Your dentistry questions answered: mental resilience
Practice Plan’s Gary Nelson looks for answers to the questions you’re asking…
Running a business like a dental practice is hard work. There’s a lot of responsibility to shoulder and a lot of balls to juggle.
When times get tough for your business, those responsibilities and the number of balls you need to keep in the air increase. And that can take its mental toll on anyone.
As the owner of the practice, part of your role is to be at the helm during any tough times. You will be the one who people – your team, your patients and maybe even your family – will look towards for leadership and guidance.
There’s no doubt that this can add another level of pressure, and so the need to be mentally resilient is even greater in order to help you protect not just your team and your business, but also your own well-being.
What is mental resilience?
It’s worth pointing out that being mentally resilient doesn’t mean being strong, or never having a down moment and having to be happy all the time. According to the mental health charity Mind, mental, or emotional, resilience is about being able to ‘adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental well-being’.
Many dental students are being offered resilience training while still at university to help prepare them for life as a working dentist. But for those who have not undergone any kind of training and/or who may be struggling with the tough times practices have been through lately, the question remains, ‘how can I become more mentally resilient?’
Chunk up your thinking
One thing we can do is to try not to become bogged down in the detail, or get involved in what I call ‘chunked down thinking’. This relates to how we process information.
Chunking down is when you delve down into the detail and the minutiae of what’s happening and this can often lead to catastrophising and anxiety – particularly if you’re relying on external sources for that detail and it isn’t forthcoming.
I believe that to adapt to a difficult situation, it is more helpful to try and chunk up your thinking and look at things on a larger scale and deal with the information you already have.
This can help you:
- To get a better picture of the whole context of the problem, the decision and the solution
- To identify the values which supply importance and motivation to a goal or behaviour. In turn, this enables you to reflect on your most important values, which helps to identify what the right course of action is and increases your sense of self-efficacy and reduces stress
- To be able to think more strategically, which is an essential qualification for leadership.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Whenever I hit difficult times I often come back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which I use to help to chunk up my thinking.
Rather than getting mired in the nitty gritty details of what may be going wrong I come back to the broader concepts of my basic needs – in particular, safety, purpose and integrity. This is usually enough to bring me back to a positive mindset.
Often, a big cause of stress and anxiety can be because of worrying about external factors that are outside of our control. COVID-19 is a perfect example of this.
Rather than worrying about the things beyond our control, it is healthier to try and concentrate on the things within our sphere.
That can be easier said than done. But my approach is to apply this to Maslow’s hierarchy, and think about what I can control now and in the next few weeks.
I can set my own purpose which may need to flex to fit a new situation, I can act in a way that is integral to my values and I can take steps to ensure my, and my dependents’ (both professionally and personally) safety. Through those three things, purpose, integrity and safety, I believe I can achieve all the levels of the hierarchy, at least to some level.
Self-care is vital
As a leader you have a responsibility for those in your team, there is no doubt about that. But you also have a responsibility to look after yourself – after all, if you neglect your own well-being you will be in no position to help anyone else.
It can be hard for some people to prioritise their own self-care, particularly during tough times, as you might feel it is indulgent or selfish. But, in fact, it is incredibly necessary – only if you are well can you support your team and business.
Self-care can take many forms depending on the individual. But it generally involves taking some ‘me time’ and giving yourself a break – whether that’s having a short nap, zoning out to a podcast, doing some mindfulness or reading a book.
And of course, physical health is an important part of mental health so exercising is key, whether you’re into yoga, running, the gym or going on a walk outdoors. Taking care of your whole self, mind and body, will help to build your resilience.
If you do struggle with carving out time for yourself or feel guilty about it, try setting alarms on your phone or meetings in your calendar that are dedicated breaks for you. And remember, your mental wellness affects those around you, so by looking after yourself you are also looking after them.
Taking time to look after yourself at all times is important, so that when hard times do come along you are already in a good position, but it is doubly important during periods of hardship.
Mental resilience is a key part of being a leader and managing a business, just as much as anything else like financial acumen and organisational skills. And when there is hardship or difficult times, it is a vital resource for you to draw on.
By chunking up your thinking and looking at the bigger picture, focusing on what you can control to meet your basic needs and making time to look after yourself, you can build up your resilience and adapt to whatever new situations you find yourself in. From there you are more able to support those who rely on you and to forge a path to the other side, where the sun will once again shine.
Gary Nelson is an Area Manager with Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans. Gary has successfully run his own business for ten years prior to joining the team at Practice Plan. Through this regular column, he offers YOU the chance to ask any questions you may have about dentistry and running a practice today. Simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with your question alongside your job title and location, and let us do the rest!