The month of May is a great time for talking about workplace wellness. Mental Health Awareness Month occurs each year during May, and it’s a full 31 days dedicated to sharing information and knowledge on the subject of mental health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 21% of adults in the U.S. have a mental illness. When this statistic was compared between males and females, female adults were higher at 25.8%. Mental health conditions are now more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.1
Being well at work is not just about not calling in sick; it encompasses so much more. From your physical health, financial health, and mental health, it’s all important to ensure you bring your best self to work each day.
Here are five things you can do every day to improve your mental health and well-being:
1) Be Active
Exercise has so many health benefits, including mental health benefits. While you may find yourself not having much time to exercise, it’s important to schedule a few minutes each day.
Try doing a few chairside stretches during microbreaks. Dr. Bethany Valachi of Posturedontics recommends stretching every 45 minutes throughout the day for optimal musculoskeletal health.5
Because dental clinicians tend to hold sustained and unbalanced working postures (mostly forward positions, leaning toward the dominant hand), it is important to stretch to avoid muscle ischemia.5 Stretching, such as door frame stretches, can help avoid muscle imbalances which can lead to musculoskeletal injury.5 To do a door frame stretch, put your hands on both sides of the door, flattening both forearms. With your shoulders down and not sticking your neck out, gently lean your body weight into the doorway to release tension in the front-facing shoulder muscles. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times.6
When you are entering clinical notes, sit up straight in your chair and slightly lift a leg at a time while squeezing all of your leg muscles. Do small pulses with each leg. Lift one inch and then lower one inch. For those familiar with barre, this is a barre move that you can do anytime. Arrange a lunchtime walk around the block or have everyone stand at the next morning’s meeting.
Small efforts to be active can make a big difference in your physical health and your mental health. The mind and body are very closely related; “Your mental health plays a huge role in your general well-being. Being in a good mental state can keep you healthy and prevent serious health conditions.”4
2) Acknowledge and Encourage Your Team Members
When we take time to offer praise or thank coworkers, this helps bolster someone’s self-confidence and esteem. Celebrate your team members for who they are, for their uniqueness and individuality. The next time someone helps you, offer up a high five. When we refrain from judging others, we look for the good and the positive, which can change our mood and outlook.
This small step goes a long way in creating a culture of caring at your office, which leads to positive workplace culture.
3) Give Back
Making time to give back to your community is important for overall wellness. At the office, you may be able to give back in several ways.
Your office can volunteer as a group at a Mission of Mercy clinic, giving free dental care to those with limited access to dental care or limited resources. As an office, you can hold an in-office free dental care day for veterans, for example. You can go to your local school and educate students on the importance of oral health with fun interactive activities.
Meeting with caregivers at assisted living facilities, teaching them proper home care for their patients, and sharing your dental hygiene knowledge can provide better oral health and systemic health for residents. Volunteering with a mobile dentistry nonprofit is a great way to give back, as nonprofits often need volunteer clinicians. If a school in your area has a dental clinic, they often need volunteer clinicians to treat the kids in the community; donations of dental supplies may be welcomed too.
Participating in your community leads to a sense of belonging and makes us feel good, which increases our mental well-being.
4) Make Self-Care a Priority
During COVID-19 and throughout other times in your life, you may have heard “self-care” used a lot. There is a reason why! When you care for yourself, you can provide meaningful care for others. When your energy sources are depleted because you have not been kind to yourself, it’s more difficult to help others.
Prioritize exercise, eating healthy, and staying connected with family and friends. Though dental clinicians are often pressed for time, try to take periodic breaks to refresh and reset your mind, even if for just a minute or two. A quick break is a great time to do a few stretches, take in a few deep breaths, and grab a drink of water. When you reset, you go back to work refreshed and ready to finish your tasks.
5) Make Connections
It’s a fact that loneliness can cause mental health issues.2 Some people have no trouble making friends and acquaintances while others have great difficulty. In the workplace, you can connect with your coworkers daily.
Consider starting a weekly office trivia contest, a book club, or a buddy system for new team members to help them feel part of the team.2 If time allows, take a short walk during lunch with a team member. Many of these are easy to start. For example, post a sign-up sheet in your breakroom for participation in the lunch club walkers’ group. If you know of a good book that you think others may like, pose the question at your office and see who would be interested in chatting about it on a monthly basis. In your morning meeting, throw out a fun daily trivia question to get the day started. Work with your office manager or another member of your team to help organize a buddy system for new hires.
Know the Signs of Mental Health Issues
It’s important to know some of the signs and symptoms of potential mental health issues. These can present like:
- Diminished productivity2
- Physical and emotional stress2
- Withdrawal from the team or absence from work2
- Significant weight changes
- Changes in mood or activity level
- Sleep issues
This month, through Mental Health America, you can take a variety of mental health online assessments. According to Mental Health America, these screenings can help you determine if you may be experiencing a symptom of a mental health condition and provide resources and information if you are.3
Your workplace can contribute to someone’s overall health in a positive way. Using the simple tips in this article and having shared accountability with your team to create the best workplace it can be is a step in the right direction.
If you believe that your mental health is not where it should be, you are encouraged to speak with your medical provider or call the NAMI Crisis Line at 800-950-6264, which provides free and confidential crisis counseling. You can even text them at 741741 with the word NAMI.
Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below:
- Mental Illness. (2022, January). NIH: National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness
- Darley, E. (n.d.). Why Employers Should Care. American Psychiatric Association. https://workplacementalhealth.org/mental-health-topics/loneliness
- Take a Mental Health Test. (n.d.). Mental Health America. https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools/
- How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health. (2021 March 29). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/how-does-mental-health-affect-physical-health
- Valachi, B. (n.d.). Chairside Stretching in the Operatory. Posturedontics. https://posturedontics.com/stretching-your-way-out-of-pain/
- Turetsky, L. (2020, March 5). A Better Door Frame Stretch – Open Up Your Chest. Back Intelligence. https://backintelligence.com/stretch-chest-muscles/