Dear Dr. Bill
Dentistry has always been my passion. Recently, though, I feel emotionally exhausted and irritated by some of my patients, unable to focus, and out of control in so many areas of my life. What’s happening to me?
Dear Dr. Steve:
I think those of us in the dental profession can relate to what you are expressing. We all have the occasional patient that “gets under our skin” and are constant “thorns in our side”. What I find interesting about your scenario is that you have recently noticed changes in the way you feel that make you uncomfortable and are concerning because it is affecting your overall wellbeing. You may be experiencing some level of burnout which is a response to the chronic, excessive, and prolonged emotional stress of dealing extensively with other human beings resulting in doubts about one’s work competence, emotional state, and value.
Specifically, you may be experiencing a symptom of burnout called “compassion fatigue” which is related to constantly having to “perform” by addressing patient or staff questions and situations that are often draining and exhausting. This intense relationship drains you of your energy, empathy, and focus.
People who recognize the early signs of burnout are fortunate in many respects because burnout is easier to prevent than to treat. Burnout and poor physical health are strongly related and are not necessarily age-related. Younger dentists are experiencing burnout at an alarming rate. Recognize your body and what you are experiencing or feeling. Descent into burnout is quick and the recovery time is very slow, maybe taking 2-4 years if not enough time and therapy have occurred. Share your feelings and emotions with a trusted colleague for feedback or seek professional help from a therapist or counselor if symptoms don’t improve.
Finally, if you are truly experiencing some level of burnout and don’t address this quickly, you could be susceptible to ill-advised behaviors, such as alcohol or drug use to cope with your stress, depression, and uneasiness.
(The comments and suggestions from Dr. Bill are not to be construed as professional medical advice or treatment but are to be considered as Dr. Bill’s thoughts and opinions.Your feedback is encouraged and appreciated.)