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!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Working in dentistry can be extremely tough on your body.
In fact, compared to other professionals, dental hygienists are at a far greater risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) that affect the soft and hard tissues. Between 60% and 96% of hygienists suffering from neck, shoulder, wrist, hand, or back pain.
Furthermore, since you spend practically all day helping people, you’re dealing with prolonged exposure to physical and psychological stress. Chairside burnout is a genuine and problematic issue for many hygienists.
Taking care of yourself as a dental professional is a must! Here, we’ll discuss 7 tips that’ll help you perform at your best on the job without compromising your physical or mental health.
In short, ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. Really, the idea is for you to be honed in to your own posture and position.
For a dental hygienist such as yourself, the following facets of your job should be optimized for ergonomics:
One example of an effective ergonomic measure is using anatomical or “handed” gloves instead of ambidextrous gloves (which put up to 33% more pressure on the thumbs and fingers). Also, remember to stretch regularly throughout the day!
Since you’re a hygienist, you must find the balance between physicality and mentality. And breathing techniques employed in yoga can be that centring factor.
Yoga’s focus on breathing and posture helps combat the various musculoskeletal issues and burnout you might face.
For instance, savasana – the final meditative posture – helps establish a calm and reduction of blood pressure. It also aids in better sleep and reduction of stress.
Having first been used in Japan in the 1970s, cryotherapy exposes the body to a -100°C temperature for around one to four minutes. Cryotherapy chambers can be entire rooms or structures that resemble barrels that expose you, neck-down, to the liquid nitrogen.
There is an array of studies and scientific evidence that prove the value of these treatments. Namely, for dental hygienists, cryotherapy helps treat musculoskeletal pain and related ailments.
Chiropractors use a holistic approach to treating musculoskeletal disorders. Primarily, such treatments center around proper spine alignment. With the adjustments provided, chiropractic professionals believe that healing is enabled without the need for surgery or pharmaceuticals.
There is a wealth of techniques and methods of treatments, such as manual-diversified techniques. All chiropractors are different, so treatment lengths differ depending on their philosophy.
While the title of this section suggests that massages are something of a treat, in your profession, they’re a necessity for keeping happy and healthy!
In utilizing rhythmical pressure and stroking, massage therapists help prevent, develop, maintain, rehabilitate and augment physical function while relieving pain.
Now, the benefits of massages can be short term, but they do improve lymph flow and prevent fibrosis, for instance. Also, they increase serotonin levels and provide endorphins, which helps with the anxiety and stress you may feel on the job.
Not only does acupuncture have proven results, it’s specifically been useful for dental hygienists who’ve been suffering from musculoskeletal disorders.
This form of treatment theorizes that an imbalance in the body’s energy flow (or chi/qi) causes illness. This flow of energy is accessible through around 350 points on the body where thin needles are inserted to restore balance and harmony.
It’s believed by many that meditative practices play a big part in improving psychological, neurological, and cardiovascular function.
Best of all? There’s no gym membership or meditation guru needed. All you have to do is sit upright and still while focusing your attention on something like breathing.
With these 7 methods of self-care, you’ll feel happier and healthier in your dental practice!