All of you have heard me quote the famous proverb: “Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” It is great wisdom. It is also very practical.
To remain healthy and safe, our “hearts” need to be protected. We need rest, downtime, and peace of mind. We need a life that gives energy as well as demands it. We need people around us to remind us of who we really are and what is important. We need to say yes to what is most essential and no to the things that aren’t essential.
In recent weeks I have heard a podcast interview of two people on the other side of burnout and a forced six-month sabbatical. I have had multiple conversations with dentists and dental teams that are overwhelmed and disillusioned. In addition, I have listened to a sad story of a friend who started behaving carelessly and out of character secondary to the fatigue and frustration of unrelenting pressure and career demands. He just wasn’t himself.
Many of you are running full speed, meeting the relentless demands of your practice as well as pursuing teaching and writing opportunities. The question I pose to each of you is “Which opportunities and demands are the most important—essential, to you and your unique life?”
We needlessly increase stress when we compare ourselves to others and think we should achieve what they are achieving. We create pressure on ourselves when we feel we should say yes to others’ requests for our energy and time. In contrast, we honor health when we pause to consider what is best for ourselves and recall our personal priorities.
Our purpose, capacity, energy, desires, loves, dislikes, and circumstances are unique to each of us and unlike those of anyone else.
I have listened to and read about people, who have been through periods when they struggled with their physical health, energy, and emotional state. To recover, they found that vacations were only a part of the solution. They had to find a community of peer support. They had to find ways to make each day healthier and more productive. They had to intentionally create “white space” in their life, place only the most important events on their schedule, and develop a respectful way to say “no” or “not now.”
Saying no is difficult for most of us but is required to live our one short life on purpose. In addition to living on purpose, there are other essentials for wellness. I’m thinking of:
- Resilience—Restoring physical, mental, and emotional strength often requires more rest, exercise, and recreative interaction outside of work with family and friends to reframe perspective.
- Meaningful work—Do what you love at least 50% of the time.
- Energy management—Pace yourself, take breaks, enjoy the “flow” that occurs when you are highly engaged in your work, and respectfully rely on your leadership team to help you maintain a schedule that prioritizes the most important activities.
- A peer-to-peer community of support—We have the human need to give and receive empathy, understanding, wise counsel, sparks of creativity, and encouragement.
- Dedicated time to recreate the self—Think in terms of daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal-yearly rhythms. Create time to regularly relax, relate, and play outside of dental practice. Like a surfer running to the beach when the waves are perfect, allow yourself some flexibility to embrace spontaneous opportunities.
- Spiritual nourishment and expression—What nourishes the most foundational part of you? Seek the goodness that elevates your soul and feed on those nutrients. Celebrate that goodness with gratitude.
We talk a lot about balance at Pankey, and we do this because it is all too easy for healthcare providers to run out of steam…to run out of oxygen. Like the airline steward says, “Put on your emergency oxygen mask first before assisting others.”
Our positive thoughts, emotions, words, and actions—our joyful hearts, are what make it possible for us to be a wellspring of understanding, compassion, and love. We need to protect our hearts to enjoy our work and improve the wellness of everyone around us.