For me, the start of third year was the most exciting part of dental school thus far. Finally being in clinic full-time was the light at the end of a two-year tunnel of intense didactic coursework and preclinical projects. Seeing patients of my own also helped me feel like an actual dentist and at my school, we are lucky to each have our own operatory.
I remember the very first day I excitedly walked into my little office–with my own chair, desk, computer and three windowless walls. But, after a month of sitting in the same small room, day after day, I could feel those three walls closing in on me.
It’s easy to get used to our little spaces. We become acclimated to a small office, the lack of windows and the long hours indoors. Finding a moment to step outside for lunch can seem impossible on busy days, especially when you find yourself running behind schedule. Yet, I’d argue that taking the time to soak in the sunshine and appreciate the nature around you is more important now than ever. A 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that simply taking a 90-minute walk through nature was correlated with a decreased risk of mental illness, due to its effect on prefrontal cortex cognitive function. According to the co-author This finding “suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.” Further research shows that city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas.
Is working day-in and day-out in a small, dental office environment detrimental for our mental health? It could be. Can we fix this problem? Yes.
Personally, I try to spend as much time outside as possible, even if it’s just sitting outside for a half-hour to eat lunch. Being out in the fresh air for a small moment during a hectic clinic schedule can help clear your mind and even reset your mood. However, in light of the National Park Service’s recent centennial celebration, I encourage you to find new, creative ways to enjoy the outdoors. Activities such as hiking, biking or simply exercising outside can help boost your spirits and can be easily customized to your personal preferences and fitness levels. Some activities can even be done on the go. I like to keep rollerblades in the trunk of my car so that I can be ready at any time to throw them on and go for a skate. But, if you’re feeling adventurous, consider taking a more intensive approach by planning a weekend camping trip with a couple friends at your local state park.
Being a dental student is very demanding and each of us chooses to decompress in different ways. Our careers will keep us indoors for the better part of most days, so consider finding an outdoor outlet to ensuring a healthier state of mind. Adventure is out there–it’s up to you to escape the concrete jungle to find it.
~ Stephanie Flaksman, LECOM ’18, District 5 social coordinator