I’m rushing, I know I’m rushing. I feel the beat of my heart beating throughout my entire body. Underneath my yellow gown, I can feel myself getting sweatier and sweatier. Good thing I remembered to put on deodorant today. My anxiety levels are shooting out of the roof. Why? I got out of class late, and I’m trying my darndest to set up for my medically complex patient in time. I’m under a particularly particular faculty, and I feel nowhere near prepared. I’m getting to the point where I’m so stressed; I’m forgetting the little things. Have I gathered all of the materials I need? Do I even know exactly what I’m doing today? Have I looked up all of my patient’s medications, so I can give that stellar start check?
As dental students and young practitioners we’ve all been here. In the journey to become a dentist, it is almost impossible to not experience the stress and anxiety similar to above. For some of us, it may be every single clinical experience, and for others it may be during our competencies and testing situations. No matter what, it would be remiss to ignore the effects that stress has on our work.
It’s in moments like these that we need strategies to deal with this tension. Lucky for us, there is a myriad of methods to prevent stress, anxiety, and other debilitating emotions from taking hold of our lives and our dental careers. My personal favorite is Mindfulness Meditation. You’ve probably heard of it, as it’s a bit of a “hip” topic in the psychology world. This is for good reason, as there are plenty of scientific studies to back it up. Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-firestone/mindfulness-benefits_b_2965648.html
Often, when people think of meditation they think that it is the absence of thoughts and feelings—a spiritual experience that only monks who practice for lifetimes get to go through. They couldn’t be more wrong. Mindfulness is actually being very present in the current moment. It is accepting and not judging your current situation. The very key to mindfulness is not that your mind doesn’t think of things, but that when it does you bring yourself back to the task at hand.
Mindfulness is a skill that can be practiced and honed. You probably won’t be very good at it in the beginning, but being good at it is not the point. The point of mindfulness is to not let your emotions and thoughts control you. Having mindfulness meditation in your “tool box” can take the hectic situation from above and flip it on its head. Mindfulness is most definitely not a cure-all to all stresses in life. However, after practicing mindfulness, when you start to feel those familiar feelings of stress and anxiety creep up on you before a challenging clinic session, you will have a tactic to no longer succumb to those pressures. Rather than freaking out over the things you cannot change, you take on the procedure one step at a time. You will make less mistakes, and most importantly you will provide your patient with the best care possible.
There are four different ways of practicing of mindfulness: breathing meditation, body scan, loving-kindness meditation and observing-thought meditation. The key is finding which one works for you. You can find a myriad of different sources to learn about each type and to get resources to help you out. Those include apps with guided meditations (Headspace is my personal favorite), podcasts, and videos on YouTube. Whether you are a mindfulness expert or simply a beginner, I encourage you to continue down the path to a healthier, happier you and a less stressful, more enriching dental school career.