Right, lovely dental folks - I'd like you to listen, please...
You know the scenario - it's 4.45pm on a Friday afternoon and a patient rings with severe toothache; they've had it for several weeks, and they are ringing now because they are "not sure they can make it through the weekend". A check on their records reveals two failed appointments for a filling which needed doing over a year ago and they have never been back in touch since then. Oh, and you also told them they needed to see the hygienist for regular appointments too, and they've never been.
Prevention. You teach it to your patients. All the time. Often repeatedly. At the end of the day, it's up to the patient whether or not they choose to take responsibility for their own dental health - as their dentist you know there is only so much you can do...
As a psychotherapist, this is what I see when I look at the dental profession: so many surveys measuring the catastrophic levels of stress in the profession; so many posts on social media complaining about mental distress; (and yes, it's bad - in many cases it's truly heartbreaking); and yet so many dentists are clearly not taking any responsibility for their own mental health.
Clients will often come to me because they have reached the psychological equivalent of the severe toothache patient described above; so we have to begin by firefighting the situation they have found themselves in... and just like that toothache, it's often been coming on for a very long time. Sometimes for years... and they've ignored the signs.
But here's the thing... Even if you are feeling absolutely fine right now, how many of you are actually taking an active responsibility in making sure you stay that way by maintaining your own mental health? (I know many of you are, which is fantastic - I also know that many, many more are not...) Are you even aware that there are very definite measures you can put in place to help prevent future burnout and chronic stress? Are you just like the patient with toothache who is aware that oral hygiene is probably something they should have been doing, and they are still not doing it? Are you willing to wait until you experience symptoms of chronic stress, mental breakdown and burnout before you decide to take some action?
Here are some suggestions, and my invitation to you is that you look into at least one of these right now (yes, even though you are feeling fine at the moment):
If you are feeling fine because you are already doing at least one of those, then that's marvellous - I salute you.
My mother always used to tell us that, "Something always happens when you don't do as you're told..." I've no doubt that's what you think when the irregularly attending, poor oral hygiene patient turns up yet again with an abscess. But remember the wise words of Virginia Satir, "Life isn't the way it's meant to be - it is the way it is. It's how we cope with it that makes the difference."
That difference has to start with you. And if you need some help to rediscover your own inner resources, please just ask.
As a psychotherapeutic coach I offer regular, ongoing, preventive, confidential support to dentists in the UK and abroad, as well as in-depth therapy when it's needed; just as you do for your patients. I also offer small group CPD courses specifically for dentists on how to change your relationship with stress.
I've always loved undoing knots. I don't know why, particularly, only that I find it a peculiarly satisfying activity. The other evening, when called upon to assist my husband with a knotted shoelace, followed in quick succession by the knotted string on the top of a bag of logs, it brought the pattern into consciousness.
As a child, I always enjoyed the challenge of undoing knots - my father would pass me things to undo; a necklace of my mother's, perhaps - hopelessly tangled - or a tiny chain destined to become part of something he was making or mending. I remember I once spent a happy evening undoing the fine wire encasing a Chianti bottle, just for the joy of it.
As I thought of these things, it occurred to me that even now in my work as a therapist, this is what I do - I help people to untie the "knots of their own making" as Rainer Maria Rilke called them:
"If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead, we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused..."
Sometimes we just need somebody outside ourselves to help us see the knots are there... and then to help us to disentangle ourselves so that we might, indeed, rise up as our true, congruent self.
What actually is stress? Stress can be defined as a psychological and physiological reaction caused by a perceived lack of resources; it is also the feeling we get when something we care about is under threat, and it is actually our body's way of giving us the ability to do something about that threat. We do not get stressed about something we don’t care about – stress and meaning are, in fact, inextricably linked; our stress is a reflection of our values.
Stress is a part of life. It's vital to us - stress creates motivation and enables us to adapt to deal with new experiences. The more we can adapt our responses, the less rigid we are in our thinking. If we are very rigid in our thoughts and beliefs, so that something "has to" be a certain way, then we will find it stressful if things are not the way we want or expect them to be. The more flexible we can become in our thinking, therefore, the less negative stress we will experience and the more peaceful we will become.
Events or circumstances are not actually stressful in themselves - it is our own personal perception of the event in that moment that makes us feel stressed or not; which is why some people are stressed about certain things (going to the dentist, for example) and others are not. Stress is therefore a subjective response to a given situation. If an individual believes they cannot cope or perceives they have a lack of personal resources, then they will experience a “fight or flight” threat stress response.
