Coping with reopening anxiety


It’s a scary time to be heading back into our practices. Here are some tips on handling anxiety.

“It’s time to go back to work.” Those words are the ones that so many of us have been desperate to hear. We have bills to pay and groceries to buy. The stress of being out of work and filing for unemployment with 30 million other furloughed employees is overwhelming. My frustration is that it is impossible to get a live, breathing human to answer the phones at the unemployment office. Hopefully that will fade into a bad memory.

In Ohio, where I live, dental offices have reopened this week. Gov. Mike DeWine has been very conservative with shelter-in-place orders and trying to keep us safe. We cannot stay in this state indefinitely. But still, I wonder if anyone has considered the fear employees are experiencing as they return to work.

As we return to work, everything will look different. We are not going to be doing business as usual. Instead, we’ll have 1½-hour hygienist appointments instead of 1-hour. Patients will call from the parking lot and be told when to arrive in the office. We’ll have new technologies and equipment to keep staff and patients safe. We’ll have to start wearing gowns-with the head gear and all.

It’s a scary time to be heading back into our practices. That fear is only heightened by the scarcity of much-needed PPE. What if we get sick? Will I be asked to work if we do not have the proper PPE? It will be difficult to balance the need to work with the fear of getting COVID-19. We are supposed to be upbeat and give hope, but we need to be realistic-there are risks in going back to the office.

It’s frightening to think about our unpredictable future. You may be wondering if you’ll be furloughed or have hours cut due to fewer patients being seen. We’re all worried about a lack of job security.

So, how do I handle this anxiety? Here are a few things you can do when the anxiety is building up.

  • Talk to someone. This can be a family member, clergy, friend, or a counselor. Do not keep these feelings stuffed down.

  • Find ways to act. You will feel more in control when you are doing something. Be proactive. Perhaps you could make cloth masks for family or patients- it may help with anxiety.

  • Remember to laugh. Life is short, so find ways to enjoy it. Laughter is a critical part of this. Make your patients laugh when they arrive-they are just as nervous as you are.

  • Exercise. Now is a good time to take care of yourself. This will help with stress, health, and help pass the time. Find some workout videos on YouTube or go for a walk. Sure, it isn’t the same as going to the gym, but there are plenty of workarounds.

  • Do household projects. If there are things around the house you’ve been putting off, now is a good time to revisit that to-do list. Paint, organize, garden-do what it is you’ve been procrastinating on. You’ll be proud of yourself in completing those projects.

  • Watch your alcohol consumption. Alcohol sales are up, so be aware if you are self-medicating with alcohol. That can be a slippery slope that can turn into a real problem or can exacerbate an underlying substance dependency problem you did not know you had.

  • Find ways to connect with your friends and family online. Use technology platforms to stay connected. Reach out to friends and family who are living alone. This must be an exceedingly difficult time for so many who are isolated.

  • Be wary of crowds. Throwing parties, eating in restaurants, or heading to the beach with lots of people around are all still risky behaviors. Nothing has improved so significantly that social distancing still shouldn’t be followed. Hospitals are bracing for the second wave, which could happen as people resume their lifestyles and stop social distancing.

  • Be smart. Nothing has really changed because disease is still here. The only difference is that businesses are starting to reopen. Wear masks when you are out of your home. Do not put the mask around your neck or wear it to cover your mouth only-it won’t work that way. Use it the way you have been instructed and keep washing your hands after being out of the home.

  • Be grateful for what you have. Start a gratitude journal and write down daily what you are grateful for. Don’t forget what really matters in your life. When you are down, read your journal and remind yourself of all the blessings you have.

It’s going to be difficult to acclimate to this new normal. But we can adapt, and in fact, we must. These are very unusual times. In our lifetime, nothing will come close to this pandemic.

The dental industry is doing everything it can to keep you safe. If you have concerns, voice them. If you are scared, find a safe way to share them. Do not keep it inside or stuff them down. Instead, look for ways to start taking steps towards your new life. And do not give up hope-things will improve.

Share with me your concerns and fears as you reenter the dental world by emailing .

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