Managing emotional wellness in dental school

wellness_lifehacks

As the fall season kicks off, you may find yourself feeling a variety of emotions. Perhaps you’re a little sad that summer is coming to an end, excited to see classmates who have returned back for school, or confused already about an assignment or subject in a certain class. Feeling any and all of these things is totally normal! In fact, being able to identify and articulate your feelings is just one important aspect of emotional wellness.

It’s important to highlight emotional wellness as its own entity because it deserves as much attention as physical, intellectual or any other aspect of wellness. Emotional wellness is the ability to characterize your thoughts, feelings and reactions to various situations and stressors, as well as the ability to respond appropriately and make changes when necessary. This is especially important for students who—between studying, classes, extracurriculars and home life—have a lot on their plates and may occasionally need help identifying why they are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, and how to cope with the stressors in a healthy way.

In undergrad, I learned a trick for dealing with stressful situations that can be helpful to anyone feeling like they have too much going on and just don’t know where to begin. Start with a paper and pen. Make a 2×2 chart, where the columns are for situations you can control or those you can’t, and the rows are situations that are important or unimportant. The picture below will make this clearer.

Next, start to categorize whatever is causing you stress based on whether it is important or unimportant and within your control or out of your control. Different situations will weigh in as more important or less important from person to person, so this exercise is great as it lets you decide which stressors are more pressing. Looking at the examples provided, let’s start with the one that is unimportant and out of your control (in green). Hopefully you get your refund for the cancelled concert, but other than finding other plans, you really don’t have too much of a problem to solve. That’s the plus side to a problem that is unimportant and out of your control – you can immediately cross it off of the list of things to worry about since you can’t do anything about it and it probably won’t matter in the long run.

The problem in yellow is a little tricky because it is important to fulfill clinical requirements, however you can’t force a patient to show up to his appointment. Instead of worrying about the no-show, work on the problems you can control or find a creative solution, such as asking a classmate if they have any perio cases to spare. Maybe you could even help your classmate out in exchange!

Now let’s look at the problem in orange: the dirty roommate scenario. As far as stressors go, this is relatively unimportant (although depending on the severity of the problem and personal preference, this could go in the important column). Luckily, it is within your control, and you can face the problem head-on by discussing your problem with your roommate. That leaves the last problem in red, which is important and within your control. Try to budget your time in the weeks leading up to the three exams in a way that will allow you to attend the shower. If, looking over the material, you really don’t think you can afford taking a few hours that day to celebrate, apologize and explain the situation to your sister. Hopefully she will understand and you can make it up to her when your schedule is not so crazy. When we have many stressful situations going on at one time, it can be overwhelming and difficult to decide where to start when it comes to solving the problems or realizing that they aren’t worth stressing over. This exercise helps you at least find a starting point by visually showing you which problems are more important and manageable.

While this may only be one way to address your emotional wellness when starting off the academic year, the most important thing to remember is to check in and identify your emotions and what may be causing them from time to time. Acknowledgement of what’s going on in your head and in your heart is a great first step to a healthier you, and it likely will promote additional healthy behaviors throughout the course of the year. Good luck, keep a positive frame of mind, and you got this!

For more life hacks to help jumpstart your school year, check out ASDA’s past Life Hacks Week posts. If you have hacks that you’d like to share with your peers, leave comments in the section below!

~Dana Weikel, Maryland ’18

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About Dana Weikel

Dana is a second-year dental student at the University of Maryland—Baltimore. When she’s not in class or lab, she enjoys reading new books, cooking or baking, and listening to podcasts and music. One of her current favorite podcasts is Freakonomics Radio – check it out! Dana also likes to remain active by swimming, running, and taking yoga classes. During her undergrad years at the University of Maryland—College Park, she majored in Spanish and spent a semester in Seville, Spain living with a host family. As a dental student, Dana participates in clinical research focused on oral pathology and diagnostic methods, and serves as the PR/Communications Chair for the Student Research Group on campus.

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Comments (3)

  1. Daniel L. Cohen

    emotional wellness is definitely necessary to succeed in dental school.

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