Ways to look after your mental health following ostomy surgery

Hear from Sarah our Clinical Advisor

From A Bigger Life

We share some tips on how to ensure that you keep as mentally well as possible following ostomy surgery. Whenever somebody asks, “How you feel?” your automatic reaction is “I’m fine.” But really, you need to talk to people and tell people if you’re not fine.

1. Talking to others
Having major surgery is a difficult thing and it does take time to recover. We would really encourage you to take to others, be honest, share your feelings.

2. Be active
We know it sounds like the last thing you want to do but the worse thing you could do for you mental health is to keep yourself at home and not push yourself to go out for a walk. You’re not expected to be able to walk miles or run a marathon. If that’s what you can do, fantastic, that’s so good for your mental health to be able to get back to what you normally do. But, if an achievement for you is getting out and walking down to the shops or going to visit a friend, that’s really important, and that will help keep your mood up and prevent you from spiralling down to any further despair.

3. Diet
There’s a big relationship between your diet and your mental health, so it’s important to eat well. Make sure you have good nutritious diet, eat what you like, when you like. Whenever you’re in hospital your diet can be confined and especially if you have an ileostomy, for the first 6-8 weeks your diet is a little bit restricted. Try to get back to what you enjoy eating and just keep in mind the good nutritional benefits of a varied diet.

4. Keep hydrated
Hydration is another important thing. Make sure you are drinking well, make sure you have a glass of water every hour. 6-8 glasses within 12 hours is what is recommended. If you enjoy going out for a drink and you enjoy going out and socialising, don’t cut yourself off. Uses all the opportunities you have to go out and meet people even if that is going out to a restaurant or going to a pub. You don’t have to drink alcohol, just make sure you are drinking fluids.

5. Acknowledge your limitations
Don’t push yourself if you don’t feel you are able to do something. If your body is telling you that you are tired, you need to rest. But, if it’s your mind that’s telling you that you can’t go out because you have a stoma pouch or somebody will notice it, the likelihood not one person will even know that you have had surgery and that you have a stoma pouch attached to your tummy. So, don’t let your mind be the barrier, certainly if it’s a physical thing that’s not allowing you to venture out, but don’t let your mind be the barrier of you going out and improving your mental health.

6. Support groups
There’s lot of support groups either online or one-to-one, specifically stoma related. There’s ileostomy, colostomy and urostomy stoma support groups, there’s lots of forums, but just be careful of adhering too much of what other people are saying that is not clinical evidence based. What might work for one person might be detrimental for somebody else, so just be wry of taking lots of advice from people who aren’t professional.

7. Talk your stoma care nurse
You do have your team of professionals within the hospital and your stoma care nurse, part of her role is to support you in your recovery and this does include your mental health recovery.

If you have a good relationship with your GP, they will be there to listen to your problems as well because your mental health is as important as your physical recovering from surgery.
Your family and friends are a good support network but sometimes they can be too close and you might feel that you can’t tell them all your inner feelings, but they are there to support you and they will want to help you if you are open and honest with them. You’ll be surprised how strong people will be there for you if you are open with them because they will want to help and they can’t help unless they understand exactly what you are thinking and feeling.

8. Hobbies
Another tip would be do something you are good at, if you like crocheting, if you like painting or if you like writing blogs. If you are a runner and you want to try getting back into that, knowing that you can achieve what you did before your surgery, will really promote your mental health.

Our clinical Advisor Sarah shares her experience of dealing with patient’s mental health

I had patients who would’ve come back frequently who didn’t particularly have anything physically wrong, but they needed to talk about how they are adapting their life to living with a stoma and also venting their feelings to someone that wasn’t their family member. It was a way for them to get out their thoughts and feelings without any judgements at all, and that’s what your stoma care nurse would do for you to.

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