By Jen Butler, MEd, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

November 30, 2018 -- Stress is an integral part of our everyday lives. While it gives us the strength to cope with the challenges we face, too much stress can bring health problems. Stress at work, both generally and in the dental office, is one of the leading causes of these problems.

What makes dentistry uniquely stressful are the conditions in which your team and you work. The following conditions are just some of the situations that contribute to stress in the office:

Jen Butler, MEd
Jen Butler, MEd.
  • Economic pressure: Do you sometimes add patients to your schedule after hours? When is the last time you took a vacation from your practice? This kind of pressure can lead to stress and even physical exhaustion.
  • Time pressure: An appointment runs long, or maybe you spend a few extra minutes talking with a new patient. Chances are your next patient is waiting and needs to get back to work or to pick up the kids. Dentists are under constant stress to keep their patients' appointments on schedule.
  • Patients' dental anxiety and fear: You might think you recognize it, but misunderstanding this fear can be a serious problem in a relationship between a patient and a doctor and can create a stressful situation.

How is stress manifested?

Stress can manifest itself both physically and emotionally. The first signs of physical stress might be fatigue or a headache, or it could be that your blood pressure is up or you are having difficulty breathing. In addition to these physical signs, anxiety, depression, and insomnia are also manifestations of stress.

How can a dentist calm down at any time at the office? Here are three suggestions.

1. Psychological calming

People often do not know how to recognize the moment that triggers stress. To cope with stress, you must learn to recognize the cause. Let's consider the example of a patient who might not understand the procedure you are undertaking at this appointment.

“I advise my clients to ensure the patient is familiar with the procedure.”

I advise my clients to ensure patients are familiar with the procedures and that their expectations are realistic. This reduces the chances of a stressful situation at the end of the appointment.

Do not put yourself in a situation in which a patient is not familiar with the possible outcome of the therapy. If the patient is very scared, talk with them first to try to find out the source of the anxiety. This process has the added benefit of calming you down.

If the procedure itself is the cause of the discomfort, try to step back and look at it from a different angle. Doing so can give you a new perspective on how to solve that case. Also consider consulting a colleague.

2. Physiological calming

Breathing is something that we do automatically, but sometimes we forget to breathe normally. What you can do in a stressful situation is to pay attention to each and every breath you take. Breathe slowly and deeply -- not with your chest but with your stomach.

Another technique is conscious muscular relaxation. Quickly scan your body and try to figure out which muscle is under tension and then relax it. By letting the body relax, the heart will return a normal rhythm, and you will feel better at the same time.

3. Physical calming

When you notice signs of physical stress, it's important to stop for a moment and to let yourself rest. Take a break between patients. Hunger and nervousness also affect our physical response to stress. Do not let yourself work hungry. Also keep an eye on what you are eating.

Many dentists find that they work in an environment that does not allow them enough time for each patient. Discuss this issue with your team to try to find a solution.

The path to health is complex, but we can begin by taking care of ourselves physically and psychologically. Good nutrition, exercise, rest, and relaxation are the basics, but first learn to be better with yourself and your team. Frank and open relationships may help you to overcome the stress of everyday life.

Jen Butler, MEd, has worked in the area of stress management and resilience training for more than 25 years. Register to hear her podcast here. You can contact her via email here.

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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