How to keep stress at bay during dental school

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You have a lot to be proud of if you made it to dental school. But, although getting in is a great accomplishment, there’s still lots of hard work ahead.

It’s easy to get stressed out about everything you have to do. But being stressed out can zap your energy and lead to other problems, such as anxiety and depression. Developing ways to keep stress at bay during dental school will help you feel better and more prepared to handle the challenges that come along.

Causes of stress

Almost everyone suffers from stress now and then, so you’re not alone. Even if you’re excited about dental school, the demands of your study schedule may feel excessive from time to time; worse so if you fall behind or have trouble with a class.

In addition to classes, starting dental school may bring several other changes into your life. For example, you may be moving to a new city, meeting new people and leaving family and friends. If you factor in financial worries, it’s easy to see how dental school can be overwhelming, especially at first. For some people, dental school can be one of the most challenging times in their life.

If you’re a perfectionist, you may feel you have to get straight As or perform every procedure perfectly. But that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, and it can also contribute to stress.

Stress & its effects

Not all stress hurts your health. In fact, some stress may help you perform better. For instance, the adrenaline rush you get from stress can boost brain power. Hormones, such as adrenaline can improve alertness and cognitive functioning, which may help you stay focused. The key is to prevent stress from becoming chronic or severe. When stress is long-term, it can have adverse health effects and lead to both physical and emotional problems.

Too much stress can leave you feeling drained, and it’s hard to do your best if you feel rundown. It can also lead to you having trouble making decisions and feeling overwhelmed, neither of which is good for a student.

Stress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, trouble sleeping, and high blood pressure. Some people develop unhealthy ways to cope with stress, such as overeating or using excess alcohol – unhealthy habits like these only make the problem worse by decreasing your ability to deal with stress.

Keeping stress in check

It’s probably not possible to avoid all stress: no matter how mellow a person you are, a little stress is inevitable. But, by doing the following, you can prevent stress from decreasing your quality of life and negatively affecting your health:

Prepare friends and family: If you feel pulled in a lot of different directions, it can add to your stress level. One thing that may help is letting your friends and family members know how busy you’ll be during certain points in dental school. While you don’t want to disconnect from important people in your life, you may have to spend more time studying and attending classes than you did in the past. If your loved ones know that you’re busy, you may not feel guilty about missing get-togethers and other events.

Avoid the ripple effect: Did you ever notice when you worry it can have a ripple effect? For example, you may worry about one class, which causes you to worry about another class and so on. Before you know it, you’ve created a whole scenario, which involves you being kicked out of dental school and living on the streets. Avoid the ripple effect by staying focused on what’s in front of you and not what may or may not happen. Challenge yourself to see the positive aspect of a situation and not everything that can go wrong.

Stay organized: Being unorganized can make life seem more chaotic. Develop a system for studying and managing classes that works for you. Staying well organized will help you keep on top of assignments, and ensure that you’re as productive as possible. Organization will also help prevent you from falling behind on assignments, which will cause your stress level to skyrocket.

Take care of yourself: Eating junk food and not getting enough rest will decrease your ability to deal with the demands of dental school. The healthier you feel, the better prepared you are to deal with stress. Eat a well-balanced diet, get regular exercise and try to get about seven or eight hours of sleep each night.

In addition, remember to take some time off to recharge. Hang out with friends, go for a walk, pursue a hobby or play a sport. All work and no play can make you more likely to feel the negative effects of stress.

Let go of perfectionism: It’s great to be a high achiever. But it’s also possible to go overboard. If you beat yourself up for occasionally getting a B on a test – ease up on yourself.

Get help when you need it: If stress is taking its toll and decreasing your quality of life, it’s time to do something about it. While talking to a friend or fellow student may help, sometimes a counselor may be a better option. If stress is leading to depression or anxiety, a counselor can help you develop coping skills to decrease stress levels. Dental schools often have counseling services for students to help them deal with problems that arise.

Remember, you’re not the first student to feel stressed during dental school. In fact, at some point, most students will feel stressed. But just because it’s common to feel tense in dental school, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Don’t hesitate getting the help you need.

Useful links

  • How to make stress your friend, a Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal

  • Headspace, an app that helps you take a pause

  • The Fabulous, an app that helps you build healthy rituals into your routine

  • Yoga With Adriene, quick and simple yoga routines that you can do almost anywhere

  • Mind Australia, leading provider of community mental health services

  • Class Timetable, an app that’ll help you keep your classes and deadlines organised

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    Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.

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