When we are regularly living and working in a “fight or flight” state, our ability to cope with day to day life can become compromised and we can end up feeling overwhelmed and reacting badly in our interactions with other people. We react this way because, in that moment, we believe we have no choice in our behaviour; our resources of calm and consideration appear to have deserted us and left us with negative emotions such as anger, fear or overwhelm as our only way of being.
Understanding how our body's stress response can actually assist us to deal with the situation can be very helpful... What if stress is not actually bad for us? What if it is, in fact, a resource in itself? Stress is far more than just “fight or flight” – it is a biologically appropriate response to a given situation. Depending on the ratio of hormones our bodies produce, we actually have a variety of different stress responses, each supporting a different coping strategy.
Our three main stress responses are:
Recent research has indicated that the way we think about stress itself has an impact on our physiology. If we view stress as a completely toxic state, then everything that engenders that state becomes something to be avoided. However, if we choose to accept that there is a connection between stress and meaning, then it can help us change our mindset and increase our self-belief in our ability to cope with the challenges of life.
Instead of believing stress is bad for us, if we believe that it is our body’s way of preparing us for the challenge ahead, this has actually been shown to positively affect the physiology of the stress response; changing a “fight/flight” response into a healthier “challenge” response. In other words, research suggests that stress is only bad for us when we believe it is.
Changing the perception of the stress response from something that is harmful into something that is a positive resource could have profound implications for health and wellbeing. Whilst the everyday stressors may remain, believing the stress response to actually be beneficial to long-term health could potentially create a much reduced incidence of stress-related physical and psychological symptoms.
1. Lipton, B.H., 2008. ‘The Biology of Belief.’ USA: Hay House.
2. McGonigall, K., 2015. ‘The Upside of Stress.’ UK: Penguin Random House.
3. Crum, A.J., Salovey, P., Achor, S., 2013. ‘Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 716-33.
In our world of fast-developing technology, and the need to stay connected with friends and colleagues through texts, emails and social media, the irony is that in our face-to-face relationships with others we are becoming increasingly disconnected. The need to check messages and emails as they arrive, to scroll through social media just to "catch up with what's going on" means that time spent together is often time spent on phones and tablets, and that means we are not "together" at all. In that distraction, we are not being present with our partner or family.
In my therapy practice, I am seeing increasing numbers of clients who are experiencing "relationship issues" for one reason or another...
Relationships are not about “getting it right”, they are about connecting with another person. The most important aspect of connection is the ability to listen… when was the last time you did that? Really listened, with total presence and with no other distractions at all?
Listening is a skill we all possess; it is a natural, innate ability. However, as we grow and develop, we learn different, adapted ways of listening, which require effort.
What can happen when you just listen…? Listen with no judgement, no effort, and without trying to offer solutions. Even if the other person is in a negative place – what happens if you just be with them, and hold the space, with compassion and empathy…?
Put your phones down, people, and just be present with each other... talk to each other... and, more importantly, listen... it's the biggest gift you can offer.
For any couples who feel they would like to spend some time together to reconnect, you may like to know that I offer a very special course... Because it’s only for one couple at a time, it’s tailored for the individuals concerned, and whatever you want to get out of the day. (You may also like to know that there is absolutely no mobile signal in our training and consultation offices at 'Planet Wykeham'!)
Self-Awareness and Relationships is an experiential workshop-style day, with some bits of NLP – understanding how we think, and how we each do that differently from one another; there are also some bits from other psychotherapeutic modalities too, because the day is all about having fun as well as learning about yourselves and each other within your relationship. It’s designed to be very much a future-oriented day, rather than looking back at whatever has happened in the past – it’s all about developing connection and understanding, and creating your future together.
If you'd like to know more, just give me a call and we can have a chat to see if this is something you'd like to do together.
We have exciting news... As the seasons change, so change is taking place for us, too...
At the beginning of November, we will be moving into our beautiful new training and consultancy offices in Langley House, at Wykeham Business Centre near Scarborough. Whilst we have really enjoyed holding our courses at Wydale Hall, it will be lovely to have the flexibility of our very own space, where we can put down roots and grow. Our new offices also have wheelchair access, which is wonderful for our less mobile clients and students.
We will be arranging an "Open Day" for everyone to pop in and visit us, and maybe share a coffee or a glass of Prosecco... and we'll have more details of that in our November newsletter - if you are not already a subscriber, you can sign up on the website home page.
