Do you frequently feel stressed out? You’re not alone. Stress is a hot topic, a pervasive workplace problem, and sometimes even a badge of honor among busy professionals. Among dentists, it’s pervasive: Three-fourths of dentists say they deal with moderate to severe stress at work, the ADA Center for Professional Success reports, and nearly 60% perceive dentistry as more stressful than other professions.
Why are dentists so stressed? Running behind schedule, causing pain, heavy workload, late patients and anxious patients are the top five stressors dentists cite. Younger dentists (under 40) are more likely to be stressed—possibly because they haven’t yet optimized their practice’s systems and procedures. Female dentists also report higher-than-average stress levels—possibly because they tend to take on more after-work household tasks than male dentists do.
Whatever the cause of your stress, here are seven ways to reduce it.
1. Hold a daily morning meeting. When you’re stressed, this meeting may feel like just one more thing on your calendar that's causing more stress. But if you’re tempted to skip it, don’t. Holding a morning meeting is essential to planning for a successful day. Create a standard format for your meeting and keep it brief. Use this time to discuss any special challenges, problems and goals for the day as well as go over the schedule.
2. Reduce patient stress. Patients’ anxiety over visiting the dentist can be a significant source of stress for you, too. Dealing with anxious patients is mentally and emotionally tiring. Because procedures tend to take longer when a patient is anxious, it can also throw your whole schedule off. Identify patients who have dental anxiety and note this in their charts so you can allow extra time for their visits. Use medication, entertainment (headphones or TV) and a soothing environment to relax them. (Here are 10 more tips to help reduce patients' dental anxiety.)
3. Build exercise into your day. Dentistry is a physically demanding profession: In one ADA survey almost one-third of dentists (31%) reported moderate or severe pain or discomfort in the neck and 29% reported pain or discomfort in the lower back. Keeping yourself in shape reduces the risk of injury, keeps you mentally sharp and relieve stress. Find some type of exercise you enjoy, schedule it daily and commit to that appointment with yourself just as you would an appointment with a patient.
4. Learn to say no. As the saying goes, “You can have it all—just not all at once.” If you want to build a successful dental practice, spend time with your loved ones, and stay healthy, you have to say No to things that don’t serve those goals. If you’re the type who says Yes to everything — from chairing a committee to writing a paper for a dental publication or attending a party for someone you barely know—you’ll need to make some changes. Create a list of your priorities. Then look at your calendar for the month and schedule time for the things that really matter to you—such as dinner with your family, your daily run, or your volunteer work. Put them on the calendar. The next time you get a request, ask yourself if it fits into your top priorities. If not, say no.
5. Automate your life. If daily to-do’s like picking up dry cleaning or running errands are stressing you out, use technology to automate your personal life. Switch your paper calendar for a cloud-based calendar so you can access it anywhere. Give calendar access to your assistant, spouse, etc. so they’ll always know where you are. Then use technology to simplify as many tasks as you can.
- Set your bills to pay online automatically
- Refill prescriptions online and have them mailed to you
- Order groceries online and have them delivered
- Find a dry cleaner that offers pickup and delivery services
6. Use technology to organize your office. If you’re stressed at the office, chances are your team is, too. Call an all-hands meeting to address the issue. Identify areas that are disorganized, such as patient records, your appointment calendar or patient recall. Then figure out how to tackle the problems.
Lighthouse 360 can help automate many of the daily tasks that can cause office stress. For example, you can use it to automatically send patient recall messages, appointment confirmations and appointment reminders.
Do marketing tasks such as managing social media or sending email newsletters continually get shoved to the back burner? Lighthouse 360 streamlines your social media posting and provides templates and tools to simplify email marketing. (Need more help? Here are five ways your practice is probably wasting time and tips for using checklists to make your practice more efficient.)
7. Watch out for red flags. Sometimes, stress can’t be eliminated with the steps above. Be aware of warning signs that can indicate a bigger problem such as anxiety or depression. More than one in five dentists (22%) in an ADA survey were determined to have a moderate level of depression; 4% had a high level of depression. Red flags may include:
- Overindulging in food or alcohol
- Self-medicating with prescription drugs
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Sleeplessness or excessive sleeping
- Losing interest in activities you normally enjoy
If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, talk to a mental health professional who can help you. ADA members can access the ADA Health and Wellness Program to learn more about warning signs and find professional help.