Are you feeling burned out?

15 Sept 2020

BSDHT Ambassador Robbie Stewart shares his experience of working through the pandemic

The last few months have been so difficult and challenging for so many of us that I have begun to wonder if this pandemic has changed any of your views on your overall lifestyle choices thus far? 

It’s been nearly six months since we all hung up our tools: for some of us this was a temporary situation but for others it was permanent.

Prior to this pandemic the majority of us were up to our eyeballs in work and stress: we knew nothing else; we rarely got a chance to stop and reflect, but what did that matter… everyone’s in the same boat, right? Wrong!

During lockdown I cannot have been the only one to think there is way more to life than just working for the weekend or that odd holiday per year. I’m aware many of our peers redeployed in part time work doing anything from shelf stacking to telephone triaging. In some ways, this made a lot of us reflect on our usual dental jobs, especially those of us who question our employment status! Perhaps taking a pay cut and moving into an industry where we feel we have more job security may be worth the change?

My personal experience of this pandemic was that I realised I spend way too much time always looking for the next opportunity, my life is going at about 100 mph, and I rarely stop to reflect. I am sure many of my peers can identify with this!

At the beginning of March I worked for the 111 COVID-19 response unit and then moved to working from home for the NHS track and trace service. During this time, as I worked in these ‘part time’ jobs I realised maybe it is worth getting paid less to be job secure and a lot less stressed. Let’s face it, being a dental hygienist or dental therapist is NOT easy! I then started to panic and think: ‘…oh, maybe this isn’t for me’.

I was doubting one of the biggest decisions of my life, my career path. I had to ask myself whether or not I actually wanted to do this anymore.

Before lockdown dentistry was the ‘be all’ and ‘end all’ in my eyes, and wow has this changed! You may be thinking right where is he going with this? Am I just trying to put you off your career path too? Not at all.

When my first day back at work finally dawned, my emotions were running high. I felt a mixture of anxiety and excitement, it had been so long, could I even hold a mirror anymore? What’s perio? How do I drill a DO cavity?

Four hours of AGP later and oh wow, I was exhausted! I wasn’t sure what hurt more, my head from my visor which was trying to cut off the circulation to my brain, or my hands from hand scaling any bulk deposits that had become cemented in after the six months of sub optimal home care. Oh, and let’s not forget, I couldn’t wear my loupes because half of my face was engulfed by some mask made for those living in the aftermath of a Chernobyl like disaster!

Yes, I know so far all I have done is complain. But it’s what we all need: we need to address the fact that we are not alone in feeling this way. But is this forever? Hopefully not! Will it get better? Of course! We will all adapt to our situations really quickly, and we are good at doing it! Are we feeling burnt out? Yes! Are we in this together? Yes!

Overall, by now most of us will have realised that we need time to breathe and put ourselves in cruise control rather than trying to accelerate through life 24/7. We realise that although it is hard now, it will get better. We are all too aware of why we started this journey, why we love our jobs, as tough as they may be. We want to help our patients. And we are control freaks, we love to make sure they stick to the right path!

And that’s why we came back to work: we love a challenge and it’s going to get better! The light is visible at the end of this long dark tunnel.

I won’t cover up my feelings and say it’s been amazing being back to work. It has been horrible, but we are resilient, and we see the future!

However, what we all need to take from this is that if your stressed or uncomfortable in a certain situation, speak up about it. Take on board your reflections from lockdown, spend more time doing what you like even if it means doing less hours at work (easier said than done, I know we all have bills to pay). But your mental wellness and improving your work life balance will bring you more happiness than money.

And are we all feeling burned out? Yes, we are. Are we all in this together? Indeed. Now let’s look at some tips to prevent burn out from a fellow colleague of mine and BSDHT ambassador Nina Lord. Nina has put together a piece on burnout, some key points to take forward are noted below.

Here are some questions you may ask yourself to detect if you are on the road to burnout, as burnout can happen without us noticing.

  • Is every day a bad day?
  • Is caring about your work or home life feel like a total waste of energy?
  • Are you exhausted all the time?
  • Is the majority of your day spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming?
  • Do you feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated?

How to deal with burnout using the 3 R approach:

Recognise: Look and watch out for the signs 

Reverse: Seek support, manage stress by making lifestyle changes

Resilience: Build resilience by taking care of physical and emotional health  

Together we will get through this, and hopefully this piece has given you insight and reduced the sense of loneliness you may feel. BSDHT operates on an open-door policy: we don’t want anyone to be afraid to reach out to any of us for advice, tips, or just some comfort!

Robbie is an appointed BSDHT Ambassador.








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