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    How to handle emotions in the dental practice

    While everyone tries to put on a brave face at work, sometimes emotions can take their toll.

    How often do people ask you, “How are you doing?” And then how often do they keep on talking, not at all invested in hearing what you have to say. Are they just following social graces in asking, but they really don’t care? Call me a cynic, but I will answer the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be negative or discouraging. It would be pompous of me to generalize that everyone you come across could care less. Instead, be introspective and think about it. If you’re asked that question, what is your answer?

    Suppose you’re at work and a patient asks how you’re doing. How much do you share? Do you share that you’re behind with your bills or fighting with your girlfriend or boyfriend? No, because that wouldn’t be appropriate. So, you end up saying, “fine.” But what does “fine” mean to you? More importantly, are you actually fine? Fine is basically just another nicety that moves the conversation along. The person may not be listening, and let’s face It, it doesn’t make you feel any better that he or she asked the question.

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    But, what if you were at home and your mom asked? Would you tell her the truth? Would you tell her, “My boss yelled at me and humiliated me in front of my patient?” Some of you would, while others wouldn’t want your mom to either smother you with attention or criticize what you had done. I think that this is important on a bigger level. We share different parts of ourselves with different people in our lives. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just find it exhausting keeping it all straight. We play several different roles — dental professional, colleague, employee, mother, daughter, neighbor, friend — the list goes one endlessly.

    I am from the old school that you shouldn’t cry at work, ever. In my last job, my boss had an unexpected medical leave of absence, and you know what that meant for me? Out of work in a week! None of the other partners wanted to pick up my salary or benefits. So, I wasn’t just worried about my boss, but I was also grieving for the loss of my job and work family. For a week, colleagues would walk by to see how I was doing. They would ask about my boss and tears always sprung to my eyes. It was truly embarrassing. They didn’t know what to say to me. So, eventually they would just look at me with a pained expression that conveyed they didn’t know what to do. I went to HR and scheduled my last day of work because it was inevitable. I certainly didn’t want this to impact the patients who would walk by my desk. Seeing a staff member with bright red, swollen eyes isn’t the image I wanted for the practice.

    EmotionsSome may say, “You’re human. Stop giving yourself such a hard time,” but I’m a stickler for not showing anger or tears in the workplace. It’s even more of an issue being a woman. I know that for some of you, you can relate to this. When I get mad, tears come, but this isn’t the way I want to be viewed. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer of cry therapy — just not in the workplace.

    Another thought to ponder is the importance of trusting people to talk about things that upset you. This might be a health issue, relationship issue, money issue, you name it. There are some people who don’t need to talk about those kinds of things, but many of us do. The key is to find someone you can trust. When I worked in a hospital, my cellmate (aka the co-worker I shared my office with) would page me at the end of the day to vent. We would close the door and talk it out. This way neither of us were bringing the stress home. She had my back and I had hers; she was my work family. I knew she would keep our conversations between the two of us and give me what I needed at the end of my workday. Do you have someone like that in your life?

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    So, what is your answer? “How are you?” Are you finding people you can trust to give you support when you’re having a difficult day? Do you have a work family? The best you can do is be aware of who you are and what you need. If someone flippantly asks you, “How are you?” you might just want to say, “Let’s grab a cup of coffee, and I can fill you in.” The takeaway here is to ask for what you need. That way, you have a chance of getting it.

    If you’ve had either good or bad experiences with being asked this question, email me at [email protected] and share your story.

    Lisa Newburger, LISW-S
    Lisa Newburger, a master's level social worker supervisor, helps audiences find humor in talking about tough topics. Her "in-your-face" ...

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