BDA president Roz McMullan worked to support the mental wellbeing of frontline staff during the crisis. Here she reflects on the level of stress dentists are under and looks at three strategies for mitigating it.
I have seen first-hand how front line staff are affected by unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the outbreak, I worked to support the mental wellbeing of frontline staff at Altnagelvin hospital in Northern Ireland. I worked with medical professionals who were doing fantastic work, while feeling intense levels of pressure, stress and anxiety.
We all know that dentistry is a stressful profession and that right now, with many practitioners facing severe financial problems, times have never been tougher. While the BDA is lobbying governments on your behalf, I urge you to also consider your mental wellbeing. Here are some of the ways we can put this is into practice.
1. Don’t ignore the signs
If you notice the signs of stress and burnout in yourself or someone else, don’t ignore it. Our ability to talk frankly and act compassionately at this time may make all the difference. Remember, there are many services that can help. Members can access
counselling and our 24/7 helpline. Non-members can contact the confidential helpline of the
Dental Health Support Trust on 0207 224 4671.
“If you are concerned about someone, ask them the simple question: 'Are you ok?'”
It’s always better to reach out, whether it’s to a colleague, a friend or a professional. Avoid self-medicating. It’s easy to think that having one more glass of wine a night might help. But forming a reliance on alcohol can impair your own coping mechanisms which will exacerbate the problem.
Financial insecurity, bereavement and troubled relationships can compound the other challenges we face. We rarely truly know what is happening in our colleagues’ lives. If you are concerned about someone, ask them the simple question: “Are you ok?” Give them the time to respond and if you’re still worried, calmly ask again.
2. Empower and support your colleagues
Anyone in a practice can show leadership and compassionate leadership is what we need at all levels right now. A practice may also wish to choose a mental wellbeing lead to prioritise staff wellbeing.
It’s important to acknowledge that returning to work is likely to be difficult for many. Some are stressed about themselves or a family member contracting COVID-19, and this may result in avoidance behaviours. If it does, I urge you to be understanding. Remind yourself and your colleagues that it’s ok not to feel ok. Remind them that their work is valued and that every precaution is being taken to make sure they are safe.
Be mindful also of the potential for discrimination and bullying. Some staff may have agreed to return to work sooner or may have agreed to continue working during lockdown, while others did not. These differences can lead to tensions in a practice. Consciously deciding to model good behaviours, such as showing kindness and empathy, can help build a more positive working environment.
It may also be a good idea to organise a daily team huddle and to take this time to say thank you and well done to each other. If your practice has enough space, you might consider setting up an area where staff can take a minute to relax. Knowing that they have access to these ‘drop out zones’ may help staff to manage the stresses they’re facing.
3. Consider what information you consume
“Consider doing an information audit on your life, so that you too can figure out where additional stressors might be.”
The amount of information churned out by the 24-hour news cycle and social media can leave us feeling swamped and powerless. This triggers fast thinking and instinctual responses in us, which can include stress. To stop yourself from feeling overwhelmed by this deluge, it can be useful to consciously supplement news and social media with examples of more slow thinking, such as evidence based analysis from trusted sources.
I am a fan of
twitter, but during the crisis there were times when I had to take a step back from it. When working to support frontline staff in Altnagelvin Hospital, for example, my day-to-day was too stressful to find joy in social media. Almost without me noticing it had become just another source of stress. Consider doing an information audit on your life, so that you too can figure out where additional stressors might be coming from.
At this tough time, take heart
Many have felt angry and disheartened at the lack of any support from government for private dentists and frustratingly slow pace at which guidance was sometimes rolled out during the crisis.
However, as we tackle the new challenges presented by re-opening, I suggest we remember what we have already achieved by coming together. We managed to flatten the curve and to save tens of thousands of lives all over the country.
We’re stronger together and we will need that strength in the challenging days ahead. And the BDA will continue to lobby on your behalf. If we continue to support one another, I hope we can help lessen the impact of this pandemic on our mental wellbeing.
To learn more about stress and its impacts, I invite you all to attend my webinar on
Understanding your wellbeing in a COVID-19 world next week. Register to attend this free talk and it will also teach you how to provide support to others affected by stress.
Roz Mc Mullan
Retired Consultant Orthodontist, President of the BDA and Chair of Probing Stress in Dentistry in Northern Ireland (NI)