by Rebecca A. Mowen, LCSW, CADC, BRI
Well Being Program Administrator
Written Fall 2011
This summer has been filled with stress, especially for the state of Missouri. We have had too much rain (and flooding), not enough rain (and deadly heat waves), and most significantly, natural disasters in the form of life-changing tornados. And, we’re not immune to the additional stress factors facing the rest of the nation, from the shrinking economy, to unstable financial markets and a dismal unemployment rate.
Now, as the seasons change and we move into fall, the kids are going back to school … and life is beginning to get back to somewhat normal. But it’s during this time—after the disaster dissipates and after the initial fight or flight response—that an emotional tsunami can hit, for which we may not be prepared. The 80/20 rule applies even with natural disasters: 80 percent of the affected population will heal, while 20 percent will get stuck in their own emotional disaster. Stress impacts those who were directly affected: by loss of homes, businesses, friends and family members. But even those who don’t suffer any direct losses may feel anguish because of the devastation to their communities.
Consider these few facts on stress from a 2010 American Psychological Association (APA) article:
49% report job stability was a significant source of stress.
70% of Americans say work has a significant impact on stress levels.
73% of parents report family responsibilities are a significant source of stress.
76% of Americans name money as the No. 1 factor that affects their stress level.
Increasing numbers of children, teenagers and college students report feeling under stress.
Additional stress is added simply by choosing the dental profession. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, up to 38 percent of surveyed dentists reported symptoms that can lead to depression and anxiety. Additional research suggests that stress related to the profession of dentistry increases the chances of divorce, depression, alcohol and suicide.
It is natural to be stressed; rather, it’s how we handle stress that is important. Many have a tendency to escape—to bury our heads and hope that all we be fixed when we pull our head out; unfortunately it tends to get worse. Personally, when I get stressed, the first thing I reach for is food or my fingernails. Others will dive into their work. Some will isolate, and others will escape by drinking, abusing prescription medications or street drugs, while still others will escape through retail therapy or gambling. Stress can lead to anxiety and depression if not properly addressed. Most people have a pretty good idea their threshold for stress. I like to correlate stress to a balloon: Some people have bigger balloons than others—but regardless of the size, it’s important not to add too much air or it can, and more than likely will, pop. Therefore it is really important to allow the balloon to deflate every once in awhile to maintain its integrity.
Some Signs of Stress
Clinching of teeth, Muscle Tension, Chest Palpitations, Headache, Digestive Problems, Sleep Issues (Fatigue), Racing thoughts, Feeling Overwhelmed, Problems Concentrating, Short Fuse (Irritable, Anger), eight Issues (Gain/Loss), High Blood Pressure, Lower Back Pain, Ruminating on problems, Skin problems (Breakouts, Rashes, Hives), Hair loss, Decreased sex drive
How to Reduce Stress
Ask For help
Talk To others about your stress
Go To a movie, your place of worship, a park, a vacation destination
Spend Time with your kids, family, spouse, significant other, friends
Do Something that you enjoy: Sing a song; read a book; exercise; ride a bike or motorcycle; go fishing, sailing, boating, golfing; take a nap, take a bubble bath (yes, men can take baths, too), get a massage, play a game
Too often we invite stress into our lives by trying to solve everyone else’s problems and not taking care of ourselves. It’s important we take care of ourselves—to make sure we’ve had adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition. We need to handle what is within in our control first. Any time you are feeling stressed, ask yourself these questions:
Am I angry?
Am I lonely?
Am I tired?
Am I hungry?
Once you have answered these questions, ask yourself “What is within my power to fix?” I can choose to eat, get rest and seek companionship. However, if I am angry I need to find the root of my anger and choose to not react. I have found that all I can really control in life are MY thoughts, MY actions and MY reactions—and anytime I try to control anything else, I am wasting time in my head, heart and soul. This thought process drastically reduces stress in my life.
What Not to Do When Stressed
Overeat, under eat, bite your nails, gamble, have an emotional or physical affair, overspend, shutdown and off from others (isolate), drink too much, abuse prescription drugs, use street drugs and NOT ask for help!
Stress can become debilitating and without proper help, it can lead to severe anxiety and depression, and or chemical or non-chemical habituating behaviors.
Just as in dentistry, prevention is the key. Know the signs, do what you can to reduce stress, and remember there is no shame in asking a friend—or professional—for help if you need it.
Rebecca Mowen is the Missouri Dental Well Being Program Administrator. If you or someone in your practice is stressed to the max, please call the Missouri Dental Well Being Program at 314-435-1101 for free, confidential help.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, up to 38 percent of surveyed dentists reported symptoms that can lead to depression and anxiety. Additional research suggests that stress related to the profession of dentistry increases the chances of divorce, depression, alcohol and suicide.
Additional stress is added simply by choosing the dental profession.