Control the Controllable

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While we sit in the middle of this current pandemic (there have been four other pandemics since 1980), we watch and wait for the world to get back to normal.  As dental professionals, we have been relegated to a non-essential service, except for emergencies.  Looking over to our health care colleagues on the front lines, we are grateful for them and their service to this pandemic. As well as all the other essential workers (police, fire, mail carriers, grocery store folks, restaurants, and far too many to enumerate).

On our end, we have cleaned our office, ordered as many disinfectants and masks as they will allow us to purchase, contacted our patients (some of whom are actually happy to hear from us as it’s a break in their day), and taken hours of continuing education. Now we wait for the individual states to declare when it is safe for us to return to work.  

Stress from many directions

Regardless of which way you look at this, we are all under a great deal of stress.  With offices closed for at least a month, changing schedules, worrying about proper PPE (or what will change in new mandates), firing employees, being unemployed yourself, or waiting on federal funding to appear, let alone the concern of whether patients will return, and have the income to pay for our services. 

Let’s face it we are all under some form of stress.  If you add in the potential of homeschooling your kids (aren’t we all thankful for those brave teachers who educate and manage our kids all day?), calling your “elderly” parents and telling them to stay home, or maintaining your house alone, we now have stress on top of stress. 

When we look at the situation we are in at this moment in time, we have to realize there are things that are under our control and those that are not. We have to focus on controlling the controllable because there is nothing we can do about the global reality of flattening the curve of the SARS-CoV-2, except stay home, keep preaching hand washing, and be safe. 

We need to focus on us.

How we are coping in these uncharted waters during these unscheduled weeks off is not the same for everyone.  Remember our physiology days, the fight or flight reactions? People react to coping in several ways:  they either want to be calm or frenetic.  Check out your friend’s Facebook or Instagram pages to see what they are up to. To some of us, we may under function.  This is a welcome break from years of tortuous stress on our back, neck, hands, and wrists.  Although trained in proper ergonomic positions and protocol, we are not always able to accommodate “that patient” unless we twist in a pretzel. 

The time off is healing and cathartic for our bodies.  There is less stress due to patients canceling, teams disagreeing, emergencies overloading, and unforeseen changes to treatment plans.   Slowing down is a great plan for some. Getting that extra sleep we have all been missing, reading books on our TBR shelf, and catching up on streaming television shows.  Being unfocused and a little scattered may be normal, for this time in these moments. 

Others are more over-functioning or over-focused.

They may be re-modeling their offices, joining new patient acquisition programs, learning new techniques, or training for a marathon.   There is always something to do at the office: contact benefit companies, verify pre-authorization, contact patients to reactivate them, clean out those dental journals that we have been “saving” for decades.  Yes, the ultimate office spring cleanup!  It is always great to walk around our practice with a new eye: see what it looks like from a patient’s perspective.   Create an office tour video for your FB or Google page.  Getting ready is also a great plan, but not the right plan for everyone.

We are not only our practice and our professional lives.

Many of us are caring for children, partners, husbands/wives, checking in on neighbors and friends.  One of the consistencies in managing stress and coping is focusing on what you can control.  You can’t control your kids all day, you can’t control what is available in the grocery store (or dental supply house), or when it will be safe for us to return to practice.  You have to maintain your level of control by doing what is best for you. 

One thing I have found that does help with my coping is the ability to connect with family, friends, neighbors via the phone, or zooming.  It is great if we are able to connect with someone, albeit through a screen, to share experiences, discuss fears, or make plans for the future. Finding a way to spread a little kindness by connecting is cathartic. 

Since we can’t control the circumstances we are in right now, we all have to find coping strategies that are OK for ourselves. Each individual may react differently, don’t compare yourself to someone else. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and how ever you are reacting to this crisis is yours and yours alone.  If you want to be calm, great; if you want to be busier than normal, that is perfect for you. 

There will be a future. We will get through this together. We have an awesome profession and it will survive, as it has through the past four pandemics that have happened during my dental lifetime.  Stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy. We will need everyone on the other side. 

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Sheri B. Doniger, DDS is a leading dental clinician, author, international educator, and consultant who currently practices dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. An avid researcher, Dr. Doniger frequently contributes to a variety of dental publications on topics ranging from clinical practice to effective communications. Dr. Doniger currently writes regular columns for DrBicuspid.com. Dr. Doniger is a prominent advocate for mentoring and is a voice within the industry for enhancing ergonomics in the practice lives of women dentists. As a health and wellness advocate, Dr. Doniger presents at many conferences and webinars, where her topics often center on team, ergonomics infection control, and women in the dental industry. She is an active member of numerous professional societies. Her book, “Practical Practice Solutions in Dentistry” focuses on building practice success. Dr. Doniger is a past President of the American Association of Women Dentists.

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