In the meantime, the first course in our new training room has been arranged for Monday 21st November - Mindfulness and Self-Hypnosis for Personal Change. If you would like to join us for this relaxing day, then full details are on the website. There are only six places, though, so if you would like one then please book quickly! We also have a number of other courses arranged for the winter months; full details are on the SCNLH website.
In the coming months we are hoping to organise some weekly classes in relaxation, as well as Pilates and possibly T'ai Chi - watch this space for more details.
We are really looking forward to welcoming you to our new home!
Last Thursday was haircut day... we have a wonderful, patient lady who, every four weeks, comes to the house for the morning and creates order out of chaos; leaving behind three tidy dogs and an enormous bag of fluff. (The fluff is much appreciated by the local bird population in the spring, for nest-lining purposes... I would imagine that Lhasa fluff in particular must be very cosy - it certainly all disappears very rapidly.)
For Luna, who adores being brushed and loves meeting people, the arrival of Tracy is one of unrestrained joy and excitement. Lily is slightly more circumspect, but happy to hang around as she knows there will be biscuits in the offing... Theo, however, is horrified. After joining Lily in a traditional (and noisy) Schnauzer greeting, he scurries off at high speed in order to find a hiding place where, he hopes, we will be unable to find him until after Tracy has left... under my office desk is his sanctuary of choice. If he can't see us, he reasons, there's no way we'll be able to see him.
Unfortunately for Theo, cowering behind the office chair, we somehow always manage to locate him and lift him, by now shivering piteously, onto the grooming table. Half an hour or so later, when nothing very terrible has happened to him apart from the loss of some fluff amidst lots of cuddles, he's ecstatic to receive his obligatory biscuit from Tracy and run off joyously into the garden, to forget his fears until the next time.
Our worries and stresses are subjective - it depends what we have going on inside our heads as to how we perceive, and therefore how we experience, any given situation. When we are anticipating an event, we will have an internal representation of how we think the event will be. If we are focusing on a positive outcome, then we might feel pleasure, or excitement. But if we are focusing on what might go wrong, we are effectively playing out a scary movie inside our heads, which will result in us feeling stress and anxiety, even though our anticipated scenario may be far from real, or even likely.
So Luna caught a mole yesterday evening… I’ve no idea where she found it, as there are no evident mole hills in the garden, but she was exceptionally pleased with herself. She refused to relinquish her prize in the garden, and carried it triumphantly into the house, where she was eventually persuaded to part with it in exchange for three biscuits – a deal which she subsequently regretted, if her disappointed searching was anything to go by…
The mole was, sadly, deceased by this point and was decently interred under the hedgerow across the lane. Cat families will often be distressingly familiar with this scenario, but with our dogs it is not so frequent (although certainly not unheard of!).
We somehow forget, when we are throwing the fluffy, squeaky toy in a fun game of chase, fetch and throw-in-the-air before chasing again, that in addition to the joyful interaction we are both having, we are also assisting our little hairy friends to hone their hunting skills…
Dogs are natural predators – it is their essential nature to hunt small, squeaky, furry or feathered things. Why should we expect them to be less dog, and more human, just because we choose to share our lives, our homes and our sofas with them?
It’s just over three weeks since little Luna joined us, and we can’t believe how easily she has just taken everything in her stride… Nothing seems to faze her, and she is abundantly curious about each new experience. “What excitement can I discover here?” seems to be her motto.
She’s deeply fascinated by the numerous bumblebees that frequent the clover flowers in the lawn; having briefly experimented with eating one, she’s now decided that’s possibly a bit too exciting and is contenting herself with sniffing them, and then chasing after them when they fly busily off to the next flower… The fat woodpigeons who sit, apparently in deep contemplation, on the lawn are also good fun to chase – flapping heavily away at the last minute, only to perch on the wall and look down at her in high dudgeon at being so rudely awakened from their meditative trance.
An early exploration of the pond has fortunately not been repeated – no doubt to the collective relief of the newt population – but everything within the garden and without has been subject to her close sensory scrutiny. The paths and lanes we walk must smell astonishing to her; from her previous life in the suburbs of a city she is now surrounded by the sights and smells of horse and sheep, pheasant and partridge, hare, rabbit and deer…
And yet… every new experience is treated as a joyful discovery, enthusiastically widening her previous comfort zone of familiarity.
Since the sudden loss of our beautiful Daisy at the end of May, we have been helped by a great many words of comfort and wisdom from friends and family, not least my niece who said that, “…somewhere out there is a little girl just waiting for you to go and pick her up…”, and she wasn’t wrong. The Universe, as we know, abhors a vacuum – and our Lhasa Apso-shaped vacuum was way too deep to be ignored for very long.
