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Battling Burnout? Time to Reset.

Posted January 6, 2022

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

[Big exhale] 

Now that the holiday is over, can we all take that long overdue collective breath? I know I need it, and I suspect you do, too. 

It’s been a long year (actually years), and if you have avoided hitting an emotional or physical breaking point at some point in recent months, consider yourself exceptional. Most of us are living in a chronic state of fatigue. In normal times, the daily rhythm of our workday creates fatigue, requiring us to rest and retreat. But these days, with our adrenals pushed to their limits, it’s even more critical. We must first care for ourselves, before we can care for others, including our patients and coworkers. It’s like the airline safety demonstration shared on every flight: we have to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we can turn to help our neighbor. 

Impacting and providing transformational dental care is the most fulfilling and rewarding aspect of our work as dental professionals. Without it, burnout can lead to us wanting to quit or just walk away. So, how do we emotionally and physically reset and recover from burnout? The reset starts with a journey inward to know yourself and understand the kind of recovery work that you need. Here are some ways to press reset. 

Taking Inventory of Negative Thoughts & Emotions

Take a gut check on any negative emotions, attitudes, and feelings before making any big personal or professional life decisions.   

When we hit burnout, our emotions will feel exaggerated. Even the slightest upset can feel much bigger than it actually is. So before jumping ship to another dental practice or taking another career path, set aside some time to intentionally do recovery/healing work to get into a clearer state of mind to make more sound decisions and interact in a more positive way. 

1. Tap Into Your Creative Side:

Creativity, like laughter, fights the doldrums of everyday life. Creativity comes from within and satisfies our internal needs to take control and awaken positive energy. The process is restorative and leads to highly satisfying outcomes, such as positively influencing the health and happiness of others. Sometimes when we think of creativity, we think only of the “arts” and activities that actual “artists” do, but creativity is doing anything that engages the right side of your brain and induces your imagination, intuition, meditation, visualization, and even anything rhythmic, like listening to or making music, singing or dancing. 

2. Take A Self Care Inventory: 

So many of us let our “fuel tanks” run on empty at some point in the past year. Maybe we stopped exercising or even walking the dog because there was never enough time. Or we fell out of routines that kept us feeling sane and happy. The truth is, if we don’t set our intentions, these things will not happen on their own. It’s that simple. We meet schedules and deadlines for everyone else, all the time. Why not for ourselves? 

Make a list of some things that will help incorporate self-care into your daily routine. Then set intentions and plans by scheduling it on a calendar and into your day. 

Example: Regular exercise, adequate sleep, improved nutrition, more education… 

Tip: The most important thing about setting an intention, the thing that trips people up when they set goals, is perfectionism. 

Perfectionism is a goal-crusher. Why? Because it’s so easy to feel compelled to abandon our intention and goals when we screw up. And we do mess up because we’re human. But that shouldn’t derail our getting back on task. Our negative self-talk often talks us out of any chance at future success. We equate missing one small part of a larger goal tantamount to sabotaging the whole goal. Successful people aren’t successful because they never fail, they are successful because they fail and keep going. 

If we want to detach from our mistakes and missed opportunities, we must learn to let them go. Meditation is a great practice to help with this, including letting go of negative self-talk and judgment. 

3. Take a True Break:

Let’s be honest, the holidays are often hectic, stressful, and usually not a relaxing time to disconnect from the world and reconnect with yourself. If you were busy I hope that you were at least able to use them to reconnect with people who radiate positive energy and make your cup feel full. I try to intentionally put work out of my mind for whole days and nights at a time, and reach out to those people who’ve been on my list.

4. Connect at a Deeper Level With Patients:

We all know that by showing interest in and genuinely caring about people, we engender trust and connection. Making emotional connections with others uplifts us. That feeling–that connectedness, goes a long way towards burnout recovery. And it is one of the most cited reasons why dental professionals say they like their jobs.

Consider making a goal to intentionally connect on a deeper level with at least one patient a day. Be creative in the questions you ask and show interest in learning what is important to the patient. Use an interesting, original, and individualized metaphor to explain an oral health condition in a way the patient can relate to, based on the patient’s profession, favorite sport, or hobbies.

5. Show Up With Intention, and Foster a Healthy Team Spirit:

We are contagious and we attract what we are. If we show up in a state of negativity, we can expect to get the same in return. If we are grateful, thankful, helpful, and singing others praises, that is what will boomerang back to us. Show up with intention and see the impact it has. Over time, observe how your intentional actions transform the team culture and happiness of others. But most importantly, notice how it transforms and energizes you. 

6. Treat Others as You’d Like to be Treated:

When we take control and operate from our core values, everyone wins. Our personal sword against burnout is sharpened by acts of kindness that build resilience from the burnout in the people who surround us and impact is daily. Walk the high road that avoids office drama and gossip while being careful not to exude superiority.

7. Communicate Openly and With Intention:

Speak up, respectfully, about the things that are important to you and what you need from your workplace, manager, and team members. Need 5 more minutes with patients? More respectful use of a shared operatory from coworkers? Need access to better equipment, resources, or training on new technologies. Don’t be timid in asking. Or maybe you’re finding it difficult to make ends meet on your wages? Honest disclosure about this could result in a raise.

It’s up to us to create our own “recovery from burnout plans.” Only we know what best serves us and what no longer does. Putting thought and energy into creating our preferred futures is far more rewarding than complaining about our current reality. There is no better time of year to move forward with becoming the best version of ourselves that we can be. So, take time for yourself. Let 2022 be the year of self-care, not just for yourself, but for those you are caring for as well. 

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