Work-Life Balance

by Uche Odiatu, DMD; Mahsa Bakhshandeh, RDH

The demands of student life are intense. Professionals programs like law, medicine, dentistry and dental hygiene require the devotion of a Tibetan monk, the physical endurance of NFL gladiator Tom Brady, the toughness of Serena Williams and the mental acuity of business titan Jeff Bezos. Deadlines, projects and requirements dig deep into the reserves of the most dedicated student; however right when you think you have it all together personal life challenges rear their heads like Medusa.

We have put together a student survival guide for entry into the dental industry world. There’s no turning back now and this is why you must choose to accept our 5-part plan so you will not only survive this journey but thrive when you graduate.

Photo: iStock

#1. Develop your physical body like an athlete.

Most people think of getting in shape as all about the beach, the selfie or the high school reunion. However the latest science has shown that being physically fit is as important for your brain as your Instagram posts. You see your brain is an oxygen hog. Your 100,000,000,000 neurons might only weight 3lb but they demand 25% of the incoming oxygen you suck in with each breath. It’s your number one human need… oxygenated blood. Without a constant supply through your internal carotid artery and left vertebral artery your brain will gas out not only during your final exams but while you are waiting for a clinical instructor to sign off on your treatment plan. How much exercise do you need to do to keep your heart, lungs, brain and muscles happy? Not as much as you think. Consistency is more important than all out herculean efforts every January 1st. A single exercise was shown in one well done study at the University of Maryland to reduce the symptoms of anxiety in a single session in a group of young adults.1 What do psychiatrists say? “I want to cement the idea that exercise has a profound effect on cognitive ability and mental health. It is simply the best treatment we have for most psychiatric problems” reports, John Ratey MD Harvard medical school professor.2

The fastest way to get in shape is interval training. It isn’t new. It’s been around since 1959 but only for high end athletes. Exercise physiologists like Martin Gibala PhD have helped make it more mainstream available and understandable.3 But in a nutshell, exercise scientists have recommended that short bursts of increased intensity peppered throughout your exercise session is better for building muscle and endurance than old school steady state exercise. So don’t let the I don’t have time excuse seduce you. A few minutes of HIIT peppered throughout the day (ie: running stairs during a coffee break) as exercise snacks can stoke the fires of your metabolism and boost your aerobic power.

Photo: iStock

#2. Get to bed on time and stay there.

If there was any time to develop good habits is when you are a student. You see sleep researchers Matthew Walker PhD out of Berkeley have shown that when college kids burn the candle at both ends in the name of getting into the professional program of their choice or to cram for exams, they are abusing their nervous systems and forging bad sleep patterns.4 Very few people can truly thrive on less than 4 hours sleep at night. Unless you have the ADRB1 gene, most people do best on seven to nine hours a night. It is the darkest hours where our newly received knowledge from class travel from the hippocampus to the frontal executive functioning brain. It is during REM sleep that we process emotion and soothe our souls from the angst of the competition and stress of daily student life. Without good nightly slumber the entire body/brain begins to crumble. Little injuries do not heal, chronic inflammatory conditions fester, memory falters, we become irritating to be around and our long term goals get sabotaged.

Photo: iStock

#3. Let your food balance your life.

Nutritious food has a powerful influence on mood. We can eat for peace and happiness or frustration and anxiety. Here’s a neat fact. The higher your consumption of fresh produce like vegetables the lower your risk of depression. By as much as 60%! This is powerful. In Michael Greger MD book How Not to Die he reports on the journal Neuroscience where people who are depressed have more of the enzyme that burns up key messengers that help our 100 billion neurons communicate with each other.5 It looks like most vegetables contain the phytonutrients that inhibit the destructive chemical messengers in the brain that support depression. Persians love the spice saffron. In the journal Ethnopharmacol it showed that saffron worked as well as a popular anti-depressant to treat mild to moderate depression. Isn’t this great news? Most of us reach for the ice cream or apple pie when feeling down? Why not add some of this tasty spice during cooking? Gastroenterologists have shown that comfort foods do work to douse the effects of cortisol in our bodies but over time they increase the odds of being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

Photo: iStock

#4. Chill out and enjoy more fulfillment and happiness.

In 1946 The World Health Organization referred to health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Daniel Goldman in his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence wrote that the amygdala is the primitive part of the brain that we engage when we are angry or frustrated.6 Whenever the amygdala is aroused no new learning or creative thought takes place. We simply charge through primitive attack emotional pathways. In order to bring about more life balance it is a great idea to have activities that calm the amygdala like deep breathing and conversations with close friends who soothe our pre-historic reptilian brain. Another strategy for emotionally charged disagreements that happen between friends or co-workers is to seek out a neutral party to facilitate and reconcile to arrive at some common ground. Otherwise simmering resentment can wreak havoc on our peace of mind and ability to enjoy work life but also our personal lives.

Photo: iStock

#5. Spend more time with people who bring out the best in you.

Human beings have an instinct to run in packs and the opportunity of physical connection is lacking in our virtual age. Our limbic brain tells us we need to be committed to a group and bond with others.7 One way this world – both professional and personal gets a little less lonely is by our ability to spend time with people who bring out the best in us. Author and business management guru Jim Rohn said we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Takeaway – if we want more life balance, we need to make sure our friendship or collegial circle has a balance of entrepreneurial success as well as social-spiritual successes. Life coaches or mentors are people who can provide us with guidance when we can’t find our way. Veteran dental professionals who have taken the slings and arrows of outrageous events can shed light on areas of our lives when we are lost. So instead of being wise old men and women we can learn through other people’s experiences and be wise while we are young.

It was our desire to share some out of the box ways to gain more balance and peace of mind in your busy preprofessional world. We challenge you to try one or two of our strategies in the next few weeks. Congratulations on your career choice.


  1. Smith JC. Effects of Emotional Exposure on State Anxiety after Acute Exercise
  2. Ratey J., Spark © 2007
  3. Gibala M. The One Minute Workout © 2017
  4. Walker M., Why We Sleep © 2017
  5. Greger M MD How Not to Die
  6. Goldman D., Emotional Intelligence © 1994
  7. Lodge H MD Younger Next Year © 2005

About the Author

Uche Odiatu DMD @fitspeakers on Instagram is a professional member of the American College of Sports Medicine; NSCA Certified Personal Trainer; practicing dentist and has given over 500 lectures in seven countries over the past 16 years.



Mahsa Bakhshandeh RDH @tooth_boss on Instagram is a private practice hygienist. Certified Meditation Workshop Facilitator; published author; Zumba instructor; global traveller and social influencer.

Check out the rest of the 2020 Student Issue here!