5 Ways To Cure Hospital Anxiety, Surgery Fear, Fear of Medicine

April 10, 2013 Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

What do hospital anxiety, surgery fear and fear of medicine have in common? They are all extremely common things that people get anxious about. In fact, some people become so anxious, these normal fears turn into phobias. Nosocomephobia is the name of the phobia relating to the fear of hospitals. Tomophobia is a fear of surgery or surgical operations. Pharmacophobia is a fear of medicine.

Millions of people have hospital anxiety, fear of surgery, and are afraid to take medicine. Even if the medication is for anxiety, some people claim they are too anxious to take it! (I, too, felt this way when I was anxious.) But what causes these fears and what can you do about them?

I received this DM in Twitter (@JodiAman) last week:

I'm having surgery on my knee soon and I am terrified! I just read your anxiety blog and wanted to ask you, what do you think is the best way to deal with anxiety when it comes to things like this?

Many people have hospital anxiety, surgery fear and are afraid to take medicines

3 Reasons Why Hospital Anxiety and Surgery Fear Are So Common

1. A key reason for hospital anxiety and surgery fear is that people feel out of control. It is not natural to hand our healing over to someone else, even though it's part of our culture to do so. Deep down, we get afraid of giving up this innate power to heal ourselves. And for this reason, it is disconcerting, especially when you are 'going under' (anesthesia).

2. The second reason for fear of hospitals and surgery is what is at stake: A better life. Sometimes the illness or injury that has led us on this path to the procedure we are facing has really put a wrench in the spokes. We have so much invested in hoping that things can be better again. Sometimes, we postpone the medical procedure because we are too afraid it won't work.

3. The last reason is that going to the hospital and having surgery or taking lifesaving medication brings up fear of our own mortality. (This is a biggie so I will have to save this for another post.)

Ways To Help Your Hospital Anxiety, Surgery Fear, Fear of Medicine

1. Trust Your Practitioner

This is by far the most important part of calming the fear of surgery and hospital anxiety. Trust is the opposite of anxiety. Feeling out of control settles if you feel in sync with the person who is helping you. Knowing you are confident in the doctor makes you feel more in control of the situation. That's because you know he or she is in control, and that he or she–at least in this instance–is more capable than you to do this procedure. I would do affirmations of gratitude for my doctor, the nurses, all the hospital staff, and my family for their assistance.

2. Trust Yourself

Anxiety implies mistrust of others, but this is just a reflection of mistrust for yourself. Trust yourself to listen to your body. Your body knows what it needs. Make decisions accordingly. Trust those decisions. Trust that you can do what you can to give yourself the highest potential for maximum recovery. For example, eat what they tell you, participate in rehab, occupational therapy or physically therapy as directed, etc. Do affirmations expressing gratitude for yourself. "Thank you so much for all you are putting in to making this work!"

Do guided imagery, seeing yourself recover calmly and doing well.

3. Take Action to Help Yourself

Do things that would be healing for your medical problem as well as your anxiety, like meditate (Tratak meditation is good to clear your mind or just imagine light at the place(s) your body needs healing), eat clean, exercise to build endurance for recovery, spend time with loving people, laugh, journal, pray, spend time outside or with your pets, engage in a creative hobby, clean out your house, or do some volunteer work. Just stay productively active so your mind doesn't wander to gloom and doom.

4. Educate Yourself

Doing research into your medical issue can calm hospital anxiety and surgery fear (but it also can increase it). You can find horrible, rare accounts online that could terrify you more, but there are also many accounts that could help relax you. For some people, knowing what is going to happen makes them feel more in control and this is calming for them. Also, knowing our body's capacity to heal itself is so reassuring. Research also can provide tips on the best ways for recovering from your particular medical issue. This information is invaluable!

5. Plan Well

When you are healing, it is great to be able to focus all of your energy on healing. (Not anxiety; we do not want to waste time on anxiety.) So it is great to make a plan for post-surgery. This will give you something to take your attention away from the surgery. Organize people to help and who will do what. Get together the things you might need (books, audiobooks, movies), and some stations for where you will plant yourself, complete with a side table for all the stuff–glass of water, tissues, lotion, lip balm, back scratcher, and the remote–that you will want at arm's length. Get your kids schedules all sorted out, catch up at work and home so everything is left organized. It feels awful when you cannot get up to be staring at a cluttered and messy room.

