Dentist, positive psychologist and founder of Mind Ninja, Dr Mahrukh Khwaja, shares the inspiration behind her new book, Resilience and Wellbeing for Dental Professionals, and her vision to improve mental wellbeing for all dental professionals across the globe.
Stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, and poor mental health are not uncommon among dental professionals. It impacts your ability to look after yourself, and affects your patient care and interpersonal relationships.
As a dentist herself, Dr Mahrukh Khwaja has a unique understanding of the stressors affecting dental professionals and brings her passion for evidence-based mental health interventions to the forefront in her new book Resilience and Well-being for Dental Professionals.
‘The year was 2015, and I was in the depths of a divorce I did not want. Struggling with the experience of a rollercoaster of emotions, from hopelessness and anxiety to anger and confusion, I reached out for a book recommended by my therapist. It was on mindfulness.
‘And although deeply cynical of anything trending, I took a colossal leap of faith that day into what became a pivotal point in my life. Mindfulness became my anchor. One that helped me not only surf the difficult, painful moments of grief, it also supported me in inviting positive emotions: serenity, self-compassion, gratitude, optimism and meaning.
‘For the first time in my life, I had a well-being tool that I could use to become self-aware, to observe my emotions and thoughts without fusing with them, to self-regulate, and intelligently react to my thoughts without being jerked around by them.
‘After my recovery from depression, I took a deep dive into the literature on wellbeing interventions. Despite a lack of current research in dentistry, the research for interventions focused on medical and healthcare professionals is growing.
‘Psychological modalities, specifically mindfulness-based, cognitive-based and positive psychology, show excellent gains in positive wellbeing markers (Kunzler et al, 2020; Peng et al, 2014) as well as reducing the negative markers (Shapiro et al, 1998).
‘Prevention is an important aspect of our role as dental professionals. It was always drummed into me as a student that you should double down on prevention, so doing the same for mental health just makes a lot of sense.’
Mahrukh’s growing interest in these tools led her to set up Mind Ninja (www.mind-ninja.co.uk) in 2019. This is a wellbeing service with a vision to enhance the happiness and health of all dental professionals across the globe through bespoke training and products.
With a passion for upskilling, Mahrukh went on to obtain a master’s in applied positive psychology, gain her accreditation in mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy coaching, and is currently undertaking a diploma in positive organisational psychology.
Writing the book
The idea behind Mind Ninja was to bring evidence-based tools to clinicians early on to support them in not only preventing poor mental health but to help them go beyond baseline to optimal states.
From here, the idea to create a workbook to support these teachings in a fun, engaging, practical way developed and in 2020, Mahrukh pitched the concept of Resilience and Wellbeing for Dental Professionals to the publisher Wiley.
‘Resilience is something I became really interested in after my divorce,’ she says. ‘I always thought that I couldn’t cope very well with things, that I wasn’t very resilient because I would panic, and if something bad happened, I would catastrophise.
‘And then I became really interested in the question: how do people go through terrible things and cope really well? What are they doing differently? This is where I found positive psychology, which really spotlights those positive abilities and skill sets.
‘I learned that resilience is not a fixed trait. It doesn’t matter how resilient you are, you can become more resilient, you can train your mind-muscle like any other muscle. That made me feel really hopeful.
‘The big idea I came across in my research for preventative solutions is that, just like we exercise our physical body and its muscles, the brain needs to exercise. And so, each chapter of the book has brain workout exercises to help you build the muscles of happiness, gratitude, self-compassion, growth mindset, grit and resilience and help you practice them consistently.
‘Beyond reducing anxiety and depressive feelings, this book is a self-intervention: a self-help companion in enhancing your positive emotions, life satisfaction, growing optimism, purpose, and mindset, nurturing positive relationships and living a rich and meaningful life as a dental professional. To flourish in dentistry.
‘The tone of this book very much aligns with my values: kindness, compassion, warmth and empathy. I have lived the mental health crises explored in this book, and this insight informs my passion for creating the book.
‘As with learning any tools, the key message is to give yourself plenty of self-love and room for setbacks. Building resilience and well-being while balancing a busy dental career and a personal life is not a linear journey. Approaching the tools with compassion first is key.
‘Leaning into the knowledge that, despite adversities and life’s invariable bumps, we can train ourselves to become more resilient and be the creators of an optimistic future in dentistry is the challenge. With this book, I hope to make this self-development journey an exhilarating one!’
Dr Khwaja has been named Top 50 in Dentistry two years in a row (2022 and 2021) by FMC for her work on mental health in dentistry. She is also the author of the Resilience and Well-being for Dental Professionals, published by Wiley-Blackwell. Email her at [email protected] or connect with her on Instagram @mindninja.wellbeing.