Burnout is not just having a bad day — it is work-related stress that may have a cumulative unwanted effect over time.

Identifying the signs of burnout early is important — it can help you to put early reparative measures in place that may prevent burnout and its consequences.

If you are feeling stressed or pressured at work and would like to chat to someone, call our confidential 24/7 support line on 1800 377 700.
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Burnout – what is it?

Burnout is a popular term for a mental or physical energy depletion after a period of chronic, unrelieved, job-related stress characterised sometimes by physical illness. The person suffering from burnout may lose concern or respect for other people and often have cynical, dehumanised perceptions of people, labelling them in a derogatory manner.

Causes of burnout for dental practitioners may include:

  • stressful, even dangerous work environments
  • lack of support or respectful relationships within your working environment
  • concerns around income or profitability
  • long working hours
  • the responsibility of providing high levels of care over long periods, or
  • frustration, disillusionment from the reality of the job not meeting your expectations.

Depersonalisation is when you continually have a distant or indifferent attitude towards your work. Often those experiencing depersonalisation are emotionally distancing themselves in all aspects of their work and life.

Examples include:

  • negative, callous, cynical behaviour or interactions with colleagues and those in your care
  • unprofessional comments directed to colleagues
  • blaming or judging clients and patients for their medical problems, or
  • inability to show empathy or care and concern.
At risk of burnout

You have your own personality traits and tactics for managing your daily life and stressors. Personal characteristics that may increase your vulnerability to developing burnout syndrome can include:

  • self-criticism
  • idealism
  • perfectionism — unrealistic expectations of self and others
  • over commitment
  • work and life imbalance
  • inadequate support systems outside of the work environment
  • poor sleep quality and/or quantity, or
  • engaging in unhealthy coping strategies.
Identifying burnout

Burnout can often be workplace-specific, which may be confusing when you are generally feeling satisfied in your personal life.

Emotional effects:

  • emotionless, running on empty, adrenal fatigue
  • easily agitated
  • increased irritability, insensitivity
  • feelings of being completely overloaded and overwhelmed
  • becoming more isolated and withdrawn
  • losing passion and zest for your job
  • indifference to patients/residents/clients and colleagues
  • not finding meaning and purpose in your day, decreased resilience
  • hypercritical, or
  • feeling cynical and downtrodden.

Feelings of detachment:

  • anhedonia, loss of joy in your life
  • disinterest in your work or life 
  • avoidance of dealing with patients
  • denial that there is anything wrong
  • blaming others and becoming critical or self-blaming
  • struggling to stop even though you are exhausted
  • isolation, loneliness, depression and anxiety, or
  • a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in the face of change.

Loss of job satisfaction:

  • feeling discouraged and resentful
  • isolated from work colleagues/friends/family
  • lack of direction, stuck in a career rut
  • wanting to leave the profession
  • disenchanted with work and life
  • reduced flexibility and resistant to change
  • increased absenteeism
  • increased risk of health issues
  • increased errors, or
  • feeling exhausted.
Preventing burnout

Burnout can be managed, and you can learn strategies to prevent it from happening.

Family, friends and colleagues may notice before you do that you are stressed and burnt out. Think about their concerns — it may help you to start the conversation and get support.

Being able to confide in trusted professionals can reduce the shame, stigma and fear that there is something wrong with you. Burnout is sometimes hard to predict, prevent and understand. Many long-term dental practitioners wonder “why am I feeling burnout now?”.

Paying attention and taking control of your own health can be the first step to creating change in your life. Many dental practitioners find that they need permission from a colleague or peer to stop or do something differently.

Develop your own health plan

Learn to stop

The concept of mindfulness relates to all aspects of our lives. If we are in tune with our responses it can increase our ability to intercept the decline into fear and anxiety.

Use breath

You can use breath to slow down physical reactions to situations and regain control over your reactions and emotional responses. Slowing one’s breathing reduces anxiety, fear and negative thoughts. Taking 10 deep breaths helps to increase attention, concentration and your ability to make sound decisions.


Being mindful and developing strategies to create awareness and pay attention to cues that may lead to a ‘fight or flight’ response is crucial. Developing the skill to reflect and self-nurture following stressful situations can help to prevent burnout.

Access support

Finding your support network and asking them for help when you need it is really important. Family and friends can be a wonderful source of support and would always prefer you to reach out for help when you need it. You can always call us if you need someone to talk to and we can help refer you to appropriate services if you need professional support.

Identifying if you are experiencing burnout can be the first step towards changing your life path.

Form relationships

Finding support within the industry can also be helpful as other dental practitioners may have professional insights into how you can work through a situation or concern. If you are part of a larger organisation this may be with a colleague you work with. If you are part of a small business, or perhaps an owner that needs to separate your concerns from the workplace, it might be worthwhile linking into a professional network in your state/territory or perhaps finding a mentor. 

It may also be beneficial to form relationships with neighbouring small business owners in your immediate vicinity, even if they are not dentistry-related. Many small business owners in malls, consulting rooms and business parks form close relationships that can provide social relief in addition to practical advice, help and support with community issues.  

Strategies to consider

When you are experiencing signs of burnout:

  • take some of your entitlements — a mental health day or a holiday
  • create some 'me' time and stick to it
  • reduce sugar and refined foods in your diet if you are feeling lethargic
  • exercise = endorphins. Go for a walk or do a physical activity that you enjoy
  • review your current job. Are you performing well? Do you enjoy it? Do you get positive feedback?
  • develop a career plan. Where are you going? What do you need to get there?
  • do more of what you love when you’re away from work
  • tell a friend or family member how you are feeling, and
  • be realistic — reduce your goals to more manageable plans.

If you have tried some of these strategies and you really don’t feel any different it might be worth speaking to your GP as you might be experiencing a mental health issue which could require a mental health plan — this is nothing to be ashamed of. Seeking the right treatment for you is all about individual preference. Some people prefer therapies such as meditation, naturopathy, acupuncture etc.

What can I do next?

Read some of our articles that look at staying healthy to promote your wellbeing:

Our service provides free and confidential support to dental practitioners and students Australia-wide. If you would like to speak to someone call us 24/7 on 1800 377 700 or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

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