Stress Management: 11 Effective Ways to Manage Stress at Work

Causes and Signs of Workplace Stress:

A recent study showed that over 90% of dental professionals were feeling stressed. Those who work in the dental industry are probably not surprised to hear this. Working in dentistry has always been identified as a highly stressful profession. Tight scheduling, providing the best patient care possible, following IPAC guidelines, and collecting points or hours to meet continuing education requirements are just some of the stressors of the dental profession. Add to that the extra expectations of working to global pandemic standards, you have a recipe for dental professions dealing with too much stress. The level of stress that eventually leads to burnout. We are already seeing the effects of too much stress and cases of burnout reflected in the current labor shortage in dentistry.

Now that studies are being conducted about just how stressful working in the dental industry really is and how all this stress is affecting the industry, it’s time to start focusing on solutions. Solutions that encompass tools and resources to manage the stress on three levels: individually, as a team, and practice managers and/or office owners via leadership skills. Of course, the first step in finding a solution to any issue starts with correctly identifying the issue. The next step is to investigate what too much stress looks and feels like, the signs and effects.

Physical Signs of Stress:

  • Aches and pains
  • Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
  • Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension or jaw clenching
  • Stomach or digestive problems
  • Weak immune system

Emotional and Mental Signs of Stress:

  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Sadness

Effects of Workplace Stress on The Team:

  • Decreased overall team performance
  • Higher turnover rates
  • More complaints and grievances
  • Added team conflicts

11 Highly Effective Way to Manage Stress at Work:

In the 1970s, American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, coined the phrase ‘burnout’ to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions, like dentistry. While leaving the industry altogether might be the right choice for some to eliminate too much workplace stress, most will want to continue to work in the field. That is not to say that sometimes leaving a poorly managed office might help a dental professional alleviate workplace stress. Sometimes leaving a role in a current dental clinic for another better-managed clinic is just what a dental professional need to reignite that passion for dentistry. In general, though, dentistry is one of those highly stressful “helping” careers. Which means it’s almost impossible to work in the dental industry and not experience workplace stress.

But that doesn’t mean a dental professional just needs to accept the fate of living with high stress levels and all the effects that it has on them both physically and emotionally. There are some tips and tricks to dealing with workplace stress as an individual, and as a team. Likewise, team leaders play a key role in managing their team's stress as well.

How to Manage Your Own Stress at Work:

  1. Connect with Others: Connecting with others can greatly lessen the pressure of an otherwise solitary and stressful profession. If one team member is feeling stressed, it’s likely that others in the team are too. Sometimes just knowing that you are not alone in what your feeling makes all the difference.
  2. Being Open and Honest About Your Needs: Communication is key here. Communicating your needs to your team or your team leader is the best way to take charge of your workplace well-being. Your team can’t help fix an issue they don’t know exists. If opening up about your needs leads to the decision to join another office, you can do so knowing what doesn’t work for you.
  3. Pursue Improvement Opportunities: Leaning a new skill, brushing up on an old one, or working on reaching a career goal can help to reignite the passion that led to a career in dental in the first place.
  4. Set Aside Time for Calming Activities: Yoga, running, spending time with loved ones are all calming activities you can do to relax. Activities that someone does to calm themselves and unwind are going to look a little different for everyone. Find what works for you, but don’t skip setting aside the time for calming activities. You can’t pour from an empty cup after all.

How to Manage Stress as a Team:

  1. Build Relationships with Each Other: Good relationships with colleagues can help keep everyone focused, motivated, and encourage discussions and openness within the team. Effective communication within the team is the first defense in managing stress as a team.
  2. Look Out for Each Other: Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize the signs of being too stressed in yourself until it’s too late. A great benefit of working within a team that has built good relationships is that team members can be on the lookout for their teammates. If you notice one of your teammates showing signs of being too stressed, check in with them. Often, just a simple ‘Hey, how's it going?’ and lending a listening ear is enough.
  3. Help Each Other: ‘We are all in this together’ was a phrase that was used a lot during the beginning of the pandemic. The phase is very much true for dental teams too. If one team member is just a little bit off, it can quickly affect the entire team in a negative way. If you can, help each other when one team member is feeling too stressed. This can look like temporarily taking on a couple more tasks or just lending a listening ear.

How Team Leaders Can Help Manage Their Teams Stress:

  1. Encourage Communication: Creating a space where everyone has a chance to be heard can be a great way to help your team communicate with each other and for you to listen for issues that have the potential to affect your employee retention or your teams’ performance. This type of communication can be done during a team huddle.
  2. Lead by Example: Model your own good stress management tips at work. The goal is to be a leader that your team can see themselves in and learn from. You don’t want to be an emotionless robot, but you also want to keep your emotions in check. Harvard Business Review has great article on the signs that a team leader is losing self-control.
  3. Be Open and Honest: Sugarcoating situations or hiding things that directly affect your team will only end in creating more stress. Being open and honest and keeping the team updated is the best approach to managing team stress. Are you going to be short-staffed? Let the team that affects know so they can prepare for a busy day. Is a PPE order going to be late? Let your team know before they go looking in the supply closet. Not only does this open communication and keep everyone on the same page with expectations, but your team might also be able to help solve whatever issue it is.
  4. Be Your Teams Biggest Cheerleaders: No one wants to be led by a team leader who only ever points out the negative. That sort of leadership can really dampen the attitude of the whole team. Team members are more apt to follow a leader that supports and celebrates their accomplishments. Positive reinforcements are also great ways to boost a team's morale. So, celebrate a team member mastering a skill, learning something new, or helping another team member.

To Sum it Up:

Dentistry is a ‘helping’ profession that tends to be stressful. Unless a dental professional wants to leave the industry altogether, stress is going to be a part of working in dentistry. Too much stress can cause physical and emotional symptoms. Good news, workplace stress can be managed. There are things that can be done individually, and as a team to halt or reduce stress. Additionally, team leaders play a significant role in managing their team’s stress levels. Self-care, communication, teamwork, and positive leadership all play a significant part in dental teams managing stress at work.

Sources:
Collin, V., Toon, M., O'Selmo, E. et al. A survey of stress, burnout and well-being in UK dentists. Br Dent J 226, 40–49 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.bdj.2019.6
"Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention". Cleveland Clinic, 2022, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress.
Yam K, Lian H, Ferris D, Brown D. Leadership Takes Self-Control. Here’s What We Know About It. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/06/leadership-takes-self-control-heres-what-we-know-about-it. Published 2017. Accessed January 5, 2022.
American Psychological Association. (2020, May 27). Stress management for leaders responding to a crisis. http://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/stress-management