First off, you’re not alone. If humans didn’t have an innate and powerful reflex to keep their eyes protected, we’d probably not have made it very far as a species. Or at least the timeline would have looked a lot different. It didn’t turn out too great for those sightless fish that live in underwater caves unless they’re doing fun stuff when we’re not around. Maybe they have a one-eyed fish that is king, and he’s making the best of the situation for them.

Fear Of The Unknown

But I digress, no one likes thinking about something happening to their eyes. Even if that “something” is going to make their eyes much better and is safer than contact lenses would be for them. It is hard to feel completely calm in the face of the unknown. And despite marketing making LASIK very well-known, as a procedure, it remains for most people firmly in the “unknown” category. This fact, as it so happens, is the way to make LASIK much easier for patients who decide to move ahead despite the fear.

Sure, Valium is great and it works and we have it available to every LASIK patient who would like to take it. But I promise that even as great as Valium is, it doesn’t help as much as addressing the “unknown” and anxiety-provoking part of LASIK. Many of my patients don’t take Valium (but again, they can if they want) because the anxiety goes away when the cause of the anxiety is removed. That cause, the fear of we-know-not-what, is easy to address.

When people — under the influence of anxiety — try to picture laser surgery on an eye, there’s not a coherent picture of what is frightening about it. There’s just a mass of sometimes mutually exclusive scenarios playing at the same time. It’s impossible to feel calm because there’s no way to abide by every worry that can and cannot happen at the same time.

The Simplest Way to Reduce LASIK Anxiety

The solution to this is really simple and amazingly effective. It’s just endless chatter from your surgeon. Surgical steps aren’t part of the chatter. We aren’t talking about procedural stuff that may gross you out. We’re assuring you at the start and following up throughout that nothing will happen without you knowing it will happen first.

And it works because none of the things that happen are bad. An eye drop? Sure, no one loves them, but people aren’t anxious over eye drops. So we tell you before an eye drop is placed. A green light to look at? You’ve seen a green light a bunch of times. A noise that sounds like a pitch pipe they use before a barbershop quartet? That’s almost fun, or at a minimum, it isn’t scary. Every step of the procedure is simple and painless. It means the procedure becomes easy when nothing surprising or frightening is going to happen because you’re listening to a rambling story of which thing you’ll notice next.

It’s Okay, Everybody Blinks

There is no “here’s the big moment” kind of moment you’re waiting on. There’s no painful step to get through. And there’s no way for you to mess up the procedure by blinking or moving your eye because guess what? Everyone blinks and moves their eye! 100% of them. That’s why all of it is designed so that you’re not in charge of how well it goes.

So yes, Valium is available and you can feel free to take it. No one will judge you for taking the medicine that is in the clinic specifically for you if you want it. But truthfully, what makes the Valium second best is knowing that you’ll have no pain, no worries about moving or blinking, and — most importantly by a mile — no surprises throughout the 10 minutes it takes to do your LASIK. Nothing cures anxiety as well as having nothing to be anxious about, and you’d be amazed how reliably that can be achieved.

Can I Mess Up My Lasik Surgery?

The most nervous people get on LASIK day isn’t during the actual procedure, it’s just before it. I don’t mean when they wake up or at the drive-in. It’s that five-minute period just before you walk into the LASIK suite. You’re wearing one of those bouffant surgical caps and your friend or significant other takes your picture because the hat looks funny. But on the inside, you’re nervous. It’s the same feeling you might have waiting off-stage right before you give a big presentation.

The anxiety is always — always — about the same thing. It is the same cause of anxiety you’d have waiting for that presentation. “Is this going to go well?” And even more accurately, the idea of it going poorly is based on the same fear “Am I going to screw this up somehow?” For a presentation, I don’t have any helpful information. For LASIK, I have very good news.

Lasik For The Real-World

Everyone worries that they won’t hold their eye still enough or keep their eye open. And in the history of LASIK, I feel confident in saying that no one has ever held their eye still; no one has ever not blinked for the entirety of the 10-minute procedure. LASIK had to be designed around real-world conditions, and in the real world, people who are alive and awake move their eyes constantly. They blink involuntarily and all the time. Have you ever tried to not blink for just 30 seconds? It’s almost impossible.

I try not to say the same speech over and over again to every patient, because it sounds like, well, a speech. But there is one sentence I will say multiple times throughout each day to LASIK patients who are just about to start their procedure. “You can make it take longer, where we’re in there for 15 minutes instead of 10, but you can’t do anything to mess it up.” The relief people feel when they hear that is instantaneous. The intense worry about “what if my eye moves” goes away when you realize your eye is most definitely going to move, and it doesn’t matter.

The tracking systems are so sophisticated now that the laser can follow your eye much faster than your eye can move. The blinks are cured by a simple device I call a “blink protector” that works like a blink stop so that those inevitable blinks don’t matter at all. Every unique movement that people worry they may be the first to do has been done a thousand times before and isn’t a problem. Sneezing, coughing, restless legs, crying, laughing, and on the list goes. The reason LASIK is so popular isn’t because a group of super athlete meditation experts did well with LASIK. It’s because the list of “what ifs” has been so thoroughly solved for every normal person who wants LASIK.

In full disclosure, do you have the ability to mess up your LASIK surgery if you’re trying to? Yes. But even then, the only examples I can come up with are if you decide to reach up and start poking yourself in the eyes a bunch, or if you get up and run out of the room at a few different specific moments. Luckily, people at risk for that (e.g. in the midst of florid psychosis) should be easily identified during a LASIK consultation, and referred to someone who can help rather than moving forward with vision correction.

Calm Your Nerves With Research

If you want LASIK, but fear of the unknown is holding you back, my best advice would be to research until all that unknown is gone. That research may be just finding a LASIK surgeon you’re comfortable with and leaving the details to them. It may be learning every facet of the procedure and how the technology mitigates risk. Either way, the steps you take toward it will eventually lead you to the conclusion that you can’t mess up your LASIK unless you want to. I am positive that no matter how much you hate stuff near your eyes, LASIK has been done without a hitch on someone just like you.