Even before the coronavirus pandemic, dentistry was known as a stressful profession, but the COVID-19 pandemic has taken stress to new heights. Everyday stressors such as busy schedules, heavy workloads and nervous patients have been replaced with worry about loss of income, fears of contracting COVID-19 and concerns about keeping their practices afloat. No wonder that one study found the physical and psychological pressures of the pandemic have caused depression, anxiety and other mental health problems for dentists worldwide.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize your stress. Here are seven tactics that can help to ease your anxiety.
1. Hold a daily morning meeting with your staff.
When you’re stressed, a meeting may feel like just one more thing on your calendar that's causing more stress. But holding a morning meeting is essential to planning for a successful day—especially in these challenging times. Use videoconferencing technology to loop in anyone working from home or just to stay socially distanced in the office. Develop a standard format for your meeting and keep it brief. Discuss any special issues, problems or 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. The coronavirus pandemic has made even normally stoic patients nervous about visiting the dentist; in a recent Morning Consult poll, fewer than one-third of people said they feel comfortable going to the dentist right now. To ease patients’ anxiety, use the Virtual Waiting Room feature of Lighthouse 360 to minimize patient contact. Have them wait in their cars instead of in your waiting room and use Lighthouse 360’s two-way texting capability to text them when you’re ready for them. While they wait, patients can fill out registration forms on their phones using Lighthouse 360’s Patient FastTrack feature. Use Lighthouse 360’s email blast feature to let patients know what to expect when they visit, and share your Virtual Waiting Room information on your website, too.
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. Fortunately, outdoor exercise is one of the few things that pandemic restrictions haven’t eliminated. Commit to some form of exercise, outdoors or at home. 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. COVID-19 restrictions have taken normal obligations such as social gatherings and conferences off the table. But if you’re the type who says Yes to everything, from Zoom meetings to writing a paper for a dental publication, you can still find yourself getting overcommitted at a time when your mental and emotional resources are exhausted. Create a list of your priorities and the next time you get a request, ask yourself if it fits into your top priorities. If not, say no.
5. Automate your life.
Use technology to simplify as many personal tasks as you can. For example:
- Set your bills to pay online automatically.
- Refill prescriptions online and have them mailed to you.
- Order groceries online and have them delivered.
6. Make the most of office technology.
With all the extra hygiene and disinfection required by COVID-19 protocols, your staff may feel swamped even though you’re seeing fewer patients. Use Lighthouse 360 to help automate many daily tasks so your front desk can spend time on more important things. For example, you can use Lighthouse 360 to automatically send appointment confirmations and reminders.
Recall is simple with Lighthouse 360, which lets you proactively send recall messages four weeks before the date the patient is due to return. You can even eliminate time-consuming phone tag to fill cancelled appointments with Lighthouse 360’s Fill-in feature. It automatically detects cancelled appointments and contacts the patients most likely to want the spot. If you don’t have an “as soon as possible” list, no problem: Fill-in contacts patients based on their past behavior, such as their preferred appointment time.
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.
We’re all going through tough times right now. If the tips above don’t help lessen stress, watch for warning signs that can indicate a bigger mental health problem such as anxiety or 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.