Tough times come and go, and one of the challenges is we never know exactly when they will strike. It could be a national emergency like COVID-19, a tragedy in your town, or even a personal setback.
In any case, these kinds of events can exacerbate what is already one of the biggest challenges in the dental profession: burnout.
Dentists, hygienists and other dental professionals report a very high incidence of stress and burnout, with concerns ranging from litigation to regulation to maintaining high standards of patient care.
What does burnout look like, and how can you avoid it in these difficult times? Below, we’ll help you recognize the warning signs and outline ways to build your resilience – whether times are good, bad, or somewhere in between!
What is ‘Burnout’ in the Dental Profession?
Burnout is a state of overall exhaustion that affects your mind, emotions, and body, caused by exposure to prolonged and excessive stress.
When you’re going through a personal struggle or affected by an event like COVID-19, there will always be times of greater stress in your life. Add that to the day-to-day challenges of managing your business and career… it’s easy to see how these forces combine into a recipe for burnout.
Burnout can stem from anything in your life that causes long-term stress. Living through a long, stressful period in your practice, whether your business is struggling to survive or overloaded with patients, is a common cause. Even if you don’t own the clinic directly, the strain from these types of situations can get to you – in fact, dental assistants show higher burnout scores in studies than other staff.
What Burnout Looks Like
Burnout makes every day feel like a bad day. It often feels like you have lost your passion for everything, and work that used to excite and challenge you suddenly seems dull and pointless. You may feel like nothing you do makes a difference, even when it does.
The main difference between ordinary stress and burnout is that burnout is a chronic condition. While stress is temporary, burnout is constant. When you’re experiencing stress, cynicism, exhaustion and frustration day in and day out, you could be experiencing dental burnout.
Everyone reacts differently to prolonged stress, so burnout won’t look the same in each person. It’s important not to discount your burnout simply because it looks different than someone else’s.
Common signs of burnout include:
- Declining performance at work
- Cynicism and a generally negative view of life
- Physical illness, including headaches or digestive issues
- Feeling exhausted no matter how much you sleep
- Overall disengagement with work and your personal life
Once you’ve hit burnout, you may need professional help to recover. Don’t be shy about looking for a therapist, counsellor, psychiatrist or another mental health professional to help you get back on your feet.
How to Be Resilient and Avoid Burnout
The key to avoiding dental burnout is to prioritize your own needs. That can be very hard for dentists and hygienists, who feel they have such a strong obligation to others’ needs.
Because dentistry is a caregiving profession, it’s easy to get so focused on taking care of your patients and others in your life that you forget to nurture yourself. This is especially true if you spend a lot of time with patients, hearing their stories and sharing in their challenges.
However, you can’t give back when you’re pushed up against the wall. Taking care of yourself is how you maintain your ability to care for others.
Chances are you’re familiar with the notion of “self-care”, but many people are mistaken thinking it’s all about pampering yourself. Self-care goes far deeper than that. Pampering is great, but you need to take other steps as well!
Here are some ways to care for yourself:
- Calm your mind with meditation or other mindfulness practices
- Eat healthy meals that provide you with the energy you need
- Exercise regularly to stay healthy and keep endorphins flowing
- Prioritize time for hobbies and relaxing with loved ones
- Don’t hesitate to seek out counselling or mental health services
It’s important to understand that having limitations does not make you a failure. Everyone has limitations. Recognizing that and respecting it helps you stay healthy and avoid burnout.
Make time for yourself. Realize the importance of your role and that your work makes a difference. When you do, you’ll be building resilience and protecting yourself from burnout.