Dr Emma Courtney is a dentist currently working out of our Merivale practice. Emma immigrated to New Zealand after serving as a dental officer in The Royal Navy in the UK. She is also a personal trainer, nutrition coach and mum of three. Emma also writes her own blog The Dentists Guide to Life.
Stress gets bad press, it always seems to be mentioned in the context of anxiety, fear and struggle but there are positive aspects to stress and a necessity for it. There is ‘good’ stress or eustress, it still gets you uncomfortable and nudges you outside of your comfort zone. It challenges your coping skills but it’s brief, infrequent and tackling it should boost your confidence and lift your mood. Eustress is where the magic can happen!
Now imagine your life without stress, ahhh sounds good yes? No worries, no timetable, no consequences, no complaints. Now reframe stress as challenges and it might look quite different. What if you never learnt to walk, to endure falling over as part of the process, what if you’d never learnt to read or write, to get it wrong more times than right in the beginning, what if you’d never had a deadline to meet, how much would you have achieved across life. These scenarios were all stressful at the time but look where they got you. It’s a fine line between ‘bad’, or distress, and eustress but growth and progression come from the latter.
The key to whether you find stress good or bad is your ability to cope with it, or more specifically your perception of that ability. Our stressors are highly individual but generally, too little stress and we’ll underperform in what we’re doing, whereas too much for too long and we’ll stop coping. Somewhere between the two is where that magic happens, where we grow, learn, generate confidence and where we raise the bar for distress.
Think back to the procedures that made you sweat at dental school; your first patient, repeating ID blocks on a nervous patient, taking the tenth alginate impression for one partial denture stage, taking your first tooth out, those early crown preparations, the over and undersized access cavities, the first file that fractured in a canal. There’s a reason practice makes perfect, that it takes about 50 repetitions to get good at something and why experience counts. Dentistry’s not meant to be stress free and we’d be pretty rubbish clinicians if it were. So think about your day differently, don’t aim for stress free but maybe stress manageable.
Thinking about eustress is another coping tool for distress. If you can change your thoughts about stress, it’s not all bad. Don’t rush to stick your head in the sand and pretend not to notice the stress around you or indeed stand like a deer in the headlights frozen with fear and procrastination. Challenging yourself will help with managing the stress that you feel you can’t deal with. You may also find that if you sift through that list of stressors, there’s stuff that you can deal with. So come up with a plan, endure the uncomfortable feeling as you work through it because on the other side is a big deep sigh of relief just waiting.
Non clinically, helpful ways to challenge yourself and grow can be looking at your planned continuing professional development and direction you want to take your career. Are you steering your career, your clinical day or just letting the path of least resistance guide you through? Outside of work it can be pursuing and furthering hobbies, sports, skills you find enjoyable; anything that brings you joy or you can get lost in. It might be cooking, yoga, golf, knitting or colouring in, whatever spins your wheels. But above all else extend the compassion you would have for a stressed friend to yourself, you wouldn’t repeatedly tell them how they should be doing better, that this shouldn’t stress them out. I hope you’d reassure them, let them know it’s ok if this takes a while and a couple of goes to fix.
You’d help them or suggest they see someone who could help them.