What, me worry?

It has been a rough couple of months. I have hired two new employees in the last month, one of which is not working out very well.

Sep 1st, 2005

It has been a rough couple of months. I have hired two new employees in the last month, one of which is not working out very well. Production is down because of the turnover.

On the family side, my youngest son is heading off to college. In addition to missing him greatly, we now have a lot more bills to pay. Last week, my mother landed in the hospital with suspected heart failure,

I have two articles due for submission to journals, and my appointment coordinator has given me two weeks notice. These things happen to everyone, of course, but am I really worried? Of course!

We all have those times when life seems to stack the deck against us. A few bad breaks on top of our everyday challenges can compound problems until we feel almost overwhelmed by the stress. Our resilience, when faced with adversity, will be a major factor in how quickly we recover.

Medical science has proven that an excessive amount of stress is physically harmful to our bodies, so it is no wonder that we have all adopted certain behaviors to cope with the stress. Most of these behaviors are not really helpful, because they are rarely directed at the root cause. Successful individuals do not practice these behaviors, but rather attack the sources of their stress head-on. The first step in becoming more resilient and functioning at a higher level under stress is to learn to recognize our own behaviors.

The first behavior I will talk about happens to be my own response to excessive stress. I use avoidance when faced with too many problems. People who avoid problems are hoping they will simply go away. I often find myself reading a book when I should be finishing paperwork, returning phone calls, confronting employees, or simply rolling up my sleeves and slogging through a seemingly endless task. The only time avoidance is actually helpful is when you use it as a short-term response that allows for stress release before focusing your attention on resolving the source of the problem.

Over functioning is a form of avoidance that is combined with doing something. People who are over functioning will work extremely hard. Unfortunately, they will work extremely hard on things that are not very important. Another form of over functioning is to take on so many tasks that it is physically impossible to perform them well. The underlying purpose of over functioning is to create an excuse for failure. When you are working so hard and doing so many things, no one can really expect you to take care of other problems as well.

Many dentists become mired down in perfection. We are very technically oriented, and doing something very well is admirable. Fixating on perfecting dental procedures can allow us to avoid working on business or staff issues that may be the major causes of our stress. Learning new techniques and procedures generally is enjoyable. Many doctors have been so desperate to escape the stress of managing their practices that they have sold them in order to concentrate on procedures and be free of management responsibilities.

When we talk about behaviors associated with stress, the really big Kahuna is, of course, addiction. People who would never have a problem with drugs or alcohol use these and other addictions as a means to escape stress. I know I have spent many hours running when I should have been working. There are certainly a percentage of marathoners and triathletes who are addicted to their sports, and I know you’ve heard the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”

The key point is to recognize when you have reacted to stress with your specific default behavior, and then to overcome this behavior with positive actions. I must confess that while I wrote this article today, I also read a novel, my preferred avoidance technique.

We all have stressful times. How resilient we are when we deal with stress will have a major impact on our success. There is also a point where you should not try to go it alone, but should seek help. Thankfully, our great profession offers the ADA wellness program, a tremendous form of help. Introspection is difficult to write about and more difficult to do, but it also is the way to make the greatest improvements in our practice and ourselves.

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or e-mail to drmike44@aol.com.

More in Practice