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Home > Dental Conditions > Dental Anxiety > Overcoming Dental Fears Through Relaxation
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Overcoming Dental Fears Through Relaxation

Relaxation can help you overcome dental fear.

Just relax -- easier said than done in most cases. If you're one of those folks who can cocoon themselves behind a set of headphones and snuggle into the dentist's chair, I applaud you. Not everyone can.

If you don't know if soothing music or your favorite lyrics will make you more relaxed during a procedure, sitting in the dentist's chair is probably not the best initial place to test out the theory. If you've tried before and think the ritual is of no use in making you calmer, you may want to try again.

Relaxation is somewhat of an art -- which means it is a learned skill. We aren't born with relax buttons conveniently located at the base of our left ring fingers. But wouldn't it be nice if we were equipped that way: The baby's fussing? Teenager having a tantrum? Grandpa's acting cranky? Feeling tense while the dentist is probing on a sensitive tooth? No problem! Reach over and press the button for instant comfort. Even though relax buttons are not part of our standard equipment, our minds are. With correct mind-control methods and practice, you can learn to be more at ease.

Practice -- we're mobile now because once upon a time, we stood on our feet and practiced moving them forward one step at a time. We can read the newspaper today because we practiced sounding out words, one at a time. Relaxation is like that too. If you want to be good at it, you have to practice it.

Listening to music as a form of diversion is a good relaxation technique. The key is to focus, really focus, on the sounds coming into your ears. Listen so closely that you can identify the spaces between the notes, the pauses between the words in the lyrics. Do it long enough with the same tune, and you can find yourself knowing what notes come next, or hum it inside your head without making any external sound.

Conscious listening is not always easy because we've got so much going on in our minds most of the time. As humans, we're wired to take input from all of our senses, so it may seem challenging to concentrate on just one thing.

We've all experienced fragmented focus: someone new is introduced to us and 21 seconds later we can't remember her name. We've all had moments of intense focus. Confining your attention and being in your "own little world" is not limited to children; even as adults we do it. You miss something somebody said because you're engrossed with what's on TV. You turn on the radio to find out today's weather forecast, and totally missed it because you were absorbed in looking for your keys, shoes or some other essential you need before heading out the door. You miss what was said during a meeting because you're thinking of ideas to solve the problem that was just reported. These are examples of non-intentional lack-of-focus.

Strange as it may sound, genuine relaxation requires intentional focus -- a change of focus. And it's much more a mind activity than a body one. When you're feeling tense or strained, I don't recommend the technique of bringing a pleasant experience to mind. Why? Because we have very few purely pleasant experiences to draw from. Recall a vacation, and your mind is bound to wander from an awesome aspect to an awful one. Then, instead of having calming thoughts, you'll find yourself with something different to help upset you. Having an old aggravation rise to the surface isn't going to help you feel more at ease. It may have the opposite effect. You will be adding to your distress instead of subtracting from it.

Sticking to more neutral thoughts is your best bet. One of the most effective ways to do this is to imagine yourself making an impartial report. No opinions, just facts. Most people are familiar with their vehicles, so the report you're creating in your mind can go like this: I drive a 2000 Buick LeSabre -- it's got four doors, four white-wall tires, beige exterior paint, beige leather seats, a split-bench seat in the front, automatic transmission and a gear shift on the steering column. Don't stop there. Describe all the details of the dashboard: digital readout, radio and CD player? Is there a built-in cup holder? Where? What color is the carpeting? The floor mats? Are they fabric or a heavier synthetic material? How many seatbelts? How many windows? How many of the windows are stationary? How many can you open? Power or manual window and door lock controls? Where is the emergency flasher?

If you don't own a vehicle, recall the place where you live, or a specific room. The idea is to describe an item or a place in way that someone else could verify the facts. Not that they have to -- you're going through the exercise for yourself. The only reason behind it is to shift your attention away from the thoughts that are stressing you out. Change your thoughts, and you will change the way you feel.

You can't simply drop thoughts or ideas. You must replace one thought with another until you, in your mind, have changed the subject. When you keep your mind busy thinking of neutral details or facts, it doesn't leave room for the negative, agitating or disruptive thoughts to creep back in.

You might think this replacement technique is too simple to be effective. I did too, until I used it to stop my panicky feeling from escalating into panic attacks. It works for severe tension, feeling a little on edge and any level in-between. Plus, it's a lot more interesting than counting backwards from ten to one.

Instead of allowing your thoughts to lead you, guide them. The result is you'll feel a lot better when you do!

Remember, only a dentist can diagnose your dental problems and offer the right treatment plan for you. If you need a dentist, call us at 1-866-970-0441 to be connected with one today.

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