The theme of this years Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘Anxiety’. I don’t know any adults who haven’t experienced this difficult emotion at some point, myself included. It is not inherently “bad” to feel anxious; it is part of the human condition, but if it is happening too frequently it can become a problem and it is super important not to ignore it. If you feel anxiety is becoming a problem, some of the following techniques may help:
1. A practice of stillness
This can be a few simple breathing exercises such as box breathing (breathe in for the count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4 and hold your breath for a count of 4, then repeat until you start to feel calmer) or the 3,4,5 breath (breathe in for a count of 3, hold your breath for a count of 4 and breath out through your mouth slowly for a count of 5, then repeat as long as you need to). Even doing 2 minutes of one of these breathing exercises every day can have a massive impact on how you feel. You could trying doing this in surgery before you see your first patient. Meditation and mindfulness can also help and there are plenty of apps available to help get you started such as Calm, Headspace and Balance. I, myself, meditate most days for between 5-20 minutes depending on the time I have available. I find this really helps me and I do it at the same time each day so it has now become part of my routine.
2. Eat well
Experiencing anxiety can often make us seek out ‘comfort food’ and also turn to other things such as caffeine and alcohol to stimulate the dopamine receptors in our brain and make us feel better. This effect is often short-lived and actually makes us feel worse afterwards. Instead try to treat your brain and body to the healthy foods it needs to optimise function. One straightforward way to do this is to eat whole foods, cooking from scratch as much as possible, eating plenty of fresh foods, and avoiding sugars and heavily processed food. I appreciate that this may not be an intervention accessible to everyone but the more you can eat like this the more you are likely to see benefits. Start with one or two meals a week and try to build up. You could even do this as a practice, so for example, Wednesday could be ‘healthy lunch day’ or once a month everyone could bring in some healthy buffet items to share at lunchtime.
3. Prioritise sleep
The impact anxiety has on you can be much reduced by getting a good nights sleep. Working with your own circadian rhythm and trying to have a bedtime routine can help. Making sure you get 20 minutes of morning daylight has been shown to help with a good nights sleep, therefore on a sunny day try to avoid wearing sunglasses until you have had this early dose of light as it will massively reduce it’s impact. Trying to avoid using electronic devices in the last 60-90 minutes before sleep and trying to reduce the amount of light intensity at the same time by using less powerful lamps rather than the ‘big light’ can help to increase your melatonin production and prepare you for sleep.
4. Get out in Nature
There are lots of mental health benefits to being out in nature but if a walk in the woods isn’t possible, spending time in a garden or park will have a similar effect. Even having a house plant on your desk or in your surgery can have significant benefits. You could maybe get a plant for the staff room?
5. Move more
If you’re feeling anxious even the simple act of going for a walk can reduce this. Any movement is better than none! Yoga has been found to have massive benefits but even a few simple stretches can make a difference to your overall wellbeing. As a practice you could try and go out for a lunchtime walk once a week or do some simple stretches together.
The most important thing to remember though is that if you are really struggling please don’t keep it to yourself – make sure you talk to someone. Let’s look out for each other.
Angela works as the Clinical Lead across a number of our dental practices. She has a Level 2 Counselling certificate as well as a PG certificate in Mentoring in Dentistry, and is actively involved in mentoring dentists and other dental professionals. She is an enhanced educational supervisor and promoting mental health and wellbeing is something that she is really passionate about.