One of the problems all health care professionals face is taking care of themselves.
The vast majority of dentists take up the profession to help other people by solving their dental problems. The nature of the business is dentists will (hopefully) see patient after patient, hour after hour, day after day. Then, they’ll complete treatment records, make follow-up calls, and deal with after-hours emergencies.
That by itself is stressful enough, but when you add the additional challenges of leading and managing the day-to-day aspects of operating a dental practice, it’s a recipe for ill health.
It can also be a prescription for poor decision-making.
Numerous studies have revealed that judgment is always compromised under high stress levels. Attention is usually narrowly focused, meaning that individuals miss relevant information and alternative courses of action. And decisions tend to be made impulsively.
These stress-related decision-making problems don’t occur just in emergency situations, although that’s usually the worst-case scenario. Poor decisions are often the result of stress that builds, unnoticed, over time.
Dentists almost always have the self-discipline to make appropriate dental decisions under stress. That control is the result of years of intensive education and training in making evidence-oriented decisions allied with best practices.
But that discipline doesn’t always carry over into non-clinical areas, such as business, personnel, and marketing decisions. This is one area where dentist self-care is critical.
I’m a small business owner. If I didn’t have trusted employees (who are also friends) to vent to who know what I’m facing, I don’t know what I’d be like. But I know that I wouldn’t like me very much. And, it would be bad for my business.
All too many solo-practice dentists don’t have what I have. Their stress doesn’t have an outlet or a sounding board. They may be friendly with the people they employ, but that doesn’t automatically translate into having someone on staff who they’re comfortable blowing off steam to.
With that in mind, here’s a simple three-part “prescription” for stress management.
Dentistry is a fairly sedentary profession. Yes, you’re on your feet a lot, and bending a lot. Occasionally, you may have to apply some muscle during a procedure. None of that is a substitute for vigorous physical activity. Extensive research shows that people who exercise regularly have more energy during the day and lower stress levels.
Ideally, you’ll pick something you already enjoy doing. If not, it’s an opportunity to explore sports or other recreational activities that you haven’t tried.
Staying nose-to-grindstone gets you a shorter nose, but not much else. Build in time before, during, or after work hours to re-focus on non-work pastimes. Read a good book. Meditate. Pursue your stamp collecting. Have friends over or visit them. Play some cards. Do a crossword puzzle. Whatever will take your mind away from the challenges of work can help lower your stress levels.
Having a trusted friend who understands what you’re facing is crucial. That may mean having a mentor or becoming friends with another dentist with whom you’re not competing. In some cases, you might find another understanding small business owner will help, even if he or she doesn’t understand the technical aspects. Think of all your stress going into a balloon. If you keep stuffing more and more into the balloon, it’ll eventually burst. Venting to someone who gets you can help keep that from happening.
Dentists who are less stressed are not only happier and easier to work with, they make better decisions in non-clinical areas.