I’m grinding my teeth. I had no idea that I was doing it until my last check up at the dentist. She simply said: “Oh I can see your teeth are pretty worn down. Looks like you’re grinding at night. Probably stress.” A quick shrug, and on she went with her dental cleansing procedures.
While I was still chewing on what she had just said, as an afterthought, she casually added: “Might be worth looking into getting a teeth guard. Many people have one.”
I couldn’t talk with all the tools in my mouth, so I had time to think. And the longer I thought, the more I felt there was something really, really wrong with this conversation.
Of course I was getting worried about my teeth. But that’s just on a personal level. From a broader perspective, what does it mean if dentists look at worn down teeth, shrugging, brushing it all off? Is it considered “normal” that we’re creating self-destructive habits to cope with the grinding stress of our gadget addicted, 21st century lifestyle?
The conversation at my dentist reminded me of the book “A life worth breathing” by Max Strom. Over decades he has been working with people who try to heal themselves through yoga and has come across some who have to spend several minutes every morning on “unlocking their jaw”: they wake up with their jaw muscles so tense that they are simply unable to eat or drink!
It was one of those reading moments where you’d just think “come on, really?” – but my dentist’s reaction is proof that we’re talking about a trend (or disease, if you like) that’s clearly coming towards us like a massive wave. (I’ve heard of conversations between managers where you’re being looked upon with suspicion if you don’t already have a teeth guard. I mean, come on, your job isn’t stressful – implication: important – or what?…)
But it doesn’t stop here. The truly worrying bit is this: The proposed way of fixing the problem is inserting a piece of rubber into your mouth that stops you from grinding your teeth. It’s similar to what they do with horses who swallow air because they’re terribly bored in their tiny shoebox-sized stables: Tying a band around their neck that prevents them from doing it.
But what happens next? Exactly, they resort to things like continuously swinging their head from side to side. For us humans, there are ample opportunities to engage in similar things, among them biting nails, chewing on pens, twisting or pulling out hair – the possibilities are endless.
It feels like instead of asking ourselves how we can manage our stress we actually manage the symptoms.
I’ve decided that a good starting point is increasing the time I sit in meditation. As the saying goes:
If you have time, sit for 20 minutes every day. If you don’t have time, sit for one hour.
What are the signs telling you that life has been too stressful recently? And what are your strategies to cope?
Wishing you a stressless, relaxing weekend,