In the world of dentistry there is lot of talk about reducing our patient’s anxiety with dental care, especially injections. But what about reducing anxiety for us as clinicians? We all have those moments. We are confident in our ability to give the injection, take the images, see the patient…name the procedure, but we still get nervous.
I often hear stories of how clinicians start having anxiety about doing certain procedures. To be honest, I still have those moments too. Even after 20 years, it can still happen. So, I did a little research into understanding the causes and ways to reduce stress and anxiety. There are so many resources and recommendations that even gathering the information can be overwhelming. However, most everyone had similar strategies. Here is a summary of what I believe to be the top three ways to overcome the anxiety of doing our clinical work.
Establish a routine
Make your ritual. Just like many athletes have a pre-game routine to help them get ready for the big event, we can do that too. When you implement a routine, it helps settle your mind and gets you focused on the task at hand. It could be having your tray set up a certain way. Warming the anesthetic in your hands before loading your syringe. Perhaps you come up with a mantra to say before going into the office. Maybe you do a little mental review of the procedure your about to do. For example, if you are giving an injection, take a moment and review the entire process of what structures are numb to the final point of anesthetic deposition ( get your reference guide here). No matter what you decide to implement, pick something and make it routine.
It is common to do one of two things when we are stressed. Hold our breath or breathe really fast (like hyperventilating). Neither of those options actually help us calm down. The key is to take slow deep breaths. Ideally in the nose and out the mouth. According to James Nester, the author of the book Breath, having longer exhales than inhales will slow your heart rate and bring you back to center. Your brain receives the oxygen it needs to think clearly, and your muscles will relax too. As a bonus, breathing is a double whammy of goodness. Because when you breathe your patient will breathe too! I often notice when I remind my patients to take slow breaths that my breathing changes too, and we both calm down. So next time you’re feeling a little jittery pause and take three to five calming breaths.
Change your nervous narrative
This falls into the category of mindset. When you feel those butterflies of anxiety begin to flutter instead of thinking “I am so scared” change it to “This is exciting”. This advice was given to me when I did my first play, it helped me overcome stage fright. Since then, I’ve recommended it to all my students, and it has helped them as well. When we allow our mind to declare the flutters as “bad” instead of “good” we can quickly go down the slide of anxiety. Take captive the negative thoughts and release all that positive mojo.
Establishing a routine, breathing and mindset are three simple ways to combat those nervous nellies. It may take you some time to establish these in your daily practice, and that’s okay. Be patient and find something that works best for you. Just remember, it’s normal to have the nervous flutters. As my mom would say, “When your nervous it’s because you care.”