October 31, 2019
by Uche Odiatu, DMD; Mahsa Bakhshandeh, RDH
The new dental hygiene graduate is ﬁlled with enthusiasm and the promise of the future but their path can be full of landmines if they do not have life balance. This article was designed to provide support for a busy new professional and equally exciting personal life.
The new graduate may be saddled with heavy debt and feel the pressure to have an aggressive repayment scheme which demands ﬁve to six day work weeks. This challenges the ambitious hygienist physically and emotionally. Private practice scheduling, working with other health care team members, getting proﬁcient with new technology and paperless ofﬁces add new demands. Staying current with CE hours and a portfolio will keep them hopping. Hygienists receive an average of two professional journals per month. They get emails from their associations, notiﬁcations from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, notes from our accountant, messages from co-workers and texts from our signiﬁcant other. In a recent study, researchers found that in any three months, the average professional sees approximately 2.4 million printed words. Faxes fly into your ofﬁce demanding immediate acknowledgement about new prophylactic premedication recommendations from the patient’s doctors ofﬁce; emails marked urgent cry for attention. To top it off, a voicemail message on your cell phone reminds you to pick up the kids after work today! While the evolving world brings with it immense promise and opportunity, it also generates a huge amount of tension and stress as you attempt to cope with your new career and the new technology that deﬁnes it.
Now more than ever hygienists are searching for simple, effective ways to balance their lives with a greater sense of simplicity and more satisfaction. It is part of the growing consciousness that dental professionals wish to harmonize career excellence with personal fulﬁllment. Can an old dog be taught new tricks? We are well aware of how old we are. We see the lines in our faces in the mirror in the morning, the greying hair at the temples, the whites of the eyes no longer bright, and the sagging skin. One theory of aging is the build up of oxidative stress. And it takes place everywhere: the brain, the muscles, the cardiovascular system and the immune system. The body is less able to deal with oxidative stress as we age. Scientists theorize that older cells enjoy a lower threshold of molecular stress of over-excitability, free radicals and energy metabolism. With less clean up, damage accumulates and chronic inflammation begins. An entire cascade of low-level destruction takes place. And the last thing you need is outside stress.
So how do we ﬁnd a good balance? It’s much more than just having a to-do list and getting to work on time. One expert said, “balance is bogus.” Your overall health teeter-totters on how well you manage the stresses in your life. The keen link between stress hormones erupting from combined psychological and physical stresses has been reported to boost the risk of immunological, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. So the fallout of poor stress management techniques can be disastrous!
Here are seven simple lessons for bringing balance to your daily life and enhancing your performance and overall effectiveness at work:
A visit to your healthcare practitioner to assess the current state of your health is a great starting point. The condition of your body is your report card for how you have been living. In a complete physical, your doctor can check your cholesterol level, blood triglycerides, blood pressure, and body mass index. In my book, The Miracle of Health,1 I noted that awareness precedes all change. Simply knowing that you have drifted off course can inspire you to make mid-course corrections.
Most dental hygienists are women. If they are mothers this adds other important “to dos” on their daily list. The challenge is when they come home from the ofﬁce and have a “second shift”, as deﬁned by sociologist Arlie Hochschild PhD.2 Many women are carrying the weight of the new time crunch; nanny or no nanny, housekeeper or no housekeeper. Sure there are examples of men sharing childcare duties and domestic chores, but in 2019, professional women still shoulder many of these duties or at minimum, manage the delegation of these duties to hired help. Regular renewal is vital to being productive. Have you ever noticed during the Indy 500, that the drivers of those expensive formula racecars make pit stops to change their tires, get gas and do maintenance? Like the racecar, your body needs a daily performance check. A short 10-minute walk will allow you to get away from the clinic and breathe in fresh air for your 100 billion brain cells. At LD Pankey Insitute in Florida, they teach that the health care provider of today must live by example or the message of health is not authentic. You must take care of yourself ﬁrst if you are a caregiver. Remember the flight attendant’s announcement during your last flight that, in the event of an emergency, you must place you own oxygen mask on ﬁrst, before helping others? If you think sacriﬁcing your own basic needs will allow you to save your child’s life, you are mistaken. You both will perish, as the lack of oxygen will overcome you before you can attend to your little one.
