By Stephanie Lee (Centre for Corporate Health) and Optometry Australia
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The impacts of COVID-19 have been vast. All industries have been affected in different capacities, and we would like to acknowledge the specific challenges optometrists have faced during this period. With many practices having to close their doors during the peak of the first COVID-19 wave, this was a particularly challenging and stressful period for many small businesses. As lockdown restriction eased, businesses were able to re-open and start to adjust to their “new normal”. However with a backlog of patients needing appointments and strict cleaning regimes needing to be implemented, the “new normal” created many new stressors. Life is now busier than ever!
With the heightened emotions and anxiety, you may be feeling surrounded COVID-19, risk of virus transmission and financial stability, coupled with an increase in patient-load and additional between-patient cleaning procedures, you may be starting to feel exhausted and depleted. It’s no surprise to read that burnout is increasingly on the rise.
How we may be feeling emotionally drained
Throughout our Temporary Normal, when many practices were closed, we adapted and made use of our time in different ways. This period required us to think creatively. So why are we feeling exhausted now that we are back at work after a temporary break? And what are the signs that we may be feeling emotionally drained during this time and be potentially on track to burnout?
1. Our emotional resources are being used up. When we are required to cope with challenging situations, this takes up a lot of our emotional energy or resources. The challenging situations we may be experiencing right now include: job uncertainty, health concerns, overwhelming or conflicting demands, lack of support or conflict with others. When we are dealing with these challenges often concurrently, it depletes our emotional resources, leaving us with a diminished capacity to not only look after others (family and our team) but ourselves.
2. There is work-life conflict. A result of feeling emotionally exhausted and burnout, is that we experience greater level of work-life conflict. We may be more reactive towards our children or partner if they interrupt us while we are deeply engrossed in a task. Then this reactivity may be followed by guilt, as it wasn’t their intention to cause us greater stress. However, when we are in this state, and were temporarily also all living and working under the same room 24/7, we do see an increase in work-life conflict playing out in our lives.
3. We lack boundaries between work and personal life. With the need or perceived expectation to always be “on” and available to extend practice hours to catch-up with backlogged patient lists, there is no longer a boundary between work and personal lives. When we don’t continue to set structured boundaries between our work and personal lives, our bodies start to suffer.
4. We do not have periods in the day to switch off. In the effort to see as many patients at possible each day, whilst having to fact in additional cleaning regimes, further compounds the lack of work-life balance. As a result, we may postpone or avoid altogether those activities or moments in the day for switching off. Some may have fallen into the pattern of working through their lunch break and seeing clients back to back. This means we do not have those moments during our day to rebound.
5. Our wellbeing is suffering. As a result of all of the above points, we are experiencing poorer sleep quality, increased reactivity and anxiety and are overall, emotionally exhausted!
How we can combat burnout
1. Protect our emotional resources. When we identify that we are experiencing emotional exhaustion, we can work to reduce how much our emotional resources are drawn upon during certain situations. When we focus our time and energy on things that are within our control, we feel empowered and can make a plan for rising to the challenges. Identify the moments in which we begin to feel overwhelmed or depleted, and see if we can alter how the situation plays out. E.g. if we feel overwhelmed every time our phone pings with a news alert, switch off these notifications and choose to only watch the news once per day. These circumstances may be situations at work, or at home, relationships or tasks.
2. Safe practices for our work lives. In order to regain a sense of control over our work-life, we need to engage in useful strategies to re-create the boundaries we once had. Discuss with your team (or sit down by yourself) the expectations on your work hours / daily patient numbers factoring in additional time in between patients for cleaning. Stick with these targets, and don’t be tempted to extend your working hours to “fit in” additional patients. This will give you a chance to rebound from the day, replenishing your emotional resource stores and spend time with family or doing activities you enjoy. A healthy work-life balance is a key indicator of a positive and safe work culture.
3. Switching off rituals. Ensure each day, you engage in switching off rituals to assist with winding down and “leaving work, at work” again. Often we can feel too tired at the end of our days to engage in non-work activities, but now is actually the crucial time for these activities. Do a brainstorm and write down all of the non-work activities which you enjoy that promote feelings of relaxation, control and mastery. It may be cooking, exercising, gardening, playing with your children, going for a walk with your partner or even engaging in mindfulness practice. While these activities won’t remove the stress in our lives, they will put us in a better position to face the stressors with a different mindset and use them to our advantage rather than disadvantage.
If you are feeling increasingly overwhelmed and burnt-out during this time, you might benefit from speaking to someone. Visit your GP and discuss taking out a Mental Health Care Plan to help get you back on track.
Have you registered for The Resilience Box® yet? Our new, digital platform gives you all the tools for boosting your mental health and wellbeing. OA members have complimentary and anonymous access. With a wide variety of content available, you can watch, listen, read and learn, all through the platform. Register here or login.
We have also collated our dedicated webcasts and podcasts on the topic of mental health within the context of optometry, both for you the optometrist, as well as supporting your patients with mental health first aid. Please visit our ‘Supporting your Mental Health’ page to watch, listen, read and learn in your own time. Research has found that wellbeing can be improved. You can start building small positive daily habits straight away. With repetition you can create successful changes that support you.
Please reach out for help
Optometry Australia’s Optometry Advisor Helpdesk offers our members dedicated, experienced optometrist ready to provide confidential support. Contact email@example.com or
(03) 9668 8500
Tagged as: Career, COVID-19, Member services