Dr. Julie Kellogg: New Year, Same Pandemic – Four Ways to Get on the Good Side of 2021

2021 has arrived and we still have stress and a pandemic. How do we keep hoping and thriving? Here are four tips to beat the stress.
Dr. Julie Kellogg

Dr. Julie Kellogg
Chair, WSDA News Editorial Advisory Board

“...If we can just get through 2020.” How many times did we say that last year? A billion?

2021 has arrived, and so has the disappointment. With the changing of the digit, no magic came along in its carry-on bag. We still have stress and a pandemic. How do we keep hoping and thriving?

Here are four tips to beat the stress.

Name Your Feelings

It is common, maybe even cool, to say “I’m stressed” or “I’m busy” or “I’m anxious,” but perhaps we aren’t being accurate. Try to go beyond the first word that comes to mind. Our ability to specifically name our emotions benefits both ourselves and those we are speaking with. It adds color to a black and white picture.

By choosing a more descriptive word, we can clearly understand what we are feeling and take better action on our feelings: I am tired and need extra sleep. Or: I feel uneasy about the outcome of this challenging project. My favorite: I am excited that the sun peeked out today.

Focus on What YOU Can Control

My fellow dentist and coaching colleague Dr. Karen Tindall, founder of Balanced Doctor, speaks about the rings of influence. She says, “When looking at the things that worry us, we can ask ourselves three questions:

1. Is this something that I can get done without any support? If yes, it is something you have complete control of. Do it right now or put it on your schedule.

2. Is this something that I could get done with support? If yes, identify who can help you. This is something that you have partial control of.

3. Is this something that I can have any influence over? If no, it is beyond your control. Release the weight of worries that you cannot change.”

Personally, I like to focus my sphere of control on my health. I can control how much water I drink, what food I choose to eat, and adding some extra movement in my day.

Rings of Influence

Find Fluidity

Most of us are drawn to water, whether it’s crashing waves on the beach or the gurgles of a meandering creek. Water bends, fills, and adapts to its surroundings. Fluidity is letting go of attachment to any one outcome.

Fluidity becomes both the key and the paradox of control. The more we try to control and the more attached we become to a certain outcome, the more energy we waste. Fluidity is recognizing and accepting that our current vision might be limited. This does NOT mean that we let go of our goals; rather, it means we can adapt to change without wasting energy.

I was determined to send 2020 out on my terms by going skiing. But upon arrival at the mountain on Dec. 31, nearly every chair lift was stopped due to high winds, with little chance of improvement. It felt like 2020 got me again. Finding fluidity helped me remember that it was sunny and calm in the valley. I adapted and enjoyed a hike with the dogs along the river and a soak in the Jacuzzi.

Look for the Funny Story

When we are overwhelmed by stress, we are blocked from seeing the humor unfolding right in front of us. So we have to go looking for it.

My first day of dentistry in 2021 was wrapping up. As I introduced myself to a patient, he informed me that we’d met before, in elementary school. I looked at the name on the digital chart again — oh, this guy! He was the kid who shared the chicken pox with the class right before Christmas! The irritating memory still clear in my mind, I had a fleeting thought of revenge. I chose instead to deliver some great composite restorations with a wry smile on my face. And then my next patient, a 7-year-old, serenaded me with “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows” during his hygiene exam. This little tune will immediately put a smile on your face.

What a way to start 2021. I laughed — and it felt good.

This editorial originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of WSDA News.

The views expressed in all WSDA publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the official positions or policies of the WSDA.