I went to the dentist this week, and, besides for telling me I have three cavities, my new dentist also told me that I have been grinding my teeth at night.
“Look at how much smaller your bottom teeth are than your top teeth,” she commanded as she handed me a mirror. I dutifully checked it out as she continued. “This is from you grinding your teeth while you sleep. You need to start wearing a night guard,” she said as she leaned in closer, raising her voice ever so slightly as if telling a ghost story to a small child, “or when you get older you will have no teeth!”
Well, that got my attention. So much so that now, four days later, my jaw still clenching from stress.
I looked up bruxism, or the habit of grinding teeth, on-line, and I read possible causes are tension and stress, a competitive personality, or repressed anger. I never thought that I was a person like that. All of my life, people have remarked about how easy-going I am. I have a remarkable ability to calm people and animals.
Yet, ever since I left that dentist appointment, I have not been able to relax my jaw. Maybe it was the hour of holding my mouth open for the exam and cleaning, maybe it was the power of suggestion that has been making my jaw hold on so damn tight. Maybe it has to do with some possible big changes I am facing in my life.
Or maybe, I am secretly a huge stressball. A couple of days ago, I was working with a client who suffers from panic attacks, and I was sharing with her experiences people who panic are likely to have. This list comes from the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund J. Bourne. First, there is an initiating (stressful) circumstance, and then a person may have a slight increase in physiological symptoms of stress (shortness of breath, hear palpitations, etc.). Next, the person will increasingly focus on these symptoms, making them more noticeable and easily magnified. (And, this is where I stopped and said to myself, “Hey, I totally do that!”) I continued the last two steps with my client, which include a catastrophic interpretation of the symptoms (like thinking you are having a heart attack), and then full on panic, and then I made a mental note to think about that thing I do, later, on my own time.
I was able to come up with several examples of times I have intensely focused on small bodily symptoms, and imagined the absolute worst. I have experienced how powerful the mind is when I have done this, because it has totally magnified the symptoms. For example, several years back I went to Guatemala to study Spanish, and developed a rash while I was there (probably from the excessive amounts of laundry detergent used). One day, I was sitting with my Spanish teacher. She noticed my rash, and promptly started telling me horror stories, like how she once knew someone who had a bug lay eggs under their skin. As she told me story after horrible story, the rash spread and spread…and spread, so much that we decided to take out lesson to a local clinic, where the doctor dismissively told me I had a rash.
Now that I have a son, I’m even worse. Every little bump or red mark must be cancer or something equally horrendous. He has a gray hair. This must mean his kidneys are going to fail!
I also remembered a dream I had, which is somewhat vague now, where there was some kind of healing going on. Someone (maybe me) was laying on the floor, and the healer was taking a sickness out of the person laying down. Bubbles floated around the room, which represented the sickness. In the dream, I was focusing intently on the bubbles, and they got bigger and bigger, and I realized that wherever I focus my attention, that is what I magnify and manifest. This is so true and so amazing, and also very scary if you do not know how to control your mind.
Oftentimes, I really don’t know how to control my mind (and sometimes, heartbreaking things happen no matter where you place your attention).
Anyway, I am going to be choosing and practicing some of these activities that are known to decrease symptoms of any kind of anxiety or panic disorder. I will also break down in detail some of them at some point in time.
Anxiety reduction Techniques:
- Relaxation exercises
- Physical exercise
- Working with mistaken beliefs
- Access and express feelings
- Be assertive
- Build self-esteem
- Eat well
- Find meaning/practice spirituality.
I know this won’t last forever. When I go through periods of anxiety, I am usually adjusting to new stressors. With time, and with self-care practices like those listed above, I integrate the stress and move on. At least I though I did, until I learned I am probably saving the stress for sleepy time and then gradually wearing my teeth down to tiny nubs. Maybe my dentist was wrong; maybe my bottom teeth have always been smaller.
I will get that mouth guard, just in case.