An Ounce of Prevention

Alex Frisbie, DMD

I really don’t like the term self-care, mostly because I hear it all the time, and it sounds a little whiney. But all of us can admit that taking care of ourselves (literally self-care) will result in a happier life and a longer career. So call it what you will, but I’ve recently undertaken a few self-care initiatives that are working well for me.

First, I bought new loupes with an increased working distance and a greater angle of declination. I actually bought the loupes because I was living in fear of my old pair breaking and being unable to treat a full schedule of patients. The ergonomic improvements were an afterthought, but I soon realized that I should have made the investment a long time ago. Most of us are wearing loupes these days. The magnification and illumination are game changers, but don’t forget to re-evaluate the ergonomics of your loupes. I still vividly remember the sales rep at the school loupe fair talking students out of a longer working distance because “in the real world, you’ll be bending and tilting to see all areas of the mouth.” Perfect ergonomics isn’t realistic one hundred percent of the time, and I’ll still do some acrobatics for the benefit of a geriatric patient in a wheelchair. But that rep led us astray; our equipment should promote ergonomics rather than limit us, and my new loupes encourage a more upright posture. I’ll even admit that applying to endo residencies has crossed my mind a time or two just to sit upright at a microscope!

Secondly, I made a conscious effort to reduce portion size and improve eating habits. I don’t stress too much about what I’m eating, as long as most meals include fruits and vegetables and not too heavy on carbohydrates. I try to eat a smaller portion during meals. I probably got used to overeating when I was younger and more active and as my activity level slowed down I failed to adjust my diet. I’m eating closer to what is recommended for an average adult, but it feels like less to me. This “diet” is simple, forgiving, and doesn’t make me feel weighed down throughout my day. I actually notice more energy when I eat less.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’ve developed a better night time routine. I’m not sure if I should classify this as sleep habit or exercise or both, but it by far has had the most noticeable impact on how I feel. In the past, I’ve struggled with healthy sleep, but I find a light physical activity that requires mental concentration simultaneously relaxes my body physically and helps my brain wind down. It started when I had a sore neck after a long day, so I lay on the floor and began to stretch. As I held the stretches, I noticed that my thoughts weren’t going a mile a minute and I was feeling overall much more relaxed.

Now, I do a simple series of relaxing stretches that are probably a primitive form of yoga. It’s actually shocking how much deeper I sleep when I do this, and it never seems to fail no matter how stressed, worried, or busy I am. The key (and this takes practice) is to really mentally focus on each exercise. My mind has a hard time going from a hundred miles per hour during the day to zero during sleep, and this seems to really help with the transition. It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment—it’s the very last thing I do before I crawl into bed and I’m usually getting noticeably sleepy in under four or five minutes.

At the risk of sounding too much like a millennial, I encourage everyone to make one or two self-care changes to make your days easier and more enjoyable.