It’s not always possible to prevent stressful situations at work but building your resilience can help you cope with day-to-day challenges—and enjoy a successful career. By Angela Tufvesson
Unpredictable workloads. Demanding patients. Challenging colleagues. These are just some of the stressful situations you’re likely to encounter at work in a dental practice. Thankfully, there’s an antidote: resilience. According to experts, developing an ability to roll with the punches and cope with difficulties like these sets you up for success at work—whether you’re a manager or an employee.
Without resilience, you’re at risk of stress and other mental health problems, which can have a negative effect on the day-to-day as well as career advancement. With resilience, you’re better placed to thrive in demanding situations and enjoy a happier, more successful career.
Ups and downs
Resilience means being able to adapt to life’s misfortunes and setbacks. Instead of dwelling on problems or becoming overwhelmed, resilience allows you to harness an inner strength to help you bounce back instead of fall apart.
Importantly, resilience isn’t about making your problems go away or how much stress you can manage at once, but how you can mentally and emotionally recover from stressful situations. Resilient folks are flexible, learn from their experiences and ask for help when they need it. As a result, you’re better able to find enjoyment in life and handle stress.
“Stress can have a profound impact on our emotional and physical health,” says Dr Michael Larson, a resilience trainer at Pillar Leaders. “Highly resilient individuals are less affected by stress. They also report better physical and mental health, and better overall mood.”
In fact, resilience can help to protect you from mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. It can also reduce the impact of factors that increase the risk of these conditions, such as being bullied or previous trauma.
On the job
It’s in stress-inducing environments like the workplace where the benefits of resilience are particularly noticeable.
“When unmanaged, stress greatly impacts our ability to process, remember and analyse information,” says Dr Larson. “This then leads to errors in judgement, mistakes at work and, at its worst, a compounding cycle of increasing stress levels.
“Highly resilient individuals avoid this through their ability to identify stressors and recover from them effectively and rapidly.”
In dental practices, resilience helps to combat stressors unique to the industry, says Bethan Flood, general manager of Prime Practice HR Solutions. These include everything from negative feedback from patients who don’t enjoy trips to the dentist to financial and staffing stress for practice owners.
So important is resilience at work that Dr Larson says it’s now a must-have skill. “The number of demanding work cultures that lead to stress and potential burnout is increasing worldwide,” he says. “Since the pace and intensity of contemporary work are not likely to change, building resilience is no longer just a desirable skill—it is crucial for success.”
And he says resilience is more important the further you progress in your career. “Generally speaking, the further individuals progress through their career, the more stressful their work becomes,” says Dr Larson. “This means that the benefits of resilience only grow throughout a person’s career and it’s never too early to start developing the skill.”
“We’re not born resilient—no-one is born more resilient than someone else,” says Marcela Slepica, clinical director at AccessEAP. “We develop it over time.” Research shows resilience is associated with positive states, including optimism and curiosity, and a sense of control over your life—which psychologists call an ‘internal locus of control’. Supportive relationships are another important factor.
“If your parents are resilient, optimistic and positive, those are things you’ll grow up learning and developing, but if your parents are very negative or absent or there’s some kind of trauma, you may not have an opportunity to develop your resilience skills,” says Slepica.
Fortunately, she says it’s never too late to learn to be resilient. “If you didn’t have that opportunity when you were growing up, that doesn’t mean you’re never going to be resilient,” says Slepica. “You can develop resilient thinking and learn how to be more positive.”
So how do you go about it? Flood says self-care habits like eating well, drinking lots of water and engaging in regular exercise can help to keep your brain functioning at its best. If you feel stressed, share your worries with a colleague. “Talking about it to someone can minimise your stress levels by 70 per cent,” says Flood.
Dr Larson agrees: “Humans thrive better together,” he says. “Having others you trust and can seek perspective from is an important aspect of resilience. So reach out to others when you are in need, and don’t wait until things are overwhelming.”
Concentrating on things that are within your control is another effective strategy. “Focus on the ‘can do’ not the ‘can’t do’,” says Flood. “Focus on what you can change or make a difference in and let go of things you can’t.”
If you’re a practice owner, “try not to allow your team to get stuck with feelings of helplessness but to focus on what they can do to control things”, says Slepica. “Encouraging lots of connecting, engaging and interacting with others in your practice is also really helpful.”
And it might sound simple, but practising gratitude is another effective way to promote resilience in your practice. “Start with saying thank you and showing appreciation more often,” says Dr Larson. “Being grateful builds a positive mindset for the giver and receiver of gratitude—a double win.”