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Why Can't I Focus? - Lifestyle Tips for Dental Staff to Stay Happy and Productive

June 15, 20236 min read

This may sound grim, but the fact is Dentistry is a demanding and high-stress profession, with long hours, difficult patients, and complex procedures. This can lead to burnout and overwhelming feelings which may contribute to depression and, in the extreme, suicidal thoughts.

We live in an age of abundance. Most of us enjoy access to information at the touch of a button, have clean clothing, a place to live and plenty of food and water. Why then have depression rates in the UK been increasing over the past few decades? According to the Mental Health Foundation, the number of people in the UK experiencing depression has been steadily increasing since the 1990s.

The Office for National Statistics reported around 1 in 6 (16%) adults experienced moderate to severe depressive symptoms; this is similar to rates found in summer 2021 (17%), but higher than pre-pandemic levels (10%). Research has shown that individuals with depression tend to have reduced cognitive control and difficulty with sustained attention, working memory, and decision-making.

Additionally, depression can also impact executive functioning, which includes skills such as planning, organising, and prioritising tasks, all of which are essential for dental teams. These difficulties with cognitive functioning can make it difficult to stay focused and productive, which can lead to further feelings of frustration and despair. Add to that mix the demands of daily practice life and we have a recipe for disaster.

I know this to be true because, for the first 6-8 years of my dental career, I was no happy camper. Often drinking on the weekends to “feel” better. Now I am not insinuating that all dental teams are depressed or felt as bad as I did, although sometimes our days are so tough we can certainly feel quite low. Mental health is a spectrum and not a binary depression or no depression.

Positive emotions can improve our ability to cope with stress and overcome obstacles, which can help us stay focused and productive in the face of challenges. The relationship between happiness and focus is likely bidirectional, meaning that focus can also contribute to happiness. When we are able to stay focused and productive, we are more likely to achieve our goals, which can lead to a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This, in turn, can contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being.

Regardless of where you fall on the said spectrum, my intention in this piece is to give you free practical lifestyle tips that can help you focus during your working day and increase feelings of happiness and fulfillment. So let's get into it.

1. How to defend your sleep:

One way that technology can contribute to depression is by disrupting sleep patterns. Exposure to the blue light emitted by electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets can interfere with the production of sleep hormones, which can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle and lead to sleep problems. Poor sleep quality and quantity have been linked to an increased risk of depression.

Solution: I make sure that I use the bedroom for getting changed, reading, sleeping, talking with my spouse or “wink wink” and nothing else. I leave my phone charging downstairs overnight which has the added benefit of making sure I get up when I planned to, as I physically have to go downstairs to turn the alarm off.

I also watch youtube or use social media in the evening downstairs on the sofa before going to bed. Thereby neatly compartmentalising both the living room and the bedroom for their respective functions and not blurring the lines. We’ve all been there using a phone in bed only to realise hours have passed by and we are going to get less sleep than anticipated and that of course spills over into the next day with grogginess, lethargy and lack of focus.

Some advocate the use of “blue blocker” glasses to offset the effects of the device light in the evenings. I have used this before but was too inconsistent to comment further. Try it and see if it helps.

2. How to not be controlled by Social Media:

Another way that technology can contribute to depression is by promoting social isolation and reducing face-to-face social interaction. Social media use, for example, has been linked to increased feelings of loneliness and social comparison, which can contribute to depression.

Now I am not against social media, it's a great way of connecting with people, learning, laughing and exploring. However, the mega minds behind social media companies have poured countless resources into making their platforms as engaging as possible. In a nutshell, they are addictive and provide “random rewards” reinforcing us to open the apps interrupting our days even when there isn't a notification! Like slot machines, they are powerful.

Fun fact: Slot machines are examples of random reward machines. The concept is so powerful that over a billion dollars per day enter slot machines in the United States of America!

Solution: I turned off all notifications on my phone aside from phone calls. I also have an “App blocker” installed which only lets me use social media apps

at lunchtime and from 8-10pm.

I then check my messenger apps at preset times, so using a smartphone is net beneficial rather than controlling my behaviour.

3. Stop App addiction:

Once upon a time, most adults smoked cigarettes, lighting up whenever and wherever they felt like it. Smartphone apps could be considered the cigarettes of the modern day. I have been guilty of sitting with my children only to be distracted by the lights and flashes of my phone. Guilt ensues I would put it away only to make the same mistake the next day! So why did this happen repeatedly, surely my children are more important than a meme from a friend?!

Apps are designed to be engaging, they encourage the release of brain chemicals that light up in anticipation of a reward and they provide instant gratification (oh how we love this).

Solution: Get your smartphone on a detox:
- Uninstall apps that do not serve you and add benefits to your life.
- Move the most addictive ones from your home screen to another, so you have to find it to use it. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
- Notifications are off as they interrupt our concentration and focus.

I could go on and on about modern-day distractions and what helped me overcome most of them. I’m human, I'm not perfect and still fall foul, but I’m miles better off than the former groggy me. I hope you found this beneficial and are able to implement some of the tips into your life, giving you happiness, focus and a smoother working day. If you’d like to explore the matter further I recommend the book “Indistractable” by Nir Eyal.

I’ve been a dentist for 13+ years and now help dentists overcome restorative challenges, so they can earn more, have less stress, delight their patients and be home on time for dinner with their loved ones!

If you'd like to reduce the stress levels you face clinically as a Dentist or Dental Therapist then book a FREE zoom restorative lunch and learn here. And see why so many of your colleagues rely on the Greater Curve Matrix System and being part of the DRE community.

I want a free lunch and learn with a CPD certificate!

If you’d like to connect and discuss any of the above further do not hesitate to search for me Sandeep Sadana on LinkedIn or connect with us @drecomposite on Instagram and Facebook

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Dr Sunny

I am on a mission to give dentists everywhere, a more predictable approach to common restorative problems that we all face daily. That's why I've developed the D.R.E. Course.

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