Nursing Matters – managing stress in dentistry

Gemma Forsythe Nursing Matters

‘It’s not a sign of weakness’ – to mark Stress Awareness Month this April, Gemma Forsythe sheds light on stress amongst dental nurses, including the most common causes of it and how to spot signs of stress.

It is no secret that dentistry is a high pressure and stressful profession.

It is becoming increasingly harder to recruit and retain qualified dental nurses. And it is also no secret that stress is definitely a contributing factor to nurses leaving the profession.

Some have chosen to go and work at supermarket checkouts with less responsibility, more money and less stress.

April is Stress Awareness Month and I want to draw attention to this very important topic within dentistry and hopefully provide some stress management tips.

Stress in dentistry

Stress affects people differently – what stresses one person may not affect another. Factors like skills and experience, age or disability may all affect whether a person can cope.

If an employee starts acting differently, it can be a sign they are stressed. Practice managers should look out for signs of stress in their employees and think about whether the stress could be linked to work pressure.

Acting early can reduce the impact of pressure and make it easier to reduce or remove the causes. If managers are worried that an employee is showing some of these signs, they should step in and see if there is anything that they can do to make things at work easier for the person.

If there is something going on at work, and this has caused the problem, managers should take action.

So, what causes stress in the workplace amongst dental nurses?

High paced working environment

Dental nursing is a very busy role. There is always a list of things to do – and that is not including supporting your clinician and caring for patients! It is easy to get overwhelmed at times.

It can also be difficult when running behind as surgery nurses are dealing with disgruntled patients having to wait longer than expected. And the reception staff are stressed dealing with said patients in the waiting room too!

Potential clinical compromise

Unfortunately, some clinicians expect their nurse to take short-cuts in order to speed up getting the next patient in the chair. This means they are not working within best practice.

I have luckily not experienced this myself. However, I believe if a clinician would like to get their next patient in quicker, they should help their nurse with cleaning down and setting up – not trying to reduce their clean down time.

Poor management

A manager who is unapproachable makes things very difficult as, if an employee has a problem, it is unlikely that they will want to approach the manager with it. As a result, this leads to bottling things up which will end in the employee exploding someday.

It is unfair for management to nit-pick at things you have done wrong and never acknowledge anything that you are doing right. This decreases confidence in the employee and decreases motivation.

A manager that is quick to point the finger but is slow to claim responsibility is setting a bad example to the team and shows that they are untrustworthy.

Micromanaging is another issue, as it shows that the manager does not trust their team to carry out the tasks that they have set for them which will result in decreased performance.

Lack of appreciation

I am lucky to work with a lovely clinician who is very appreciative of what I do, as well as friendly colleagues and a great practice manager and principal dentist. However, some nurses are not as lucky and I have heard some seriously bad stories about poor attitudes from dentists, colleagues and managers.

A simple ‘thank you’ goes a very long way!

Lets not forget that there are also patients who come into the surgery and don’t even acknowledge that the dental nurse is there – let alone say thank you to you for supporting them during treatment. This can lead to decreased motivation too.

Workplace bullying/harassment

Some employees are made to feel intimidated, uncomfortable and offended in the workplace. This can involve spreading malicious rumours, treating someone unfairly and picking on someone or regularly undermining them.

If you believe you are being bullied or harassed at work, the first step would be to try to address things first – talk to your manager to see if things can be resolved informally.

If this does not work, a formal complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure can be made.

Spotting signs of stress

It is important to look out for the signs of stress both in the whole team and individual employees.

Signs of stress in a workplace to look out for are:

  • Arguments within the team
  • High staff turnover
  • Increased illnesses/absences
  • Decreased performance
  • Increased complaints/grievances.

Signs of workplace stress in an employee to look out for are:

  • Taking more time off
  • Arriving to work late when this is out of character for the individual
  • Acting more on edge
  • Mood swings
  • Being withdrawn from the team
  • Loss of motivation, commitment or confidence
  • Increased emotional reactions, for example being more sensitive.

Are you experiencing stress?

As an employee, you can monitor your own workplace stress levels. And if you believe you are experiencing signs or symptoms of work-related stress, you should discuss this with your manager, a colleague or your GP.

Some common emotional/mental symptoms of work-related stress are:

  • Finding it hard to focus
  • Finding it hard to make decisions
  • Feeling more emotional than normal – you may be more sensitive or tearful
  • Feeling more irritable or having a short temper
  • Feeling overwhelmed or finding it hard to switch off.

You may also get some physical symptoms too which can include:

  • Feeling lethargic
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Muscle aches/pains
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Gaining/losing weight
  • Chest pains or chest tightness.

Combating stress at work

It can be hard to admit to being stressed at work. You may worry that your employer or colleagues will think less of you. But stress can affect anyone and it’s not a sign of weakness.

Good employers will be aware of stress-related issues and should have policies in place to help deal with them.

Managing work-related stress can be difficult, but it is important to take steps to help yourself feel better. Things that could help are:

  • Agree a fair and achievable workload with your manager. If you feel your workload is too heavy, ensure you explain this to your manager
  • Ask for any additional training or support that you feel you need
  • Maintain good relationships with your colleagues who can form a good support network
  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance. Ensure you are going home and resting and doing things you enjoy, not stressing about work
  • Organisation at work – compile to-do lists to keep track of what you need to do and prioritise this accordingly. Don’t be afraid to delegate where you need to!

Combating stress at home

Some good tips to combat stress at home are:

  • Social contact – going for coffee with a friend or seeing a family member can help to combat stress as it acts as a distraction and also gives you the chance to gain support from someone that you value
  • Yoga and meditation – these are both ways to wind down and relax and can really help you learn ‘in the moment’ techniques that you can use when feeling stressed at work
  • Getting enough sleep – stress can cause you to have a hard time falling asleep, and sometimes staying asleep too! Ensure you have a relaxing, consistent night time routine. Listen to soothing sounds, put your phone away and try to relax
  • Journaling – this can be a good release of built up emotions. Don’t think about what you are writing, let your thoughts flow. Only you are going to read it, so don’t worry about it being neat.

If you need someone to talk to about how you are feeling or if things are feeling like too much, here are some useful services:

  • Shout: text SHOUT to 85258
  • Samaritans: 116 123
  • Calm: 0800 58 58 58

Catch up with previous Nursing Matters columns:

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