Stressed Out? Here's How to Practice Mindfulness Before/After Surgery

Article By: Maria Tucker, MPH, RDN, LDN, CDCES

Maria Tucker is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with over 20 years of experience assisting patients with diabetes, obesity, and nutrition-related conditions. Maria is also the Founder of, a site dedicated to healthy recipes and kitchen shortcuts.

Over the course of one day, we often find ourselves having more and more things to do, racing to get as much accomplished as we can by the end of the day. We may even try to multitask, finishing paperwork while in a virtual meeting or talking to someone through our ear buds while washing dishes or cooking so we can keep checking things off our to-do list. Often times, we worry about how much there is to do and not having enough time in the day. We can’t focus enough on the moment because we are either thinking of the next task that has to be done or how we could have done something better or differently. When we lose focus, mistakes are more likely to happen, and we can overreact or be overwhelmed.

For someone preparing for or having recently undergone bariatric surgery, the process can be quite stressful. There are appointments to make, tests and procedures to get done, and tasks to accomplish even before surgery! Patients can feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done just to get to the point of being scheduled for their bariatric surgery. In stressful situations, mindfulness can be very beneficial. Mindfulness is one of the buzz words in the bariatric surgery world. You hear it mentioned in support group meetings, during consultations with psychologists and nutritionists, and as part of the education provided to patients as they prepare for bariatric surgery.

What exactly is mindfulness? The Oxford Language dictionary defines mindfulness as, "1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; 2. A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique." The Cambridge English dictionary defines mindfulness in a more easily understandable way: "The practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm."

In a nutshell, mindfulness is the practice of “being in the moment”, focusing your attention and being aware, no matter when, where, or what you are doing.

Mindfulness dates back at least 2,500 years and is part of the spiritual traditions of Buddhism. It became popular here in the US in the 1970s and is enjoying a surge in popularity due to the increased attention being placed on mental health issues. Why should we practice it? According to the CDC, studies suggest that mindfulness can help people “manage stress, cope better with serious illness, and reduce anxiety and depression.” It is a basic human ability that is part of our innermost nature. However, we have to cultivate it in order to reap the full benefits.

How does one practice mindfulness? First, you have to be present in the moment, paying attention to what is going on not just within you but around you as well. Second, you have to observe your thoughts, your feelings, and all your senses without judgement or negative labels. You are simply observing. Mindfulness is not meant to quiet your mind; instead, it is a way to fully pay attention.

Let’s begin practicing mindfulness:

1) Set aside time to do it – if you have not engaged in the practice of mindfulness before, choose a short time, say 5 minutes, to start with. You may find that as you continue to practice mindfulness, you are able to do it for longer periods of time.

2) Find a quiet place to sit or lie down where you can feel calm.

3) Feel your body and notice your position – make sure you are comfortable, whether you are seated with feet flat on the floor or legs crossed, kneeling, or lying down.

4) Begin taking deep breaths, inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling slowly through your mouth – feel your chest rise as you inhale and your tummy press down towards your back as you exhale.

5) Notice that your mind may wander – you may lose focus on your breathing as your mind wanders and you begin thinking about or noticing something else. It is ok when this happens, just bring yourself back to focusing on your breath.

There are several apps out there to help you with mindfulness, such as Smiling Mind, Insight Timer, Healthy Minds Program, Headspace, and Calm to name a few. Some apps are free and/or have subscriptions you can sign up for. Try engaging in mindfulness once per day or at least when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or simply needing a break from the hustle and bustle of the day. You’ll be glad you did!

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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