Curing Hospital Anxiety, Fear of Surgery and Medicine

The best thing about hospital anxiety, surgery fear and fear of medicine is that this anxiety is temporary. (All anxiety is temporary but it is easier to convince yourself in this case.) When you are well, it will be gone.

We have surgery, even if it is elective, in hopes that it will either lengthen our life or give us a better quality of it. We take medicine for the same reasons. Even though allopathic medicine gets a bad rap sometimes for over-medicalizing and America is criticized for exporting our mental health diagnoses (which I agree with by the way), we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Allopathic medicine has saved countless lives, it has helped many people walk, talk, hear and see when they couldn't before. It is a blessing to have. And if we make our medical journeys about relationships, relationships with our caregivers, relationships with ourselves, we get so much more healing out of it than just physical.

How do you do something you don't want to do?

I blog here: Heal Now and Forever Be In Peace and here: Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog, share here: Twitter@JodiAman, Google+ inspire here: Facebook: Heal Now and Forever Be in Peace

Get my free E-book: What Is UP In Your DOWN? Being Grateful in 7 Easy Steps.

APA Reference
Lobozzo, J. (2013, April 10). 5 Ways To Cure Hospital Anxiety, Surgery Fear, Fear of Medicine, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Jodi Lobozzo Aman, LCSW-R

s dearing
October, 3 2021 at 11:11 am

WEstern medicine itelf causes this because of how awful mds and rns treat the people who hire them. Look at the language they use at us "orders" "permission" and so on. These people are HIRED - the sick person employs them.

May, 14 2020 at 4:38 am

I’m going in for a heart catheter procedure in 4 hours and of course can’t sleep. Am more anxious because my wife has to drop me off at hospital and can’t even come in because of Covid 19 procedures... The idea of being stuck at the hospital without my support team makes me extremely anxious and out of control. I’m told that even if they need to remove the small blockage in artery to the heart and stent it that it is a short time procedure. Irregardless, I css as my stand the two hours at hospital before going under and then not having my wife there when I awaken .. I’m trying to put my big boy pants on as this is a procedure that can save me from sad one possible health problems down the road. Always risks but hopeful I will be back home within the next 12-15 hours and feeling better mentally and” heartfully “ Will hopefully find this sight to let you all know the outcome 😉

anton weinberg
July, 4 2018 at 9:24 am

i had elective surgery for an adenoma on my parathyroid gland; however i was allergic to the die used to highlight the adenoma and developed almost fatal pancreatitis. my treatment was so bad during the pancreatitis and i suffered such pain that i discharged myself. My wife nursed me at home and i recovered and later the hospital apologised and admitted that I had been "severely abused". Since then i have had a phobia about all hospital procedures--what do i do? Counseling has proved useless. I am 75.

April, 28 2018 at 6:21 pm

In the last two years, I have been treated for breast cancer and had back surgery. Now I have to have a kidney biopsy to find out how a tumor is going to be treated. i am tired of medical procedures, so my anxiety level is increasing. I know the results could lead to more surgery and I am tired of it all.

April, 13 2018 at 4:19 pm

I know how you feel I have surgery on Tuesday for a cervical laminoplasty I have anxiety and a 12-year-old son as well all I think about is me not making it through scared to death of anesthesia I don't think there's anything that's gonna make it better but just to face the fear I've postponed my surgery twice now but I have to get it done or I can become paralyzed I just wish it was my nose I would leave it before I got surgery I have no choice.... good luck to you sorry I have nothing to say to help you feel better I'm trying myself nothing is helping me

March, 24 2018 at 3:13 pm

I'm going for a my nose to be straightened after my son kneed me init and broke it making it twisted it's a short opp but I'm terrified the doctor is so understanding of my anxiety it's not just hospitals I live with it on a daily basis then I read the leaflets they gave me an got myself in a state thinking I will die and leave my 4 kids behind

David Bercume
January, 17 2018 at 10:09 am

I am having a small bump removed from the scalp of my head and i am having huge amounts of stress and anxiety over it... i am in Arizona going to Tucson for it... i was told it would only take 15 minutes and other people have told me not to worry about it because out patient is called that because it is easy surgery...but when i got the call about a question about it, i heard that i would have local anesthesia (a numbing shot around the area) and something in my veins/arm... that is a huge stresser for me and i really need help and or support... because i am scared... i am only 16 years old.... it will be my first small surgery on the scalp without anesthesia...

