to treat them accordingly!
Having severe anxiety, PTSD, or other untreated mental health conditions can raise the risk of other complications, like blood clots, joints, and more.
Is ignorance a bliss before surgery and anesthesia?
Many of my patients start getting scared when they hear this, but there’s so much inspiration in here, too. And that’s because many of these conditions can be treated to make surgery so much safer and more comfortable.
And better yet, many of these treatments can be natural, or with less medications than you might think. I talk about it in my course, so be sure to check it out!
But there’s even more hope. There’s potential to heal yourself in this anxiety-provoking and scary process.
Healing your mental health under anesthesia?
It takes three key elements: a wake-up call, a guide, and a stimulus for epiphany. And all 3 of these are present in surgery!
The wake-up call is the surgery itself. The fear, panic, and anxiety can all be a life-changing wake-up call.
The guidance can come from your doctors. Specifically, your anesthesiologist who guides you through the anesthesia process as you passthrough different stages of consciousness.
Last is the stimulus for epiphany. The anesthetic agents used in the operating room are similar, and sometimes the same, as those used in psychedelic experiences. While medications aren’t necessary for these healing experiences, they’re abundant during surgery.
A strong connection with your anesthesiologist can be key here, because that trust in your doctor can guide you through this experience with the psychoactive medications given during surgery.
And it’s why I call my patients the night before surgery to begin forming that therapeutic connection to possibly catalyze lifelong healing.