I’ve always marveled at the focus, concentration and unflappability of experienced surgeons. The amount of calm they exude even outside surgery is remarkable. Having watched them from the sidelines for close to 5 years, their sense of composure is something that I aspire to.

I have been shadowing surgeons for some time now. Five years ago, I was developing animal models of breast cancer in the In Vivo Pharma group at Astellas. Recently, I’ve been working with fresh human tumor samples, taken from bedside to bench by surgeons in my lab. While it is not exactly the same as operating on humans, you need to have steady hands and a clear head to do well.

Even today when I step into the operating room, I sometimes get a bit jittery watching surgeons operate on their patients. Every now and then a bit of self-doubt, fear and anxiety creep in. It’s easy to forget that despite all the years of study and practice that we are still human.

I remember the first day I had to watch surgeons in action, I was a nervous wreck. My heart was beating so fast that I thought everyone could hear it and I was sweating profusely. My brain was on edge from all the thoughts that were bouncing around in my head.

After the session was done, when I was in my room I thought to myself, “If I was going haywire in the room without being involved in the surgery, I wonder what the doctors would’ve gone through?!”

The scene inside the operating room is often stressful, chaotic and tempers sometimes boil over in the heat of the moment. The best surgeons, I’ve noticed, are the ones who are able to maintain a stoic demeanor while being responsive enough to handle any unpleasant situations that might arise.

I have seen things get really bad but they were almost always quelled before they go worse. I learnt that being a surgeon is to be a master of your scalpel as well as your emotions.

I always knew that the life of a doctor was tough. An experienced surgeon once told me, “Son, you might think it’s hard now, but it’s a completely different ballgame when you finally wear the disposable mask and the smell of antiseptic hangs in the air.”

Methods Used by Surgeons

While I’m far away from being a zen-master of surgery, there are a few tips given to me by masters of their craft that have helped maintain my composure during trying times. Hopefully they can help you as well.

Focus and Breathing

Meditating is an easy and effective way to get rid of stress from your wracked body. You can either go to classes to practice in a group or you can read books from famous authors about how to go on about it. If you’re just starting out career-wise, know that it’s normal to feel anxious before a surgery. And according to Peggy Huddleston, the author of “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster”, it happens to people on both sides of the scalpel.

There are several easy meditation techniques for people looking to get into it quickly. Lamaze breathing is one such technique where you focus on conscious or patterned breathing to achieve relaxation. Deep steady breaths and slow exhaling can do wonders for your nerves.

Taking stock

This is a routine that a lot of doctors have told me they follow to increase their mental-awareness.

Before you prepare for surgery, make sure you have a mental checklist of all the items that you would normally require for the procedure. Check them off one by one as your mind is able to register them. Pretty soon you’ll start doing this as part of your preparation process.


Still, many tune in to their favorite band for relaxation.

One of the best methods to relax, pre and post-surgery, your playlist should have everything that you’d normally need, from soothing sounds of nature, sea and surf, waterfalls, white noise and in case of extreme stress, The Beatles.

Find your right mix to help you get over stressful times and have it at your beck and call.


Some people I know turn to food in times of anxiety.

Berries, nuts, oranges, avocados are great for relieving stress and getting into a calm state of mind. You can also cheat a bit with chocolate as it has been found to have properties that work against anxiety. For best results, get dark chocolate with minimal or no sugar.

Smart Drugs

Nootropics are a branch of medication that helps you with cognitive performance. More than a few people suggested this as they seem to work for them.

There are different nootropics with pronounced anxiolytic properties which can help people during times of extreme stress or anxiety. Modafinil and Phenibut have been the most commonly used drugs for their calming effect on people.

The right nootropics can help most people get over their problems with anxiety. But you need to speak to your doctor before you start on them.


I hope this was able to give you some insight into the methods other surgeons use for beating anxiety before surgery. A lot of my colleagues use one or more of the above methods to get themselves into gear. All being well, they can help you too.

Surgeons have a huge responsibility on their hands. Saving lives is never easy and it puts considerable strain on us all. But if they are able to clear their mind and focus their thoughts, people get another shot at life. That to me is worth fighting for.


Dan Fries

Dan Fries is an entrepreneur, businessman and author. He is the founder of Corpina Nootropics, and former oncology researcher at Harvard Medical School. Dan’s mission is to inform the world about nootropics and responsible cognitive enhancement.