Are you stressed? Do you know how to recognize stress? Stress could be impacting your ability to practice and to interact positively with patients and staff. It can have an adverse effect on practice finances but it doesn't have to. And by taking steps to reduce stress in your life, you could rediscover the joy and passion for dentistry.
It’s the fear of not producing. The fear of not having enough patients. The fear of failure.
Stress is an incredible thing, but not in a good way. The Mayo Clinic reports that stress symptoms can affect an individual’s health, even though they might not realize it. Stress can affect body, thoughts, feelings and behavior — and dentists are not immune.
The American Dental Association “Dentist Well-Being Programs Handbook” indicates that running a dental practice with the dual demands of clinical expertise and small business management leaves many practitioners feeling burned out by midlife.
Jen Butler, Med, B.C.C., a certified trainer in the area of stress management and resiliency coaching, and principal of JBP Partners, says that fear is at the heart of dentists’ stress.
“It’s the fear of not having enough money,” Butler explains. “It’s the fear of not producing. The fear of not having enough patients. The fear of failure.”
Perhaps even greater than the aspect of stress itself is that dentists often don’t recognize its presence. More often, Butler says, they will blame externally.
“They’ll blame their staff for causing problems or drama,” she explains. “They’ll blame their patients for being difficult, or crazy. They’ll blame the insurance companies for not reimbursing. They blame and excuse away their inability to tolerate things and people around them.”
Butler says that if dentists would stay placing blame elsewhere and instead recognize their situation for what it is, they would realize that their response to various stimuli or triggers is a clear warning sign of being stressed. In other words, it’s the inability to manage or navigate a situation that signals the presence of stress.
“It’s the inability to manage a challenging patient, or resolve team drama,” Butler says, “as opposed to acknowledging that maybe we’re not good leaders.”
WORRY VS. PREPARATION
Butler says that if dentists want to remove stress from their lives, it’s important to understand the difference between worry and preparation. Worry, she explains, is a constant mental thought process without action. It’s rooted in the fear of “what if” and of the future. It encompasses all of the potential negative outcomes in a given situation.
Preparation, however, requires looking at the exact same situation but through a neutral lens. Instead of staying up all night worrying, write down all the what ifs that could happen, but include an action step with verbs.
“Verbs are action words,” Butler points out. “When people start taking steps, when they start physically moving forward, even if it’s the tiniest little thing, they start feeling better. They start seeing and feeling progress. And all of a sudden some of the what ifs will fall away.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Change, Butler says, is uncomfortable, and people tend to repel away from things that are uncomfortable, like touching something hot.
“Biologically and physiologically our stress response is triggered when we are uncomfortable,” she says. “We can’t control that. So it’s reminding ourselves that as we go through change, we’re going to feel uncomfortable, and yet we’re going to do it anyway.”
Recognize, however, that as you move through the steps of change, even if you encounter a misstep, that doesn’t mean it was a mistake. That doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do, or the wrong way to handle something.
“It just didn’t work out that time,” Butler says. “Maybe you need to try again, or just tweak it a bit and approach the situation differently.”
The benefits to removing stress from your life are wide ranging.
“Number one, dentists are going to see financial gains, for sure,” Butler says.
That’s because when dentists reduce their stress, they do more dentistry. They have the mental and physical energy to do more, as well as the focus and concentration. They also have better vision.
“We lose our peripheral vision when we’re stressed,” Butler explains. “Dentists need their eyes to diagnose everything. That’s why so much goes undiagnosed when dentists are stressed.”
Reducing stress will also enable dentists to become more engaged in their practice — not only with their team, but with their business. They’ll also start retaining more patients and staff, which means lower costs and increased production.
“Statistics show that when dentists have high stress, they have high turnover,” Butler says. “Because their staff just can’t deal with it any more.”
Dentists will also rediscover the joy and passion of dentistry.
“How many dentists say, ‘I hate doing dentistry,’ and they just want to enjoy it?” Butler asks, rhetorically. “When they reduce stress, they will ultimately find the joy and passion of dentistry again.”
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