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MyView: Out with stress

April 04, 2016

By Lisa Knowles, D.D.S.


Dr. Knowles
Stress in dentistry and life is unavoidable. Conflict with people is unavoidable. Hopeful, right? Wait. There is one thing that is avoidable: letting it all get to you. You can cope. But how? How do you not blow up or implode during those hectic, nerve-wracking, emotional times?

Last year, I was put to the test. My mother was in the last stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, my two kids and husband needed me and I was running my consulting business while practicing two to three days a week. In addition, I agreed to help cover a maternity leave at my office. This added another day to my work schedule. I was pushing back paper, tears and fears for most of the year while helping my mother die. It was an ugly year. Yet, I survived using these skills, and I want to share them to help you prepare for the next life storm. The storms will come if not already here; it's imperative to have a plan.

Busy professionals, especially leaders, are intertwined with many people in their lives — co-workers, family members and organizations. People have needs, and sometimes their needs come all at once. Here is what we can do:

Get out. Despite the needs of many people in our lives, we have to say, "no," and get out of certain situations. This is a self-preservation maneuver. I hated to let others down. I hated to back out on commitments, but I had to do it. Volunteer opportunities will arise again. Certainly, the ideal plan is to limit commitments initially. I use this strategy more and more as I get older. I am less burdened and less edgy when I allow for slack in my schedule to deal with unanticipated needs.

Go out. Find solitude and natural beauty. Breathe in fresh air. Watch something in nature. It is amazing how calming it is to watch a bird on a tree limb when our lives are circling like merry-go-rounds. Walk and notice the sounds of nature. Nature is absolutely replenishing.

Work out. Cortisol shoots through our bodies under stress. When we exercise, some of that cortisol is counteracted with an endorphin release. Exercise can be a good escape as well, especially if done outside of the home where stress can be centered. A good workout or walk helps our mental health, too. It restores the sense of control. By taking time for ourselves, we prove to ourselves that we are still in control of our bodies, and this helps maintain our stability in other areas of our lives that are seemingly out of control.

Burst out. During the depressing points in my mom's journey, I craved comedy. I wanted to laugh and smile again. Despite a grave situation, I forced myself to watch "Seinfeld" reruns and "The Big Bang Theory" episodes. Humor and comedy must be infused into our lives during these tense, painful moments. Find the shows, the people or the comics to bring light-heartedness to the situation. No one expects our entire lives to be bad when bad things are going on. We must allow ourselves to laugh — and let go of the pain for short times. We have to intentionally instill those moments into our day-to-day routines.

Talk it out. Find a friend or counselor with a listening ear. These supporters provide hidden perspectives and help maintain normalcy during rough periods. Never be too proud to ask for this help. These are lifesaving maneuvers. Also, avoid toxic people during tumultuous times. No need to add more inflammation to a sore spot.

We are professionals touting prevention to our patients. When we take our own advice and help ourselves first (fulfill our needs), we are in a better position to help our patients — and family members — more completely.

This editorial first appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Dental Practice Success. Dr. Knowles owns the consulting business IntentionalDental Consulting; is an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry; practices in Michigan; and speaks internationally on the topics of leadership, communication and money management.