It’s been said that the best way to honour the passing of a loved dog is to offer the love you gave them to another who is in need of it. A particularly bad day last week led to a serendipitous meeting of souls…
So a measure of joy has returned to our household in the shape of little Luna – half-past puppyhood at just over a year old – and in need of a home just as much as we are in need of her. She’s only been here a couple of days, and she seems to be a happy little soul – she’s settling in well with the Schnauzers and enjoying the opportunities that new walks and sofas have to offer… They are still looking slightly askance at her attempts to play with them – they are not used to this kind of thing! – but I’m sure it won’t be long before Theo, at least, embraces his own inner puppy and decides to join in.
The waves of sadness still come, but the raw grief is being tempered and I am beginning to find my thoughts and memories of Daisy moving away from the trauma of her final day and returning instead to her grace and elegance – her thousand sweetnesses – the way she used to stand out in the garden on a windy day; face into the breeze and her tail blowing out like a banner behind her… her ‘Daisy Leap’ from the lawn onto the path… her love of the fringes on the sofa throw in my office… As I turn my face to the sun, the shadows are indeed beginning to fall behind me, as the proverb says.
As I was writing this blog, there was another meeting of souls – this time across the worlds… Who knows what passed between them? I am certain something did.
This is a hard blog to write… last Tuesday morning we lost our beautiful, funny, fuzzy little Daisy, and I am desolate. She was only 7, and she had leukaemia. After nearly a week I still can’t believe that she’s gone, and that I will never hold her close to my heart and kiss her little velvet head again, and feel the softness of her fur… Anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog – or indeed anyone they love – knows the deep, indescribable well of sadness and loss, especially when that loved soul leaves us suddenly, and too soon… there are no words.
My little Daisy was a very constant companion; she would curl up in her bed next to my desk in my office whilst I worked at the computer, every so often demanding that I lifted her onto my knee, which meant I had to type one-handed – a small price to pay for the feeling of holding her. Whenever I sat down on the sofa she would be on my knee (even though she was the smallest, she would unhesitatingly shove a schnauzer out of the way if one of them was there first!), and if I lay down then she liked to sleep on my chest, with her head on my heart. At night she slept between us – one or other of us would often wake to find her tucked up in the crook of our neck, with her little furry face pressed up against our cheek. She was very special.
I have always been honored by, and grateful for, her love and attention – and I honored her in turn by giving her my own. Whenever she asked, I gave (unless it was a request for more food – she did have a passion for roast chicken!).
My clients also enjoyed her presence as “therapy dog” in the room – the schnauzers, although gorgeous and very friendly with folks they know, are also extremely boisterous so they remain in the kitchen when I’m seeing clients, but Daisy presided over my therapy space with a welcoming grace and enthusiastic joyfulness that was appreciated by all who met her.
A dear friend and fellow fan of Carl Jung said to me that she believes that, “…the bond we have with our pets is archetypal and reaches a place deep, deep within us, where our conscious minds cannot fathom”, and I am sure she is right.
There is no short-cut to dealing with grief – for each of us, healing takes as long as it takes. The important thing is to allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we are feeling in the moment, without trying to repress it, or telling ourselves we “ought to be over it by now”. There is no ought; we are individuals, and the waves of grief that assail us after any bereavement are a testament to the love we feel for the soul who has moved on. After a time, the waves may come less frequently, but they will still come; accepting that that is ok can be difficult if we subscribe to the belief that our grief should have a time limit.
It’s important that we give ourselves time to feel our pain – to own it and be with it. If we are afraid to feel it, then it will shadow our life forever until we deal with it. Spending time in our pain is hard – it’s the other side of Mindfulness – accepting what we are experiencing, without judgement, even when that experience is raw and painful beyond measure… and holding the space for our own soul to heal.
Emotions, whether joyful or deeply painful, are not meant for us to hold onto and keep… they are like the weather – they come and they go. If we accept their presence in the moment, and the fact that this too will pass, we can then allow them to move on, and we can begin to discover that in between the waves, and the tempests of wind and rain, there is peace.
That place that my friend spoke about that lies deep, deep within us – that place where our conscious minds cannot fathom – is also a place of deep peace… it is the place that Jung refers to as our “collective unconscious”. It is atemporal – within that place we are forever connected to those we love; past, present and future. The answer to our ultimate solace, therefore, just like all of life’s problems, lies not outside us, but inside. At the end of the day, there is only love.
...and the Canine Members of Staff