How to prevent burnout and boost your well-being at work
A pivotal principle we are taught in dentistry is that prevention is better than cure. The same is true for mental health; so why wait until crisis-point before taking action? My name is Dr Mahrukh Khwaja. I am a dentist, Positive Psychologist and author.
Aside from caring for my patients, I’m the founder of Mind Ninja, a well-being company dedicated to boosting the mental health and resilience of dental professionals. My passion is to share evidence-based tools that not only help to prevent negative well-being states, such as burnout, but importantly, aim to promote positive well-being states, helping people to flourish, thrive and live more purposeful lives.
Join me on Thursday 6th October for a webinar (supported by Zendium) where I discuss how you can use a practical toolkit to identify negative emotions and integrate positive habits to boost your resilience. By joining, you’ll also get an exclusive copy of the toolkit ahead of its official launch on World Mental Health Day!
Chronic Stressors in Dentistry Undermine Well-being
Dentistry is a high-stress profession with elevated rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, suicidal thoughts and self-harm (Toon et al, 2019; Kay et al, 2008). Unsurprisingly, the pandemic magnified these negative feelings. In the recent Dentistry Census 2022, 68% of dental professionals felt that their relationships, both within the clinic and at home, suffered as a result of work-related stress, with over 30% of dental professionals saying they felt routinely depressed.
The causes for these statistics are multifactorial and come from both external and internal facets. Strict professional regulation can lead to high levels of fear of litigation. Time pressures, administrative duties and high workload can lead to feelings of isolation. Challenging patients can cause frustration, while individual factors, for example perfectionism, imposter syndrome and poor work life balance can all affect inner confidence.
The impact of working amongst all these stressors are sadly far reaching, negatively impacting patient care, professional productivity and interpersonal relationships. Chronic stressors also seriously undermine our ability to be a positive leader as they reduce key positive well-being markers, such as engagement at work, meaning, happiness and our readiness to go into growth mindsets.
Acting before crisis-point is critical to building resilience
I founded Mind Ninja as a result of experiencing both burnout and depression early in my dental career. I was surprised to find that support was only available to me at this crisis point. I wasn’t aware of any preventative solutions. That’s why I’m so passionate about working with dental organisations and teams to take preventative action when it comes to resilience and well-being.
My experience led me to deep dive into the literature on evidenced-based strategies that could help not only prevent poor metal health, but also help us feel happier, more engaged at work, connected with others and live a life of purpose.
Finding evidence-based interventions that support medics made me think about adapting them for dentistry. This spurred me to gaining further expertise in Positive Psychology, neuroscience and mindfulness.
Positively tipping the mental health continuum to well-being
Mental health is a dynamic process and is always shifting. It can be thought of as a continuum. Imagine one end of this continuum representing low levels of mental health, such as burnout, and the other end representing high levels of mental health, for example thriving states. Our starting point along the continuum is dependent on our genetic makeup. But it’s the positive and negative life experience that shift us up and down this scale.
While we can’t directly control our genetics or all of life’s events, what we can influence is our mindset and habits that encourage a positive movement towards better mental well-being, despite setbacks. These proactive habits – or protective factors – form the foundation of preventative interventions based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness and Positive Psychology that foster happier, thriving careers (Mache et al 2016; Astin 1997; Teasdale et al 2000; Goodman MJ, Schorling JB, 2012).
These approaches empower us with tools to manage negative thoughts, nurture positive self-talk, adopt a compassionate and optimistic mindset, as well as develop a lifestyle that nourishes us.
Easy tools to help embed positive behaviours are key
I’ve hosted 4-week wellbeing programmes to help dental professionals integrate protective factors into their everyday – at work and at home. However I know this isn’t always possible for everyone. So finding new ways to help dental professionals apply the science of well-being led me to creating 2 self-intervention products: the Mind Flossing Toolkit and my upcoming book, Resilience and Well-being for Dental Professionals due to be released by Wiley-Blackwell shortly (Khwaja M 2021; 2022). The former, a deck of mindfulness and self-compassion cards, has shown positive impacts to mental health, with all dental professionals stating that their mental health had improved after using the toolkit (n=35).
Introducing Zendium’s Well-being Toolkit
This year I had the enormous good fortune to work with the oral care brand Zendium, from Unilever, providing expert opinion on a very special well-being project aimed at helping dental professionals integrate positive habits to boost and build their resilience: The Well-being Toolkit for Dental Professionals. Drawing upon the PERMA-H model of well-being, this is an evidenced-based online toolkit that encourages dental professionals to increase different well-being ingredients, from positive emotions, to engagement at work and home, develop positive relationships, meaning, accomplishments that matter to them the most and positive health.
The Well-being Toolkit for Dental Professionals features a series of articles exploring each pillar of PERMA-H, with an introductory article on mental health in dentistry and burnout. The fantastic aspect of this free resource is that each article breaks down the key takeaways from psychology and helps us integrate it through customised worksheets and activities. It also features customised meditations for the profession, exploring a wide range of well-being topics, from increasing our self-awareness of our emotions to developing a kinder inner voice.
From my own personal standpoint, I feel as though many dental organisations and bodies are still focusing solely on crisis point, rather than championing the many preventative positive strategies we can develop. I’m excited to see that this resource goes beyond addressing how we can reduce negative emotions, to how we can live optimally and go beyond baseline. The Well-being Toolkit for Dental Professionals can be used by individuals keen to boost positive health, as well as dental coaches, enthusiastic to provide evidenced based techniques to help support their coachees.
If you’re eager to thrive in dentistry, then why not join the BSDHT-hosted webinar on Thursday 6th October, where I’ll discuss The Well-being Toolkit for Dental Professionals in more detail. Following the webinar you’ll be sent the toolkit ahead of its official release on World Mental Health Day on 10th October. Beautifully illustrated and brimming with evidenced-based activities to get you feeling happier, more engaged and living a life of meaning, this self-intervention is a fabulous and much-needed resource for the profession.
Astin, J. (1997). Stress-Reduction Through Mindfulness Meditation: Effects on Psychological Symptomatology, Sense of Control, and Spiritual Experiences. Master’s thesis, submitted for publication.
DDU, FMC (2022). Dentistry Census – Leaving no question unanswered in dentistry.
Goodman, M. J., & Schorling, J. B. (2012). A Mindfulness Course Decreases Burnout and Improves Well-Being among Healthcare Providers. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 43(2), 119–128
Kay, E.J., Lowe, J.C. (2008) A survey of stress levels, self-perceived health and health-related behaviours of UK dental practitioners in 2005. British Dental Journal, 204(11): E19-E19
Khwaja M (2021). The Mind Flossing Toolkit
Khwaja M (2022). Resilience and Well-being for Dental Professionals. Wiley-Blackwell
Mache S, Bernburg M, Baresi L & Groneberg D.A (2016) Evaluation of self-care skills training and solution-focused counselling for health professionals in psychiatric medicine: a pilot study, International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 20:4, 239-244
Teasdale, J., Segal, Z. Y., Williams, M., Ridgeway, V., Soulsby, J., & Lau, M. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 615–623.
Toon, M., Collin, V., Whitehead, P. and Reynolds, L. 2019. An analysis of stress and burnout in UK general dental practitioners: sub dimensions and causes. British Dental Journal 226 , pp. 125-130.