November, 20 2017 at 6:53 am

I am terrified of my kidney transplant on Thursday I can't sleep or eat even think straight.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 20 2017 at 4:08 pm

I will pray for you and your full recovery. Have faith.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

David Bercume
January, 17 2018 at 10:03 am

I am having a surgery next Wednesday and i am having huge ammounts of anxiety over it... i cant stop thinking about it...

November, 4 2017 at 7:42 pm

Yes I am very afraid to go to hospital. I did operation for gctts.I postponed my surgery nearly one year.I afraid of surgery too

October, 2 2017 at 9:15 am

Has anyone had conscious sedation in a hospital setting? I am having my defibrillator replaced thos Thursday and am very nervous and anxious.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jamie Toland
October, 5 2017 at 5:46 pm

Yes, I have. You have nothing to fear, I promise! I was so scared beforehand and it turned out there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of!

Jordan Rosen
September, 20 2017 at 2:59 pm

Greys anatomy really got me into hospital fear, and I had 2 brain surgeries

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 21 2017 at 7:57 pm

Greys anatomy is the whole reason I haven't gone to the hospital to get checked out. I'm always thinking the worst. I actually had to stop watching the show...too much anxiety.

September, 14 2017 at 10:56 pm

i have a laproscopic surgery to remove my gallbladder in a week and am utterly terrified. It will at max be 2 hours but I'm afraid i wont wake up. Just thought id share that

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jamie Toland
October, 5 2017 at 5:48 pm

How did it go?

August, 8 2017 at 6:22 pm

Sooo...where's that fear of mortality post? That's why I'm here.

August, 8 2017 at 10:08 am

I have no problem with surgery or doctors or the little stuff, staying overnight in a hospital is so terrifying I cannot breathe if I just think about it. I will be due a major surgery very soon and I actually keep hoping I die before surgery becomes necessary.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Suzanne Lamb Rodriguez
August, 10 2017 at 5:22 pm

Imno, I am going through the exact same thing. I had a heart cath, yesterday, because I couldn't be cleared for anesthesia. My heart is perfect, no blockages, no narrowing of my arteries. Just enlargement of the heart due to tbe enormous pelvic mass, pressing on the superior vena cava of my heart. Now I have anesthesia clearance, I have to have tbis huge operation and I would rather die. How do we get past this horrific fear? I am even embarrassed by the fear of medical procedures. But what can I do?

Zequek Estrada
June, 23 2017 at 9:28 am

I think you're right that it's important to trust your practitioner. I've never had to go through surgery. However, I've heard people make similar comments about how your anxiety and sense of control will be better if your trust your doctor.

May, 16 2017 at 3:43 am

Thanks for all of the posts. Reading them makes me realize my fear of surgery is common. I have surgery scheduled for 2 days from now. It will be a large surgery to remove a tumor. I am affirming that I CAN and I WILL do this. I WILL trust my physicians and hospital team to care for me. I WILL allow the experts to help me live. Without the surgery I would have a much shorter life. I CAN be strong and I will recover. I am going to meditate on how well I will do post surgery. Thank you again for sharing all of your thoughts. By the way until reading this blog I was very anxious. Somehow knowing this anxiety is common, I feel better. Thank you all for strengthening me.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

sue hirst
January, 26 2018 at 12:27 pm

God bless you, I'm having an eye op soon, terrified, but yours is life saving, you are brave and strong, I will be thinking of you here I yorkshire

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 22 2018 at 9:22 am

so i have a huge fear of anesthesia awakening where you can feel the surgery but cant do anything about it to let the surgeon know, and im due for a 7 hour surgery on my ankle and im very afraid of that and surgery its self

Annam Torres
April, 8 2017 at 9:38 pm

I am at a young age right now and have had a fear of surgeries and doctors... I am in a splinter situation on my foot and I am freaking out right now because I am afraid that I will get surgery if it doesn't come off, and my relatives tell me to just calm down and they'll do something about it. They don't know what to do! They forgot the method of removing a splinter. I went online to check for any cures or steps on how to remove a splinter painlessly. I don't have the ingredients! Help me I don't wanna go to the hospital.....Please!

