The post-pandemic burnout rate is astounding. Some describe it as hitting a wall and they don’t understand why. I mean, we’re coming out of the pandemic, right? In the preliminary days of shutdowns, mask mandates, and toilet paper hoarding, many of us kicked into overdrive. Isn’t that what responsible adults do? When life throws us curveballs, we rise to the challenge. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? Perhaps. But as the world is opening up, many of us are beginning to realize the detriment of 18 months of sustained stress.
That is precisely what burnout is: A prolonged state of stress. The result can lead to emotional, mental, and even physical exhaustion. Burnout doesn’t hit with sudden onset symptoms like the flu. Its symptoms are more insidious, until one day you awaken to feeling like you are trudging through quicksand.
There are stages that lead to burnout. Some refer to the initial stage as the ‘honeymoon stage’. At the onset of undertaking a new role or task, even when it is something forced on us, like Covid, we adapt and roll with the changes, kicking into overdrive if necessary. If it’s a new job, we experience heightened job satisfaction, enthusiasm, and renewed inspiration.
Inevitably, if the stress level is not deescalated, we move to the next phase. In this stage we begin to experience the overwhelm and acknowledge its existence. Continuing on, if we refuse to effectively manage its weightiness, we plow into phase three. In this stage, we find we are existing in a chronic state of stress. Sustained anxiety, if unaddressed, will lead to the most burdensome and weighty fourth stage: Burnout.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Help Your Team Beat WFH Burnout” as of November 2020, more than 2 million women have left the workforce as a result of Covid-induced burnout and fatigue. People of color are experiencing increased mental and emotional fatigue due to the fear of losing their jobs. And for those of us who have continued professionally, mostly unaffected by business-related Covid stress, “normal” stress still abounds. The heavy burden of deadlines and the weight of life still exist.
Some individuals are at high risk of experiencing burnout. We have glorified “the hustle” and particular personalities such as those labeled as type A thrive on their productivity and accomplishments. Dental professionals are known for being driven perfectionists who must be in control. Precision and perfectionism are great when placing an implant or creating perfect margins, but too easily that mindset crosses over into other aspects of our lives, creating a perfect storm for burnout.
How do we combat burnout? For starters, prioritize yourself: your mental, emotional and physical health. Maintain or begin a physical exercise regimen, but set reasonable parameters. We are well aware of the benefits of exercise on both our physical and mental health. Enrolling in an exercise class or enlisting an accountability partner is a good idea. If you tend to be an overachiever, avoid signing up for a physical challenge, marathon, or triathlon. These can become consuming, and while physical benefits will occur, in excess it could contribute to our burnout.
Be mindful of your diet, boosting it with foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts, pecans, flaxseed oil, spinach, eggs, and spinach have multiple health benefits and act as natural antidepressants.
Sleep is essential for our well-being. We know this. After all, this is why so many of us have incorporated sleep medicine into our dental practices. While you preach to your patients about the benefits of quality sleep, remember you’re preaching to the choir. Turn off social media and television one hour before bedtime. Practice what you preach.
Learn the art of saying no. While it sounds simplistic, for some this can be the most daunting of all. Fear of disappointing others is often the greatest reason some people struggle with saying no. Every time you decline a project or task you shouldn’t take on, you are saying yes to yourself. YOU are your greatest assignment.
There is so much chatter nowadays about how it’s ok to not be okay. During times of stress and overwhelm, reach out for help. It truly is ok to not be ok all the time. True leaders lead by example. When you reach out to a friend, partner, coach, or mental health professional, you are placing yourself in an empowering position of vulnerability. You are blazing the path for those who are following in your footsteps.
Her clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.
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