I have spent over 25 years working as a dentist, as a GDP, and in the Community and Special Care Dental Services. Over the years I have seen too many cases of team members who started off fit and well, who then developed skin conditions, allergies, digestive problems, lowered immunity, and become withdrawn and irritable. What I now know is that these were signs of chronic stress.
We all know that the dental profession experiences high levels of stress – a recent BDA survey found that nearly half of dentists surveyed said that the levels of stress experienced in their job was exceeding their ability to cope.
There are many reasons for this stress such as time constraints, running late, challenging patients, meeting expectations, staffing issues and fear of litigation. I have experienced this stress and seen the effects it can have on health and wellbeing.
In the past, it has been difficult to talk about stress and wellbeing in the profession but thankfully I think we have now turned a corner, and it is easier to talk about these issues, to support each other, and to have access to services that can make a real difference.
The effects of stress are many and varied and, importantly, we all respond differently to it.
Being aware of how we feel and recognising the early signs of stress in ourselves as well as our colleagues is really important. If we can do this we can take action early and prevent the more serious consequences of chronic stress and its effects on wellbeing.
Stress builds up and if it is not addressed, it can reach such a level that when another stressor comes along- and it could be something minor, the pressure exceeds our ability to cope and we may experience burnout i.e. physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
Stress can cause psychological, behavioural and physiological symptoms. Some of the signs and symptoms to look out for are irritability, mood swings, low self-esteem, poor concentration, poor sleep, compulsive behaviour, breathlessness, headaches, skin complaints, allergies, gut/digestive issues and much more. The list is long but it is useful to be aware of the signs.
So how can we manage stress better? Thankfully there are many tools and techniques available to manage stress. Here are a few of them:
- Identify the sources of your stress: sometimes it could be one off events which are outside your control but if it’s regular or more frequent events it is important to identify them as they are a source of chronic stress. Take a look at them and see if there is anything you can change, are there any actions that you can take to reduce the stress they cause.
- Breathing techniques: studies have shown that breathing techniques can aid relaxation and can be beneficial for both mental and physical health. There are many techniques available, it is useful to try different techniques and see which one works best for you. It is important to practise your chosen breathing technique regularly when you are not stressed and then use it at times of stress as well.
- Exercise: physical activity increases the production of endorphins, takes your mind off anxieties and worries and may improve sleep.
- Meditation and mindfulness are well researched stress management techniques.
- Good nutrition: make time to eat, don’t rush meals whenever possible. Try and eat a well-balanced diet and avoid processed foods wherever possible.
- Identify your stress-inducing thoughts: these are thoughts about events that haven’t happened but that cause you stress when you think about them e.g. patient complaints, fear of litigation. Looking at these thoughts, identifying what it is about them that causes you stress can highlight irrational thinking errors and help to develop clearer more rational thinking skills which reduces stress.
- There are many other techniques to support you to manage stress better, as well as coaching and counselling. It is important to remember that one size does not fit all, and it is finding what will work for you.
We cannot avoid stress in today’s world, so it is increasingly important to take control of the stress in your life, change what you can and manage what you can’t.
If you feel you are not able to cope ask for help, there are services and support available for these times.