Beating dental school burnout

You’ve just started a new semester of school. You’re nearly two weeks in, not too overworked, but you already feel exhausted. Getting out of bed to get to school is a chore, and you’re left wondering where the zeal and excitement you had during your first semester went. This is a common routine for dental students around the country and is one of many manifestations of burnout.

According to the 2014 article “Burnout, depression and suicidal ideation in dental students,” burnout is a syndrome that includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and diminished personal accomplishment, which can occur among individuals working with people. The study says that second- and fourth-year students had double the prevalence of burnout, even though one year is pre-clinical and the latter is a clinical year. Academic overload may play a major role in instigating burnout, but it may be improper coping mechanisms that prolong the experience and continue to tire students out. Here are some simple things that can help you cope with burnout and improve your general disposition.

Reach out to those around you. As you experience feelings of disengagement and loss of interest, it may be tempting to pull in and keep to yourself. In these moments, we need to reach out to friends and classmates, as it is likely that they are experiencing something similar. Having someone to talk to can be reassuring. Try not to see opening up as a burden on your friends but as a way of confiding in them and strengthening your relationship. Creating a community of people around you that fosters positivity may not improve things right away, but having someone to complain to or even complain with will lighten the load.

Reevaluate and assess what you do weekly. It is easy to lose sight of why we are in dental school in the first place. Remind yourself of what drew you to this profession. Was it art? Or maybe service? Don’t lose those parts of yourself just because you are in school. Be sure to include activities that are important to you week in and week out to continue fostering a sense of value in what you do. We feel more fulfilled when we engage in activities that are important to us, so scheduling time for it will help you remain balanced.

Take your breaks as seriously as your work. School filters into every part of our lives, so we need to make an active effort to create space for ourselves. Whether it is a one-hour study break or one-week vacation, make your time yours. Consciously giving your mind a break and engaging it in something fun will aid in your ability to better focus your attention once you return it to your work.

Invest in your physical health. Finding time to exercise, get a full night’s sleep and hydrate will not only help combat burnout but will improve your long-term wellness. Exercising will help reduce your stress and improve your mood, while getting adequate sleep will allow you to deal with each day’s challenges with a less lethargic mind. To stay hydrated, carry a water bottle to school and drink an entire bottle every one to two hours. We tend to adopt a “work hard, party harder” attitude in dental school, but skipping out on a social event every now and then to ensure you are well-rested is completely acceptable.

Burnout can manifest itself in many ways including disengagement, exhaustion or feeling overwhelmed. However, identifying how you are feeling, acknowledging it and understanding that there are many ways to deal with burnout will help you get back on track.

~ Vrinda Shah, Florida ’21, Electronic Editor

ASDA’s Wellness Month 2018 is generously supported by ADA student members insurance plans, underwritten by Great-West Financial.

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About Vrinda Shah

Vrinda is a second your dental student at the University of Florida College of Dentistry. When she isn't in school or attending ASDA events, she enjoys playing golf, dancing salsa and baking!

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