We have all had it happen, that moment when Mrs. Smith, in the middle of a normal conversation regarding an appointment, financial, or treatment commitment, flips into an angry rant – seemingly out of the blue.
According to several studies, we now know that anxiety often presents itself as anger, as the two emotions are frequently co-mingled in the limbic brain.
And where can we find a whole lot of anxious people? – The dental office.
According to the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychiatry, people who are severely anxious regarding social situations are much more prone to outbursts of anger. When a situation is ambiguous, such as a large unexpected expense to a person on a tight budget, or a procedure requiring passive cooperation when a person’s memory is full of fearful experiences – the individual tends to assume the worst case scenario.
The new expense is going to wipe them out! The trip with the kids will have to be canceled! The car payments will not be met! The procedure will cause excruciating pain while being trapped, and they have no way to stop it!
Dr. Gregory Jantz, author of “Overcoming Anxiety, Worry, and Fear,” tells us that anger often emerges as a dysfunctional coping response to a emotionally charged situations, and this is because both anxiety and anger run on adrenaline – the “fight or flight” hormone.
High anxiety over a new and seemingly unmanageable expense, or a procedure where the person fears physical harm (real or imagined), leaves the person feeling out of control and totally vulnerable. Anger is subconsciously triggered from the limbic brain to make the person feel more powerful, and more capable of confronting the perceived threat to their well being.
So there you have it. This is how the normally composed Mrs. Smith, who serves on the committee for the homeless, and who is well known to be kind and generous flips into an unexpected rant.
How can we avoid this, as it is unproductive to everyone involved? By consciously taking the time to develop truly helping relationships with each and every patient. By listening, particularly for issues which are anxiety-provoking in a person, and gently exploring the issues with them. By avoiding conversations which are centered around telling people only what is wrong with them, instead of what is right about them, and the positive possibilities which exist for them if they are approach in a thoughtful, strategic fashion.
Pretty much everyone who walks our door wants us to help them. By talking the time to know them better – particularly on the emotional level, helps us to do that much more effectively.
And isn’t that what we all want for our patients?
Paul A. Henny, DDS
Thought Experiments LLC, ©2018
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