Did you know the average North American has 35 hours of screen time a week? Did you know that when you are watching television, your metabolism actually slows down even more than when you are just sitting there? Besides making you fat, too much TV viewing steals time right from underneath you. At the end of your life, if you knew you had just 60 minutes left on this earth, would you choose to watch a rerun of Friends? It is not just TV but sleep researchers have shown that any screen time before bed disrupts your brain’s ability to gear down and reach deep sleep. The pineal gland makes less of the immune boosting melatonin if blue light from cell phones, laptops, TV or even bright lights (LED style) reaches your retina in the few hours before bed time. Having a tech holiday before bed supports deeper rejuvenating sleep. And you can do other activities that will support optimal well-being like: talking about your dreams and goals with your signiﬁcant other, reading non-ﬁction, taking a warm bath or journaling.3
Doing something mindless to reset your brain before sleep? If you watch NEWS, NEWS, NEWS, and witness the tragedy, sadness and horror from 210 countries around the world, your sympathetic nervous system stays on heightened alert. This is not relaxing; it delays your rejuvenating sleep and disturbs the subsequent sleep cycles.4 Any hope of healing, repair or replenishing goes out the window. To top it off, every other commercial tempts you into making poor food choices!
Did you know that watching two hours of television a day adds up to a whopping ﬁve and a half years of watching television? Sure there are other ways to relieve tension. Eighty-ﬁve per cent of people do not choose exercise or meditation to relieve tension. Most people’s tension relieving habits are down right dangerous, i.e. Smoking is the top personal health hazard and is linked to 400,000 deaths annually, or 4 million Americans, every decade in America. It is a key factor in 40 per cent of all deaths from stroke and heart disease. Want a drink to take the edge off your day? Or a nightcap? Did you know exceeding safe levels (one drink a day for women and two for men) has been linked to liver disease, heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes? A drink before bed also decreases sleep quality by boosting snoring, disrupts REM sleep and lowers the time spent in stage 4 sleep (where your body makes 80 per cent of your growth hormone).
Poor digestion affects 50 per cent of the population. Overeating and choosing poor foods adds to the stress of daily living. In North America, we have some of the best medical and health technology in the world, but for the ﬁrst time in history, there are one billion people suffering from diseases caused by over-eating while another billion people are suffering from malnutrition.
The only fuel for restoration and repair of these cells is the food we choose to eat. Your body has to work harder to make cells from fast food or junk food. You see stress summates. Maybe you’re facing a challenge with expanded duties with CEREC at your new ofﬁce, or your teenager stayed out past their curfew, and your in-laws are staying at your place this weekend. On top of that, you missed breakfast and ended up buying a shake, large fries and a double “bypass burger” on the way home. Each one of these is pushing your autonomic nervous system to the limit. Mindfully choosing your food and selecting only the best possible choices for your diet will give you boundless energy. Energy is the currency of life. It’s enthusiasm and passion: to end the day the same way you started; to stay awake during your long professional development seminars; to be able to give your patients outstanding treatment and still have the energy to enjoy a full social life.
