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  • Dr Bethany Rushworth

The Depressed Dentist. 15 Tips to cope with high stress jobs and degrees.

In a high stress degree or career, is it actually possible to go through life without feeling burnt out, miserable and anxious?

If you have chosen to read this, you are probably questioning that yourself. If not, then lucky for you! I had a fairly turbulent time at university, and it admittedly took me a little while to settle in to life working as a dentist...running to time, managing hundreds of peoples (patients, colleagues, friends) expectations of me and having only 10-20 minutes to make a good impression on my patients.

Some (but not all!!) of the things I worried about through university were money, friendships, would I pass, would my friends pass, would we get our deposit back for our student house, would the slugs coming under the door in this property eat all my food, would the rat in the living room give us a contagious disease, would I run out of internet data and have to pay excessive amounts to top it up, would the plane I was going on in 6 months time have a fault...the list. goes. on.

Exercise

Exercise is well known to improve mood and can be a great way to clear your mind and take some time to yourself. I personally find if work is stressful, it works best if I don't set specific targets at the gym. I do an activity I enjoy and feel like doing on that day and don't put pressure on myself to lose weight, get stronger or quicker. Whilst this can be great in general, during particularly stressful times I don't think it is healthy (for me!) to put that added pressure on myself.

Don’t compare yourself

This is really challenging but try not to compare yourself to others. There are times when you will be ahead and times when you will be behind. This is okay and normal. Remember the story about the hare and the tortoise? There may be setbacks, you might feel that you aren't progressing as quickly as others, but if you really want to achieve something and truly give 100%, it will be yours.

Friends

Despite being surrounded by many people, work and university can still end up being lonely for some. With some 7 billion people in the world and tens or hundreds of thousands in most cities, it is unlikely you have met everyone there is to meet. Whilst it can be scary, if you're feeling a little lonely, try going along to a new club or society, even if it is only once per week or once a fortnight you are likely to meet some new people to spend time with. For example hiking clubs, book groups, religious groups and societies, sports, or any other activities you enjoy. It is really important to have people around you to talk to and I have learnt from experience some friends do come and go, but often friends made later in life can be wonderful, and long term/life-long!

Managing money

So one big stress especially for students is money. I am not ignorant to the fact that some people get more financial support than others, however the same advice would apply to all. Write a financial plan (I personally use Microsoft Excel). Calculate monthly money in, and out. I include everything from rent, insurance, phone bills, hair colour/cut, food shopping and petrol. This allows me to plan what I can save and what I can spend and means I can see if I have a specific or big outgoing one month that I need to budget for (such as dentists' annual £890 retention fee to be on the GDC register of dentists!!!). By planning money and budgeting this can help reduce a stress, or may highlight where you need to cut back or if you're able to then get a bit of help.

Prioritising

With a limited number of hours in the day it is quite possible that you won't be able to fit in everything that you would ever want to do. Therefore prioritisation is key. Is 30 minutes scrolling through Instagram going to benefit your end goal? Will it reduce your stress level? If not, put it right to the bottom of your list. By working out how much time you have and allocating tasks accordingly, this can help to reduce stress by giving you a plan. Does the task really need doing? If you do not have time to complete the task in the time you have, learn from this, reflect on it and figure out how this situation could be prevented in future. For example starting an assignment or revision earlier, speaking to a senior colleague about the amount of time you've been given to complete the job and explaining that you needed longer or spending less time on social media.

Set small goals

Life is like a marathon not a sprint. For most people who decide to run a marathon, they start with smaller chunks, gradually working up to the final event. In a similar way, tasks and goals in life can be broken up in to smaller portions. "Instead of pass this exam", tasks such as revise for 5 hours today, revise this lecture before dinner or finish this work assignment before my holiday may be more manageable. I personally split goals up even further, so may have something like "write introduction to article" on one day, or "email so and so before lunch time".

Time out

This can be tricky when you already feel overloaded, but 15 minutes a day (or some claim even less!!) is all I need to feel like I've done something for myself. Whether this is sitting quietly having a cup of tea, watching a quick YouTube video, listening to a Blinkist (check out the app!!) or even laying on my bed with a candle lit, I'll feel re-energised and motivated to carry on with my day after taking that time out. Although it is 15 minutes without working, I do feel the remaining time in my day is more productive as a result of it.

Keep things in perspective

It can be extremely difficult to keep things in perspective when there is a general pressure or stress in life. I have a self-diagnosed condition, which I have named 'quarter to twelve brain'. To enlighten you on this, at exactly 23:45, I lose all ability to be rational. It completely disappears and everything is 100 times more dramatic, concerning or problematic than it was approximately 5 minutes before (maybe 1,000 to keep with the drama theme)...

Luckily, I was able to identify that this was going on. And through any tears, tantrums or consumption of whole packets of caramel digestive thins that maybe going on, I am now able to acknowledge that this is just a result of the time...and being tired. Now that I have much more control over the stress I feel (or allow myself to feel) during the day, I am able to laugh at this feeling which comes if I have stayed up past my bedtime, and understand it really will be much better in the morning.

I personally feel that this is transferable into the high stress degree/job situation. When work is stressful you can become emotionally tired/drained, meaning that everything else is blown out of proportion. Take a step back and think about your overall situation. Are you worrying about the washing load you need to do because of your overall situation, or because the washing load is very stressful? Try to differentiate between the two and allow yourself to push out of your mind things which are stressful due to your overall situation.

Have a clear out

Throw away everything that you don't like, don't use, or don't need. I used to hoard everything and anything. Empty boxes, pretty packaging, samples of makeup and skin care products, pens ...so many pens... even birthday cards from everyone from every birthday. Taking some time to clear out these things can really help to clear your mind, giving you more space and a nicer environment to live and maybe study/work in. Rearrange your belongings so that they are in logical places, things you use frequently in accessible places, things you don't use stored away. There are some great YouTube videos on this. The stress of things being in illogical places can be easily dealt with by allocating some time to the task and getting it done. You'll feel better for it after, trust me!

Sleep