Don’t bury your head in the sand

HeadinsandHussein Hassanali offers advice on how to deal with stress.

Any role in healthcare is stressful to some degree. With so many variables involved in day-to-day dentistry, the professions’ reputation as one of the most stressful careers is well known.

With busy personal lives to juggle around the job, it’s not only work that can have an effect on our stress levels.

Fight or flight

Just like most medical conditions, stress can also be acute and chronic. Cortisol and adrenaline are the main stress hormones, both of which are raised in stressful moments. Acute moments of stress are common for all, and as the hormone levels decrease, the body returns to its usual functioning state.

When that stress response is constantly turned on, things can quickly get out of control and seem too difficult to handle. The consistently elevated hormone levels alter various body systems and processes. Not only does it feel difficult to function, but the longer it takes to get back to normal, the harder it is to get things back into sync.


What many don’t realise is that even short-term stress affects us, but because the moment passes quickly, it is never recognised and swiftly forgotten about.

Other effects include but are not limited to mood swings, being easily irritable, headaches, muscle tension, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, memory impairment and difficulty concentrating to name a few. Anxiety and depression are the main offenders linked to stress and can be the result of prolonged stress. Not only can this lead on to mental anguish, but heart, immune and digestive problems and the potential to rely on addictive substances.


The three biggest causes of chronic anxiety are work, financial problems, and relationships. All three of these can cause trouble both in and out of the surgery setting.

However, triggers can sometimes be out of your control. As much as you try to avoid them, there can be unforeseen moments when they pop up.


Many different strategies have been mooted to offer the best relief from stress. But no one single thing is the answer. As stress and its effects are multifactorial, it needs a multifactorial approach to keep things in tune.

Being up and about keeps you feeling fresh and helps you to think clearly

Natural light is needed to help the body regulate itself and good sleep patterns to recharge

Eat a balanced diet to give your body and mind the correct fuel

Manage your time and take control of the situation

Be sociable – laughter really is the best medicine

Mindfulness and meditation can give you a way to refocus and put things into perspective

Make sure you take time out for yourself

Plan activities to look forward to

Don’t bottle things up

Be positive and appreciate what you have.

Getting help

Subject of national debate, mostly aimed towards the large numbers of people affected and the lack of available services and funding out there to help cope with the demand. Professional help might not be needed by many, but even so, there is a limited understanding of what help is actually out there.

Many are worried that they will be judged by the health professionals or their own family or peers, with an attached stigma that can’t be shaken off.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most widely recognised way to change perception and thought. Its aim isn’t to take away the triggers, but to help you best manage them. Those unfortunate to suffer from long-term stress can be caught in a vicious cycle of thought that carries on going in a downward spiral.

What CBT does is give you the tools to cope with what is getting you down and get yourself back to a positive frame of mind.

Depending on your location, help is accessible in different ways. In some areas, it’s possible to self-refer yourself, in others you need to be referred by a healthcare professional.

A simple support group can offer you the space to talk about any issues. Online CBT courses put you in control and give you the achievement of handling things internally. If needed, one-to-one sessions are available too to go into depth.

Whatever it is, don’t bury your head in the sand. As Bob Marley sang, ‘don’t worry,
be happy’.


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