Are you a dentist dealing with stress? You're in good company. A 2015 study by the American Dental Association (ADA) reports that 75% of dentists experience the same. Here's what you can do about it.
1. Identify Good Stress and Bad Stress
Not all stress is bad; in fact, some stress is necessary for motivation. Too much stress, on the other hand, can be problematic and interfere with your dental career. Since dentists are at a higher risk of experiencing tension on the job than the average person, it's important to learn how to identify good and bad stress.
You can use good stress to allow yourself to grow and achieve new goals within your practice as well as develop strategies for how to cope with negative stress. The latter may be more clear to you by its negative impact: changes in your appetite or eating habits, sleep disturbances, headaches, irritability or mood swings, or body aches.
2. Learn Your Triggers
Your stress triggers will not be the same as those of your peers, so it's important to learn what causes you to feel more anxiety than usual. Do long or involved procedures put you under too much pressure? Do upset or anxious patients cause you to also feel upset? Does the sound of a baby crying in the waiting room cause you to become irritable? Identifying your triggers will help you find a starting point for eliminating unnecessary or damaging sources of stress, both on the job and in your daily life.
3. Practice Self Care
Self-care is critical for dentists in order to cope with the constant barrage of stress experienced in a busy practice. It's more than taking a hot bath or drinking a glass of wine at the end of the day (although that might work, too).
Self-care can also include:
- Eating healthfully
- Going out with friends
- Getting a massage
- Setting professional boundaries
- Playing a game or sport
- Cognitive therapy
Although you may feel strongly about zoning out in front of your television after a hard day at the office, this isn't self-care. It's important that whatever self-care strategies you choose have a positive impact on your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health. Identify healthy self-care strategies that you can do in between patients or dental procedures, as well as those you can practice at home in a more relaxed, comfortable environment.
4. Avoid Internalizing Patient Anxiety
In a profession where patients tend to be anxious, upset, and frightened, it can be difficult not to internalize these emotions and become upset yourself. You may not even realize you're doing it; you may simply notice that you're a little more irritable one day, without connecting it back to the difficult patient you had earlier in the afternoon.
Try to remain calm when working with anxious patients. Sympathize with your patients without empathizing with them, do what you can to help, and allow yourself to let go of patient pain, anxiety, frustration, and fear that you aren't able to do anything about. The ADA recommends helping patients to breathe through their anxiety, taking deep breaths and counting to ten before exhaling.
5. Connect with Others
Support from others may also be key in helping dentists to keep overwhelming stress at bay. Whether your style is hosting a party for dozens of people or having coffee with a few, it's important to make time to spend with friends and family.
It may seem tempting to crawl into bed after a stressful day, but connections with people can help provide you with the support you need to handle the tension of your job. You can also strive to develop healthy relationships with staff; connecting with someone going through the same challenges can often be extremely validating.
6. Take Frequent Breaks
Frequent breaks are imperative to your mental health. If you're a dentist working with the public all day and straining your body by examining patients, these become even more important.
Schedule short breaks during the day and be sure to take your lunch break, even if you're tempted to work through it. Don't skip using any vacation or paid time off that you have. Instead, make a point to take time off every year to completely unplug, relax, and rejuvenate.
7. Reach Out for Professional Help
Coping with stress is challenging and if you find that you're tense and overwhelmed more often than not, it may be time to consult a professional. There's nothing wrong with getting help to learn how to cope with stress, whether it's through mental tools, talk therapy or medication. Ask trusted peers for recommendations of mental health professionals who have specific experience working with medical and dental professionals and the obstacles they face on the job.
Stress, unfortunately, is a part of a dentist’s career. It's unlikely that you'll be able to eliminate every source of tension, but practicing healthy ways to mitigate that stress can make it easier to cope with and love what you do.
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