The Sweatpants to Scrubs Equilibrium: How Being Fully Present in Your Life Fights Burnout
By: Dr. Eric Block, CAGS, FICOI
Dr. Bill has grown to hate his practice, his team and his patients. When he’s at work, he feels oppressed. He’s just going through the motions, counting the minutes until the office closes and he can be home and truly happy. But then, as soon as he’s at the little league game, out to dinner with his wife, or even lying in bed, it happens. All he can think about is work. It consumes him. It makes him miss his son’s home run. It spoils the taste of his steak. It steals the precious hours he needs for sleep. He’s unhappy in his practice, but he’s also miserable at home. He’s just a shell of his former self.
Does Dr. Bill sound familiar to you? If he does, it’s because you’re also burnt out by your dental practice. Work is a big part of your life, and when you’re miserable there, it tends to spill over into the rest of your life. And then, because it’s ruined the rest of your life, you hate
work even more. You’re stuck in a cycle of escalating burnout. It might seem like there’s no escape. There is a way out. I have been where Dr. Bill is, and where you are right now. You can start digging your way out and learn to love your life again. How? By finding your Sweatpants to Scrubs Equilibrium.
My life revolves around either wearing sweatpants or scrubs.
Think of it this way: Sweatpants are clothes for chilling out. (Substitute your own preferred relaxation wear here.) When you’re in sweatpants, your brain should be relaxing. Hobbies, family, and vacations are all part of your sweatpants mode.
Scrubs are for work. When you’re in scrubs, you should be laser-focused on the patient in front of you, the practice, the team and the business. Burnout can happen when you’re wearing one set of pants but thinking about the parts of life that go with the other set. Learning to inhabit the clothes you’re in helps bring you back from burnout.
Why Work Shouldn’t Come Home
If you’re feeling burnt out at work, it’s tempting to bring the scrub brain into the sweatpants body. Your problems are huge! You’re terrible at your job, your practice is terrible, your team is terrible, your patients are terrible. Maybe if you think really hard about it all and brood a bit,
you can come up with a solution.
Stop it. Stop it right now. You’re not going to fix things. What you’re going to do is raise your blood pressure, ruin your sleep and destroy your health. The way to fix your work is to fix your leisure.
In March 2020, a group of British researchers published their study on the role of leisure in work performance. (I understand if you missed it.) They found that leisure time can increase your sense of self-efficacy – that you’re good at your job, that you’re competent and that you’re in control. Basically, leisure protects you against feeling like a helpless, hopeless failure at work.
There’s a catch. To be really useful your leisure has to be something your take seriously and want to get better at, and something very different from your work. So, scrolling through the internet isn’t a great choice – you can’t get better at that. Likewise, your continuing education classes are not leisure. Save them for the scrub-time, not the sweatpants time.
My leisure activity is tennis. I love it, I want to get better at it, and when I’m playing, I’m totally in the game. I’m not thinking about a failed restoration or how I should be marketing myself more. It’s me, the court and my opponent. And getting better at tennis helps me fight burnout. When you have a good leisure activity, it restores you and protects you against burnout. When you bring the scrubs home with you, you can’t truly participate in serious leisure, and you start the cycle of failure.
Joining the Sweatpants Fight Club
Are you ready to fight for your right to chill out and let work stay at work? It’s going to take a major change in thinking. You have to become a member of what I call Sweatpants Fight Club. This club only has three rules:
The 1st rule of Sweatpants Fight Club: You must realize there is a problem.
Unlike the movie with Brad Pitt, you must talk about this club. You need to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you enjoy going to work every day. Are you happy?
The 2nd rule of Sweatpants Fight Club: Get help.
We all need help. Many dentists and hygienists are solitary, but we don’t have to be. I took action to get the help I needed. I picked up the phone and finally called a therapist. I also started engaging more with my peers. Asking for help is hard but it changes you and starts the healing process.
The 3rd and most important rule of Sweatpants Fight Club: Get comfortable on the inside.
You need to get comfortable in your own skin. Personally, I used to sacrifice my own happiness and leisure for the sake of others because I wanted to avoid confrontation. I wasn’t comfortable enough to say no because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I wanted everyone to like me.
Along with therapy and coaching, I learned I had to take care of myself before taking care of others. This meant learning to say no, which to me meant saying yes to myself. And saying yes to myself helps me keep the sweats on.
So, give it a try. Learn how to be totally in leisure mode when you are at home. Get a hobby that improves and restores you. And when you learn how to leave the scrubs at the office, you’ll start leaving the sweatpants at home too. You’ll be able to rekindle your love of dentistry, become a better clinician, and become a better doctor and boss. The balance starts with you.
Eric Block DMD, CAGS, FICOI is a full-time practicing dentist, founder of www. DealsforDentists.com, Author of www.Thestressfreedentist.com, and host of the Deals for Dentists Podcast.