Manage Stress Before It Manages You
My last article talked about the warning signs of stress. Stress becomes dangerous when it interferes with your ability to live a normal life for an extended period of time. The stress reaction can have good or bad effects. It all depends on how you respond to the stressor. Of course there are multiple external circumstances that provoke the stress response. Going through a divorce, caring for elderly parents or dealing with a life-threatening illness are just a few of the difficult situations that will test anyone’s coping strength. Aside from those kinds of issues, many of us create a good bit of our own stress. We see crises as insurmountable. That ‘doom-and-gloom’ mindset produces the same stress response as if we were being held up at gunpoint.
You can't change the fact that stressful events happen. You can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control. The solution is to find effective, do-able stress management activities that you can participate in on a regular (hopefully daily) basis. These should be simple and inexpensive. Massages are relaxing but most of us cannot afford the time or money it would take to get one every day. Good stress management activities should be close to home and preferably free or very low-cost.
1. Good self care. It is impossible to practice good dentistry if you don’t take care of yourself, physically and psychologically. Make good nutritional choices. Get enough sleep each night. Refrain from alcohol, caffeine and nicotine as these substances affect your ability to control actions and thoughts. Exercise regularly to relieve tension and stress and to improve your stamina. Set aside time to enjoy pleasant activities and hobbies. It might take a little bit more time to work these things into your schedule, but the rewards from doing so are well worth it.
2. Strive for excellence not perfection. Research shows that perfectionists tend to get more stressed than people with more attainable standards. Expecting perfection from yourself and others increases stress. For one, you’ll always feel that “mismatch” between who you are and who you want to be. And, two, you’re sure to cause misery for those imperfect people in your life. Seeking improvement is great. Seeking perfection is a disaster.
3. Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are essential for a healthy life. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also is beneficial.
4. Talk with someone. Have at least one person that you are able to share your feelings with. Everyone needs some type of confidant. If you don’t feel comfortable going to someone you know, seek the help of a counselor or coach. An objective third party can provide new perspectives and options.
5. Listen to music. When dealing with stress, the right music can actually lower your blood pressure, relax your body and quiet your mind. It is the rhythm of the music that has a calming effect on us.
6. Meditate. There is a vast amount of scientific data proving the health benefits of meditation and guided imagery. The process of intentionally using your mind in creating positive sensory images produces healthy physiological changes in the body.
7. Laugh at yourself. It shows emotional maturity and good psychological adjustment. Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress.
8. Practice gratitude. Studies on gratitude indicate that the daily practice of being appreciative leads to greater alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. People who engage in daily gratitude exercises are less stressed and are more successful in achieving their goals.
9. Determine what you can control (exercise, diet, dealing with anger) and what you cannot control (the economy, difficult patients, your hygienist’s personality). Keep things in perspective. Follow the advice of the Serenity Prayer – “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
And if these ideas just don’t fit your style…
10. Breathe. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. Abdominal breathing soothes the nervous system and encourages health benefits. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.
Managing stress is all about taking charge - of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun - plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.
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