September, 16 2016 at 8:55 pm

I am very afraid Having a very complicated surgery. it can't be worse than the pre op

September, 13 2016 at 11:38 am

i am having surgery and i am so so scared that i can't sleep at night is there a way to stop being scared of it

Garland Blandino
August, 23 2016 at 8:46 pm

Me fue muy util la informacion

August, 19 2016 at 6:53 am

I am 12 and I have an immense fear of surgery I have never had surgery but my parents have I'm so scared of having to maybe have surgery

Zara Chapman
July, 27 2016 at 12:12 am

I have an operation to remove a lump, which is at 7.30am today (it is cureentry 6.08am) and I am petrified. I have never had an operation before. I'm not staying in hospital overnight, so I'll be home before the afternoon hopefully. One thing I'm scared of is how I'll feel when I've had the anesthetic. I'm not so worried after, but during. I got told it's like blinking, and I am hoping it feels like that as well as hoping I come round quickly. This article helped as I almost had a panic attack this mornings

salah alazraqi
June, 21 2016 at 8:06 am

I Salah Al-Azraqi Iraqi national living in the United Arab Emirates
i have a tumor in the internal auditory canal nerve I ask you to help me how to contact one of the doctors in the surgery Specialists nervous for surgery to remove it.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 21 2016 at 11:40 am

Hello Salah,
I'm sorry to read about your tumor. Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with healthcare in the UAE. Perhaps there is a source in your community that can assist you. Often religious or community organizations know of resources and/or how to get medical services. I wish you the best of luck.

June, 13 2016 at 6:34 am

Thank for sharing.

June, 11 2016 at 1:59 am

A key reason for hospital anxiety and surgery fear is that people feel out of control. I agree 100% especially with injection part

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michael mc cann
March, 30 2022 at 11:13 am

You are so right you are not in control any more it is all the things you can’t do in hospital that you do at home one thing I will say that is I got better at home faster as it was my fab wife looking after me and I was in my died a nd could go to the loo when I wanted to no bottles out to the toilet when needed had controls back so healing was fast

May, 23 2016 at 12:14 am

I have been trying for 2 years to get a mass in my appendix that could be cancer out but my fear will not let me do it.

April, 17 2016 at 10:22 pm

Hello, I had a very bad experience in post op after septoplasty surgery 24 years ago. I couldn't wake up. I remember hearing voices and seeing the lights on the ceiling,but then I was pulled back down into darkness again. I fought so hard to break through the surface yet I couldn't. They admitted me to the hospital because I couldn't wake up. It was the pain medicine they were giving me.
I am 46 now. Since then I have had my gall bladder removed with no pain medication. I had a total hysterectomy with only oral pain meds and went home the next day. Two carpal tunnel surgeries that I only had a block for, I stayed awake and talked to the surgeon the whole time.
I am facing a major back surgery now, it is done out of state and by a staff I don't know. I am beyond scared. What if they insist on iv pain medication and I can't wake up again? I don't think I can go through that again. I can handle the pain , but cannot handle the feeling of drowning again.
I can't sleep, or relax and I have a month to go before surgery. I am afraid I will have a heart attack or stroke before the surgery.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 1 2016 at 12:12 pm

Hi Brenda
Is there any way that you could perhaps email one of the doctors or the hospital to discuss pain management with them? Then you could explain your situation and experience?
Best of luck!!
March, 27 2016 at 3:06 pm

CPR is a lifesaving method which can sustain life till an ambulance arrives.

March, 23 2016 at 12:10 pm

I learnt today that I have to have spinal surgery. I am actually still in shock because I am so scared of hospitals, surgery, pain and needles! How will I survive the weeks leading up to Dday? I am so anxious, I am actually shivering and sweating!! I am scared of being scared! And I feel like a total idiot!
Is there any medication that I can take from now up to the day of surgery as well as on the day of surgery? How I pray to wake up and find it was just a nightmare.
March, 17 2016 at 3:29 am

Very good article. I will be experiencing many of these issues as well..

