Dental Hygiene Self-Care: How to Protect Your Body and Mind

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As health-care providers, dental hygienists perform many functions to serve patients, ranging from preventive care to minor restorative care. But who is taking care of us? The burden of working six- to 10-hour work days four to six days a week can take a toll not only on our body but on our mind as well.

Self-care is defined as the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, particularly during periods of stress. Self-care provides us with a calmer mind, a calmer body, and can ultimately lead us to become better health-care providers. When we are physically and emotionally exhausted, it is incredibly hard to perform daily tasks and our professional duties. The normal stress of life and work can become exacerbated if we are not at our best. Self-care gives you a break from stress, allowing you to regroup and hit the reset button.

Ensuring our work life promotes the quest for self-care can sometimes be out of our control. Ways to help assure this quest can include obtaining employment in an establishment that values self-care methods for its employees, keeping work areas (operatories) stocked and ready for the upcoming workday, reviewing patient charts in advance, suggesting ways the schedule can support self-care methods and staying communicative with employers whenever stressful situations arise.

Physical self-care practices may be challenging for busy dental hygienists due to hectic work schedules and personal lives, but there are so many benefits. Physical exercise, in any form, can improve overall mood, increase energy, maintain physicality (strong bones and muscles), and can help reduce chronic pain.

What do you enjoy doing for self-care? Some people enjoy taking walks, practicing retail therapy, exercising, fishing, and/or spending time with family and friends. Self-care can also include getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced, healthy meal, and visiting your primary care provider or other medical personnel such as a chiropractor.

Here are a few self-care practices that are commonly utilized. But take note: Self-care practices vary for each individual.

  • Yoga is a form of physical movement that combines your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Yoga allows for the yogi or yogini to engage in poses designed to stimulate physical energy and focus on inner peace. Focusing on your breath as you move through poses and clearing your mind helps support an active and balanced lifestyle. Keep in mind there are many different types of yoga practices.
  • Another form of self-care is meditation. Meditation is designated to encourage a heightened state of awareness and focused attention. There are two different types of meditation, concentration, and mindfulness. In concentrating meditation, you focus all your attention on one subject or object and let everything else fade away. You can choose to focus on your breath or a mantra that elicits a sense of calm over you. Mindfulness meditation involves the state of being aware of and opening yourself up to the present moment.
  • A very popular form of self-care is visiting a spa and getting pampered. Spa visits offer therapeutic massages, facials, body treatments, hair and nail care, and other forms of pampering treatment. Spa settings are usually in a very relaxing environment. Whispered voices, enticing aromas, and dimmed-light settings are a recipe for comfort and relaxation of the mind, body, and soul.
  • Another form of self-care is talk therapy. Talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) is speaking with a licensed mental health professional to express and resolve issues surrounding daily life. Talk therapy can help you work through and resolve issues in both your personal and professional life.

When self-care is not practiced, burnout is imminent. Burnout is defined as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that can involve a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. When burnout is looming, it can seem like all is lost, and there is no point of return.

Burnout leads to lack of productivity in both work and personal lives. Practicing self-care takes practice. It is up to you to make time for it. Make a list of self-care practices that interest you. Engage in different forms of self-care. Consider making it apart of your weekly or monthly schedule. You never want to wait until it’s too late to take care of yourself, body, mind, and spirit.

There are so many other ways to indulge in self-care, ranging from stay-cations to vacations to religion to even something as simple as getting enough sleep. When you feel good, you make others feel good and, in our profession, we are all about ensuring oral health, as well as overall health. Whichever route you choose, self-care can positively affect both your physical and emotional health and will make you a much better healthcare provider.

So, ask yourself, when was the last time you performed a self-care act for yourself.