In hygiene school, we learned about how to manage patients who face mental health challenges. We were taught to be compassionate, to listen, and to never shame a patient who is facing these psychological barriers. When is the last time you checked in with your emotional level and stress level? Are we showing ourselves the same understanding and compassion that we extend to our patients? Or are we waiting for a full-fledged meltdown before we address the elephant in the room?
May is mental health awareness month.
In 2020 45,979 people died from suicide. Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the US.
A recent study by Dental Hygienists in Oregon found that 35% of participants reported stress due to difficulty maintaining work-life balance, 35% reported dysfunctional work teams as a contributor to stress, and 65% of participants reported time restrictions in their work schedule caused them stress. Sound familiar?
When work feels like a dumpster fire it's important to be a little selfish and take time for yourself. Take stock of how you feel and what your body needs. Take or make time to do things that bring you joy and restore your energy. Self-Care comes in many forms, it isn't just manicures and face masks.
Self Care tactics:
Find a hobby: Photography, cooking, gardening, or creative projects.
A hot bath: Find a nice quiet time to light a candle, draw a bath, then add some Epsom salt, essential oils, and some lavender. Turn on some soothing spa music and just soak and breathe. This is also a great opportunity to release your emotions, and cry them out if you need to.
Massage: Release the tension stored in your body from all of the stress and bottled-up emotions.
Meditation: Meditation has been such a great tool for me. No, you don't have to sit still for an hour. Start off with maybe 5-10 minutes, it will be challenging to quiet the mind, but stick with it and focus on your breath. I would recommend starting with a guided meditation if you are new to meditation. There are plenty on the calm app, apple music, and youtube.
Exercise in nature: Taking a walk in nature can help to calm the mind and the body. Take note of all of the beautiful things that you see. Saturday mornings are yoga mornings for me.
Travel: Use all of your PTO. I find that I am most at peace when I am exploring a new place.
Volunteer: Seek out non-profits that align with your values. Give back by donating our time or resources.
Spirituality: Keep a daily routine of spiritual practice, that will be different for everyone. I find it helpful to start my morning with meditation, prayer, coffee, and a hot shower.
Journaling: Consider starting a daily practice of keeping a list of things you are grateful for, you can track your progress and look back if you need a little inspiration during the day. Journaling can also be a helpful way to uncap all of the emotions you have been suppressing. Free-flow writing exercises allow you to just write what you feel for ten minutes, then burn the paper. This is a powerful tool for letting it all go without hurting anyone's feelings.
Spend time with colleagues: No one will understand you like another hygienist. It's great to bond and exchange experiences and solutions. It is vital to feel the support from your tribe.
Reach out: If you haven't seen or heard from a friend in a while reach out!
Daily routine: Set yourself up for success by creating a routine that works for you and sticking to it.
Eating Healthy: Ensure you are feeding your body foods that are fresh, colorful, and full of nutrients to keep your body and mind sharp.
Sleep: Make it a priority to seek out 7-8 hours of sleep every night. The body needs time to regenerate on a cellular level.
It is important to remember that we all have different needs, what works for one person may not work for everyone. I am not a doctor. I encourage anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts to please reach out to a professional. Speak with your PCP, psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist for professional tools. There is no shame in speaking with someone when you need help!
Mental Health Resources:
Barnard SA, Alexander BA, Lockett AK, Lusk JJ, Singh S, Bell KP, Harbison LA. Mental Health and Self-Care Practices Among Dental Hygienists. J Dent Hyg. 2020 Aug;94(4):22-28. PMID: 32753521.