3 reasons why a little stress can be healthy

2014 07 08 14 12 01 98 Butler Jen 200

Here's the good news about stress. Small intervals of stress can sharpen your mind and generate health benefits. This is referred to as "acute" stress or eustress.

Endocrinologist Dr. Hans Selye was the first to identify and study stress in 1936, and he documented the different types of stressors and their manifestations. He and other researchers have since identified numerous positive effects on our physical, psychological, and biological systems when under just the right amount of stress.

Here are three good reasons why a little stress can go a long way to benefit our overall health:

Jen Butler, MEd.Jen Butler, MEd.
  • It can boost brain function. It turns out low-level stressors stimulate the production of brain chemicals called neurotrophins and strengthen the connections between neurons in the brain.
  • It can increase immunity. "Some kinds of stress -- very short-term, that last only a matter of minutes -- actually redistribute cells in the bloodstream in a way that could be helpful," said Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky who has conducted studies on stress and the immune system. You can read more about Segerstrom's research here and here.
  • It can increase resiliency. A large body of research on the science of resilience has found that learning to deal with stressful situations can make future situations easier to manage, according to the American Psychological Association.

All experiences we have trigger a complex choreography of chemical reactions within us as our adrenal glands release a cascade of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases our heart rate, which boosts our energy level; cortisol increases glucose to our bloodstream.

Bad news

When we regularly experience frequent and prolonged stress without enough time to recover, our mental and physical health becomes compromised. This kind of stress is "chronic," and it is bad news. We are not designed to withstand this overdrive of physiological arousal without paying the consequences to our overall health.

A number of studies have been conducted that look at the stress levels of dentists. Overall, the studies show 82.7% to 86% dentists experience chronic stress. Related studies reveal unsettling statistics that result from chronic stress among dentists, according to the ADA's 2003 Dentist Well-Being Survey, which came out in 2005, and a 2008 study in the British Dental Journal (June 2008, Vol. 204:11, p. E19). The latter study also found that 47% of dentists were somewhat happy to unhappy with little interest in life.

The ADA discovered the following in its 2003 Dentist Well-Being Survey:

  • 79.4% feel low in energy.
  • 55.8% blame themselves for things gone wrong.
  • 34.9% feel hopeless about the future.
  • 29.1% have no interest in things.
  • 23.5% have feelings of worthlessness.
  • 41.9% have difficulty concentrating and making decisions.

Of the survey respondents, 24% had indicators of diagnosable, moderate to severe depression even though almost half (47.5%) have ever been formally diagnosed with the condition. Other studies, such as a 2004 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association (June 2004, Vol. 135:6, pp 788-794), have found similar responses, such as that 34% of dentists frequently or always felt physically or emotionally exhausted.

Good news

Disturbing statistics? Yes. So how does good news follow this?

Well, the good news is you have more control over chronic stress than you might think. Although you may feel lost, out of control, or overwhelmed, along with the realization you are part of the status quo of dentists with chronic stress (just the thought of this is more stressful), you can regain control of your health.

“The first step to go from stressed to stress-free is to acknowledge you are experiencing chronic stress.”

Stress is triggered by an experience. It is about the way dentists feel and think about their past, present, and perceived future and, therefore, it is unique to each dentist. While a "one-size-fits-all" approach may work for the short term, a personalized stress management plan is needed to achieve effective sustainable results to address the uniqueness of all our perspectives to life's experiences. So an effective and sustainable stress management plan is customized to meet the individual needs of each dentist, working from the inside out.

Nonetheless, the first step to go from stressed to stress-free is to acknowledge that you are experiencing chronic stress. Just as important as owning our strengths, we must admit to our weaknesses. From here we can heal.

Dentists experience so many negative emotions in their work that they forget that there is another way to feel. The following three easy-to-apply-everywhere steps will help dentists get to stressless.

  • Add "yet" to the end of any sentence for an immediate paradigm shift. The word yet is a powerful word in the English language. It provides hope when you feel stuck. It reminds us that options are still available even when we think we've thought of everything. Most important, it allows us to forgive the past and focus on creating a new "normal."
  • Commit to breathing more deeply. Deep breathing is the No. 1 way to reduce stress. There's not a study conducted that doesn't support deep breathing as the go-to coping method. How a dentist breathes will make the difference, so be sure to inhale slowly through the nose and exhale out the mouth. Close your eyes when possible to reduce the amount of stimulus the brain receives.
  • Focus on one thing. More dentists will turn their life around when they focus on one thing, make changes, form new habits, and then move onto the next thing. If a dentist has too many situation events to change at once, the task becomes too large, and instead of forging ahead it's more common to avoid changes and settle for less. It doesn't matter which situation a dentist decides to change first. It's starting the process of change that makes the difference.

Jen Butler, MEd, is the CEO and founder of JB Partners and has been working in the area of stress management and resiliency training for more than 25 years. Learn about her services at her website, or contact her at [email protected]. You can learn about her Catalyst Seminars and download a free e-book.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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