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Feeling frazzled? Here are 3 tips to reduce stress

Dec. 15, 2022
For many in the dental profession, stress is at an all-time high. We've got some pointers that should help ease your mental load.

If you’re anything like me, the last three years have been a whirlwind of semi-controlled chaos. Offices are never fully staffed, hiring is impossible, kids are always sick so they cannot be at school, the challenges seem endless. Not to mention the isolation—man, has that been brutal for us extroverts! All of this and more has left me feeling like I have little to no control over anything in my life or my practice. If this sounds familiar, rest assured, you are not alone! Here are three things I wish I could’ve learned earlier to help manage my stress level.

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Remember, some things are out of your control

As office managers, this can be a difficult concept to accept. We want to have everything under control, with everyone happy. It’s what makes us tick, but we can’t keep ticking if we explode! It’s OK to say to your team, “You know what? I don’t have a solution for that right now, but let’s both think about it for a while and set a time to reassess.” Humanizing your position can alleviate the tendency to want to make the day perfect. The day and the patients will be OK, even if you’re a bit short staffed. Things always have a tendency to work themselves out— don’t forget that. You can solve a lot of things for a lot of people, but don’t forget that you’re human and cannot fix everything and that’s OK! Yes, say it again, “This is OK,” “It’s going to be OK.” I wish I had realized this sooner; hours of sleep could have been recouped.

I have a general rule in our practice that you cannot come into my office and just drop a hot potato problem in my lap. If you are coming to me, I need you to already have thought of a solution to the problem or at the very least have some thoughts on how we’re going to problem-solve. My office is not a therapy or complaint department. Helping my team realize that not every problem has an immediate solution has alleviated a lot of daily stressors for us. Often, people need help to see the bigger picture rather than seeing things from only their perspective.

A little early-morning positivity goes a long way

Easier said than done, right? The only person in control of your thoughts is you. I’ve found that on the mornings when I can’t seem to think anything besides “Well, this day isn’t great,” it really isn’t great! Simply shifting how I look at the day or how I look at an interaction tends to change the entire day for the better. Instead of negativity, every morning I use a dry erase marker and write three things I’m thankful for on my mirror. I take a picture of that and take it with me everywhere I go. By 11 am, when I’ve been on hold with insurance company X for 55 minutes, I find myself opening that photo and looking over my three things. It only takes a quick second to reset my frame of mind. My team and I also do this at our morning huddle. We list five things we’re thankful for that day and leave it up on our whiteboard for all of our patients and staff to see every day. It’s a great positivity builder! Patients love reading our list and look forward to the new answers when they return. We’ve even put a chalkboard in our waiting room for patients to write what they’re thankful for. We’re a pedo office, so it is a lot of fun to see what children say they’re thankful for.

Don't lose your sense of humor

Humor is the cheapest and often the quickest way to alleviate stress. No, this doesn’t mean you need to present stand-up comedy routines to your team. You certainly can, if you want (please send us videos if you do). You are the trendsetter in your office and at home. You are there to be your office’s unrelenting cheerleader, so grab your poms and let’s prepare a skit! Ok maybe not quite that far, but if you approach life with a sense of humor, it will be infectious. Not only will it help your team, but it will, without a doubt, help you!

What this looks like for me is finding a cheesy joke of the day and putting in in everyone’s schedules. We also take five to ten minutes at the start of lunch to talk about the funniest things that have happened in the office recently. We joke that we could make a book out of some of these bizarre stories. At home, my daughter and I watch funny pet videos before we start homework just to decompress and come forward with a refreshed frame of mind. Humor is not the same for everyone, so be sure to talk to your team and family about what is funny to them and how you can make each other laugh. I love to sing, and many people think its funny when I sing to them throughout the day in the office, at a restaurant, or out in public.  Hopefully they’re laughing with me and not at me. We get patients who comment often that they wish they could work here because it seems like we’re all just having fun all day long. Is there any better feedback than that? Show ‘em your smile—it’s infectious!

All in all, COVID has taken its toll on all of us, making many of us feel like we’re no longer in control. Approaching your day with some humility, positivity, and a fantastic sense of humor can help you feel less stressed almost immediately. After three years of not being able to see people’s smiles, we are overdue! A really great book that has helped me thru the pandemic and many other instances throughout my career is Who Hijacked My Fairy Tale by Kelly Swanson. It will help you find positivity and humor.

So, raise your glass (full of coffee if you’re at work) and vow to make someone smile today. Whether you’re the in-office stand-up comedian, a well-dressed cheerleader, or the next great breakout singer, share your gift with the team and laugh about it together. 

About the Author

Nicole Hartshorn, MAADOM

Nicole Hartshorn, MAADOM, is a seasoned dental practice manager with 19 years’ experience in the dental industry. She started out as an assistant in high school and has worked just about every front office position in the book over the years. Her success is rooted in building quality relationships with team members. She is the president of the Denver chapter of AADOM. Nicole is currently specializing in managing multi-site teams and leadership training opportunities. 

Updated December 15, 2022