On an organ or even cellular level, exercise has a very profound influence. American College of Sports Medicine journal articles have shown that ﬁt people show signiﬁcantly lower cortisol responses to stressful challenges than their unﬁt counterparts. Fit people on average have lower state anxiety levels than their untrained colleagues – they stay cool like Clint Eastwood under pressure. The investigators speculated that ﬁt people generally appraise acute stressors as less threatening than untrained colleagues.5 Can you see how a busy dental hygienist could beneﬁt from a regular exercise habit as she is managing a patient with a large tongue, tight lower lip and a gagger and you are running behind because an extra patient was squeezed into the schedule? Recent studies have shown that the muscles of the body act like an organ when they are moving in harmony. This movement can help process emotion. It is also important to have a complete exercise program. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends a strength, aerobic and a flexibility component to enjoy overall ergonomic health. Every hygienist needs to have smooth working 350 joints and 600 muscles. Many people love jogging and yoga but very few people engage in resistance training. So this leads us to our sixth recommendation.
Fifteen per cent of the U.S. population have reported frequent anxiety symptoms that can last up to four weeks. It is quite normal for people to be anxious right before speaking to a group of people, before asking a bank manager for a line of credit, but prolonged it can interfere with sleep, digestion, and your sense of joy and aliveness. You wouldn’t normally think lifting weight would be a tool to get rid of anxiety. But studies from the American College of Sports Medicine show a single bout of resistance training can signiﬁcantly reduce anxiety levels and promote overall psychological well-being.6 And the great thing about this one time intervention is that it doesn’t have to be intense to work. Even a moderate intensity resistance training workout has beneﬁts. The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine say adults ought to do exercises that maintain and enhance muscular endurance and strength at least two times a week.
We breathe differently for every one of our emotions. Whether we are happy, sad, angry, frustrated, jealous – each state has its own breathing pattern. Feeling stressed alters the breathing pattern as the body prepares for ﬁght or flight. All other normal healthy bodily processes go on hold or get disrupted: from disease ﬁghting and mobilizing white blood cells to preparing the body for conception. It had evolutionary advantage when we fought for our lives 1000’s of years ago, but in 2019 it is maladaptive. No movement can be harmonious and functional if a healthy breathing pattern is not in place.7 With this information, can you see how poor stress management strategies supports dysfunction and possibly disease?
Yoga practitioners and meditators have reported for years that one of the easiest ways to alter your physiological state is to take a conscious breath. Becoming mindful of the way you are inhaling and exhaling is an easy way to bring awareness to how our thoughts and emotions influence our physiology. The average adult takes 12 to 15 breaths a minute or 20,000 breaths a day. Very few people take a single conscious breath in any given day. With simply placing your attention on the three to ﬁve breaths a day you can start consciously altering your physiology and manage stressful situations much easier. University studies have shown that mindful breathing and subsequent brain wave coherence achieved through meditation boosts psychomotor vigilance.8 Enjoying better decision-making would be a great adjunct for any busy dental professional.
Life management begins with self-management. It takes balance to be a compassionate healthcare provider, an effective leader, to enjoy optimal physical health and harmonious personal relationships. So, go breathe deeply, create beautiful restorations and live a magniﬁcent life!
1. Odiatu U. The Miracle of Health © 2009 John Wiley
2. Hochschild A. The Second Shift © 1997 Penguin Books
3. O’Brien M MD., The Healing Power of Sleep © Biomed
4. Stevenson Shawn. Sleep Smarter. Rodale © 2016
5. Heather HE, Aerobic Fitness Cortisol Responses to Concurrent Challenges. American College of Sports Medicine April 2012
6. Bibeau et al. “Effects of Acute Resistance Training of Different Intensities and Rest Periods on Anxiety and Affect” J Strength & Cond Res 24(8) 2184-2191 2010
7. Lewitt K. Relation of faulty respiration to posture with clinical applications. J Am Osteopath Assoc 79: 525-529 1980.
8. Takeuchi L. How to Get Smarter One Breath at a Time. TIME Magazine 2006.
About The Author
Uche Odiatu, DMD, is a Toronto area dentist and a professional member of the American College of Sports Medicine. He lectures throughout North America on total patient health.
Mahsa Bakhshandeh, RDH, graduated from Durham College and has been in private practice for nine years. She enjoys travelling and exploring the world, its many cultures, and their variety of wonderful cuisines.
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