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Our clinical jobs are sometimes all-consuming and very often stressful and tiring. Amongst all the demands on our time from running a business, caring for patients and being involved in our own family lives, we sometimes forget to look after the one person who is central to all those activities – ourselves. Stress and depression, even addictions, can stop us from achieving the goals we set ourselves and meeting the standards required of us. The new General Dental Council (GDC) Standards have a section right at the end, which says:
“If you know, or suspect, that patients may be at risk because of your health, behaviour or professional performance, you must consult a suitably qualified colleague immediately and follow advice on how to put the interests of patients first.”
There are so many things we can do to prevent things getting that bad, but when they do, we have a responsibility to do something about it. I know from experience how stress and anxiety can affect my professional life. So here are some ideas to help avoid this, mostly things we already know but might need reminding about.
It`s difficult to admit, but my Mother was right! She always used to say `One hour of exercise for one hour of thinking`. Now, that proportion might be a little impractical but the principle is right. Physical activity is not only healthy in terms of keeping our bodies tuned and reducing risk of disease but the holistic effect is to balance the mind-body system. Focus on the demands of a sport takes our mind away from work and rests that part of the brain which is getting abused all day in the surgery. If you are not sporty, here are some other suggestions.
We wouldn`t expect our bodies to keep going without rest, so why should we work our minds like that. Sometimes we expect our brains to run several long races in a row, when in fact, we need to look after them like pedigree racehorses! It is better to care for our minds and pamper them with a `mix-and-match` of different activities outside of working time. First of all though, we need sleep. I hate to sound like an old nag, and my Mother was right about this too, and we do need sleep. Every individual has different requirements, but by this stage in our lives we should know how much we need to be effective the next day. There are some countries in the world where sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Don`t punish your own mind in this way.
There are three more mind activities which are healthy and nurturing of the mind and so contribute to achieving our professional goals:
- Learning time, in which we feed our mind with new information and keep our thoughts from becoming stale.
- Connection time, in which we maintain contact with friends and family.
- Finally, there is Contemplation time, in which we are reflective and look inward. Alternatively, we can use Contemplation time for spiritual or religious activity.
Without attending to these activities, our minds will not work effectively and may even break down. We must look after ourselves in order to look after others. The GDC regulations are not to be taken lightly in this matter. There is another thing these activities have in common – they allow us to have fun!
Dr John Shapter – QCS Expert Dental Contributor