Make Stress Work For You
Research shows that stress levels among dentists are hitting a new high. But how do you recognize the signs of stress and what can you practically do to cope?
Dentistry remains a fast-paced and fulfilling industry to work in, but keeping up with clinical developments, alongside a business can be challenging. Key findings from a 2016 survey of dentists discovered that:
45% said they suffer with insomnia
63% said stress had an impact on their motivation
60% said stress affected personal or family relationships 
There is a risk that if stress isn’t addressed it can lead to much more serious mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and burnout.   Mental health issues can be difficult to diagnose, but what generally differentiates serious issues from general stress is way they leave a person experiencing toxic thought patterns that produce fear, paralysis and the inability to perform, or be interested in, normal tasks. 
Depression, anxiety and burnout can leave an individual feeling low not just about their work, but about every area of their life. Hopelessness, chronic fatigue, an inability to concentrate on anything and even suicidal thoughts can all be symptoms of serious mental health issues.   It’s important to note that anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek professional help.
Ian Hunt is the Clinical Director at Maple Dentalcare Ltd, Manchester and recognises that there is often no single cause of stress, but rather multiple pressure points,
“When you manage a practice you’re juggling everything together. You’re dealing with patients, managing staff, running the financial side of the business and that can be extremely stressful. No one prepares you for it."
Ian’s concerns were highlighted in a survey of dental practitioners that identified a number of key issues that contribute to stress within dentistry. Top concerns were:
Demands made by patients (75%)
Problems associated with practice management and staff (56%)
Fears relating to complaints and litigation (54%) 
Joanna Taylor is a dental practice manager and an accredited neuro-linguistic psychotherapist who specialises in working with dentists suffering from burnout. Joanna believes that there are underlying factors that impact a dentist’s susceptibility to stress.
“Dentists are prone to get stressed simply because they care,” she says. “Dentists are also, by their very nature, high fliers. They have very high expectations of themselves.”
Within dentistry itself, there is a strong focus on encouraging patients to develop good dental hygiene routines that will prevent the need for treatment. However, as Joanna points out, “dentists aren’t always so good at putting in place strategies to prevent their levels of stress from getting out of control.”
There are countless variables that need to be taken into consideration when running a dental practice. Ian found the support of a business manager to be an effective way to balance the demands of running a dental practice. “For me, employing a business manager was an incredible help. Lindsey [my business manager] can really work on the business, so I can work in the business,” says Ian. “She also acts as a bit of a mentor – and I can bounce ideas off her.”
There are a number of other practical steps that dentists can put in place to help them reduce their levels of stress.
According to time-effectiveness studies, for every minute spent planning, the time required to complete an activity is reduced by three to four minutes.  Good planning can help you schedule tasks to make full use of the skills of your dental team.  There are also a number of software packages out there that can help with everything from managing appointments and maintaining an inventory to project planning and even HR. 
Getting business support
A business manager can help to oversee the finances and operations of the business, whilst a practice-coordinator can help with acceptance of treatment plans and supporting patients who are anxious or have very complex needs. All this eases the burden on the team, leaving the dentists free to concentrate on clinical work.
It’s important to ensure there is good communication between the dental team themselves. Communication needs to be two-way and it can be helpful to meet as a whole team, while also making time for more focused one-to-one sessions with staff to discuss individual concerns, ambitions or training needs.
Whilst there are some very practical ways that could help you to manage the pressures within your dental practice, you’ll never be in complete control of the external influences.
“Events in themselves are not stressful, it is the individual’s perception of the event which creates their response,”
explains Joanna. “Sometimes, all that is required is for individuals to have an experience of perceiving their problems from a different perspective. It’s also important that people know they are not alone. There are a lot of good resources out there, and sites such as the Mental Dental Facebook page are safe places where dentists can be supported.”
There are a number of techniques that could help dentists develop a good response to their daily challenges:
Mentoring – Many dentists find it helpful to step outside their dental practice and speak openly in a safe, non-judgmental environment about their challenges, worries and potential anxieties. Mentors don’t have all the answers, but can support a dentist by giving them space to speak openly and honestly. 
Build in relaxation – It might sound obvious, but there are countless studies that show the benefits of relaxation. When we are stressed, our bodies pump stress hormones and nervous energy into tissues and organs which starts to wear them down.  Exercise is a great way to combat stress as it helps to produce endorphins that boost your mood and ease tension  and can help promote a better work-life balance.
Develop greater self-awareness – Many people find it helpful to develop a ‘mindful’ approach to managing hectic work schedules by taking time to focus on the bigger picture.  Keeping a daily journal, making a list of life goals and priorities and even taking time in the day to focus on what’s important to you, can all help to build up a greater resilience.
When it’s not managed well, stress can have some very serious consequences. However, as Joanna points out, “Stress is a normal part of life and can actually work as a motivator to help us get things done.” Rather than waiting until stress reaches dangerous levels, establishing good routines and putting in place boundaries can certainly help dentists manage stress and get a better work-life balance. Overall, it’s important that dentists know they are not alone and that there are people out there who can support them.
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