Catherine Felix
March, 9 2016 at 12:18 pm

I recently had the misfortune of having to under a pretty intense surgical procedure. The whole process leading up to the surgery was traumatic for obvious reasons. I don’t want to go into too much detail but during my surgery, my team used a FAW blanket and it helped so much with my post surgical recovery. Here are some facts about the system

January, 16 2016 at 4:57 pm

I recently found out that I need to have spine surgery ASAP for a severely herniated disk that is pushing on spinal nerves and causing me severe pain. Once I saw the surgeon he wanted to admit me on the spot and do this three hour surgery the same day. I have many phobia's from hospitals/doctors and needles, things being put inside of me, to people in general. I refuse to allow this stranger to cut me open. The thought of having rods and screws, batteries, wires left inside my body is more then my mind can bear. I have been so depressed. Cant eat or sleep.... There are numerous bad reviews on this doctor. Watching a video of the same surgery and looking at pictures has only helped me decide I do not want my body mutilated in this way. I would rather live in severe pain.
The thought of spending the night in the hospital terrifies me. Have never had any surgeries or broken bones. Almost never get sick.
Guess I just needed to vent.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 17 2016 at 8:28 am

Hi there! Was wondering how you were doing and whether you have changed your nind about the surgery.
I am too scared to commit to the spinal surgery the doctor suggested, but am so tired of tbe terrible too. I am getting anxiety attacks on a daily base now and just feel horrible. Any advice, please?

January, 12 2016 at 7:01 am

brother , good evening .. I knew evrything for me when I felt a little health problem I loss all trust on me and I can't go to Dr. .I m nw looks so ugly because all my teeth bkm decaying.. bt nt possible to go dentist bcz of fear .. I kw evrything bt can't overcome .. plz help me this fear mks me depressed all d time ..pranami Assam

October, 2 2015 at 5:49 am

My mother is booked to go to hospital for a prolapse operation. She suffers from extreme anxiety about hospitals and is unable to manage the physical effects of that or speak up for herself. Like some of the writers above she finds that people do not listen to her and often say things which she interprets as very nasty. She told her GP who advised the hospital and said she would need to have a patient advocate. Unfortunately the next hospital visit did not seem to go any better than usual with the surgeon saying something, supposedly joking, along the lines that if she died before the surgery, which was then some months away, it would save some money! Mum was so horrified she couldn't say anything. When she is in hospital her body seems to shut down and she cannot pass bowl motions or even sometimes urine. During her last admission she tried to go to the bathroom and fainted on the way, badly spraining her knee. She is also very sensitive to drugs, needing very little to have a large effect, and is unused to taking even asprin. She has just been sent the forms to fill in before going to the pre-admission visit and we wonder what she can write in the box that says is there anything the hospital should know, that would possibly assist her to get appropriate care while avoiding labelling her a "problem patient or trouble-maker."

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 4 2015 at 11:58 am

Hello Nicola,
Your concern represents a very common problem. People are unsure of how much to disclose to hospitals, clinics, schools, employers, etc. On one hand, it's very important to advocate for your needs, but on the other, when people do speak up for themselves, especially regarding mental health issues, too often they get labeled, as you say, problem patient or trouble-maker. Many times the key is balance (but figuring out the balance is a long-term learning process, I think). Perhaps indicating on the form that your mom experiences anxiety about hospitals or medical procedures without saying anything further would alert them to be sensitive without having them treat you and your mom like "trouble-makers." Most medical personnel, while not always experts in mental health, do know basics such as how to be sensitive to heightened anxiety. Also, other readers here might have their own suggestions. Good luck to you and your mom!

September, 3 2015 at 6:17 am

Hi i really need help, ive got a huge phobia of taking medications ive got pcos and have been prescribed with metformin to control it but im so scared to take it. My doctor gave it to me last thurs and i just cant build up the courage to take it...i dont no what to do and it gets on my nerves that i cant take medications any help pls someone.....thank you....

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 3 2015 at 1:35 pm

Hello Jackie,
It can be anxiety-provoking to take medication, especially when it's unclear exactly what it does (other than "get rid of" something) and what the side effects are. Have you talked to a pharmacist about your concerns? He/she can usually explain medication in detail. It can be helpful to write down pros and cons of taking it vs not taking it. Think about how you feel without it and how you might feel after taking it. Also consider what's potentially more harmful: taking it or not taking it. These might help you make a logical decision. Other comments in this thread might give you ideas, too.

Medora Centre
August, 13 2015 at 9:04 pm

This is a great post. It gives us more information. Really a helpful one. Thanks.

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