The post-surgery blues: Coping with feeling down after your surgery

January 15, 2019 By: Eric Price, M.D.

Dealing with life after surgery can be pretty tough. After surgery, things can get pretty difficult mentally. Of course there’s pain, and when you don’t feel well, it’s not easy to be well mentally. And there’re those lingering questions: When am I going to feel like myself again? When will I feel normal again? When is this going to get better?

It’s very easy to get depressed or down after surgery, especially if the recovery takes a while. You are out of commission and out of circulation for a while. No one is immune to having some post-op blues—from the toughest to the weakest, from the most independent to the most dependent—it can affect anybody. So what should you do?

Get social. The first and most important thing to do is to maintain your social connections. Don’t isolate yourself. Lean on your friends and family, and when you feel up to it, get out of the house, even if it’s just for lunch or a quick errand. Even a small outing will give you some sense of independence and make you feel better.

Laugh often. It’s a tired phrase, but laughter can really be the best medicine. Get on Pandora and put on some Jim Gaffigan radio or Jerry Seinfeld or whoever tickles your funny bone. Now is a perfect time to catch up on your favorite sitcom or re-watch your favorite funny movies. The endorphins that laughter creates are excellent nourishment for your state of mind.

Set goals. Make your goals very small and very achievable. Nothing crazy like, “I’m going to climb Mt. Everest in five years.” Think of little things so that you can pat yourself on the back because you got them done. Could be “I want to walk up the stairs without a cane in two weeks.” Or “I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 30 days.” Or “I want to read XYZ book” in the next three weeks. Whatever it is, break it down into small pieces and chip away at it. Nobody ever chopped a tree down with one swing of an ax. If you swing the ax over and over, eventually the tree will fall.

Get smarter. Work on improving yourself mentally if you’re physically set back. Take this time to challenge your mind. At the end of this post is a list of several inspiring books. Take an online course. Go to and learn something you’ve always wanted to learn but never had the time to. It’s amazing. Plenty of schools, from the local community college to MIT, post their curriculum and courses on Coursera for free for you to audit. Go to YouTube and learn to play guitar or any instrument; learn a language from, again for free. There are free lessons everywhere.

Find Inspiration. Whether it’s daily quotes on your Twitter feed or beautiful images, a little inspiration can be the spark that ignites the fire.

Treat the time as a gift. Think of 10 things you always wanted to but never had the time to do because you’re too busy. Even though you may not be feeling so well physically, if you have a bit of energy, use this time as a gift and start to do those things. Seeing them through will help distract you from your physical discomfort and give you a sense of accomplishment. It can result in starting something new that can become an enriching part of your daily life.

Connect with others. Chances are there are many people out there going through the exact same thing that you’re going through right now. There are many “I survived XYZ surgery” support groups on Facebook. The Orlin & Cohen Orthopedic Group has created the following support groups:

You will be amazed at what a little reassurance from someone who knows what you are going through can do. Peace of mind is priceless. Connecting with others who are battling the same issues can help give you that reassurance and peace of mind. At the same time, inspiring those who are in need can give you a sense of well-being and purpose that you may not have expected and help carry you through the difficult time.

Here is a short list of inspiring books:

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Mindset by Carol Dweck

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey

Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss

Barbarian Days by William Finnegan

Thrive by Ariana Huffington