The Sweatpants to Scrubs Equilibrium: How Being Fully Present in Your Life Fights Burnout

The Sweatpants to Scrubs Equilibrium: How Being Fully Present in Your Life Fights Burnout

Dr. Bill has grown to hate his practice, team, and 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, it happens as soon as he’s at the little league game, out to dinner with his wife, or even lying in bed.

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 also feels miserable at home

He’s just a shell of his former self.

Does Dr. Bill sound familiar to you?
If he does, you may also be burnt out by your dental practice.

Work is a big part of your life; 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 happens 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, bringing the scrub brain into the sweatpant’s body is tempting. Your problems are enormous!

You’re terrible at your job, your practice, your team, and your patients are terrible. Maybe if you think hard about it all and brood a bit, you can devise a solution. Right? 

Stop it.  

Stop it right now. 

You’re not going to fix things. You will 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, competent, and in control.

Leisure protects you against feeling like a helpless, hopeless failure at work.

There’s a catch.

To be valid, your leisure has to be something you 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 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 first rule: 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: 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: 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 care for myself before caring for others.

This meant learning to say no, which 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’re home.

Get a hobby that improves and restores you.

And when you learn how to leave the scrubs at the office, you’ll leave 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.

About the Author

Dr Eric Block
Dr. Eric Block is a full-time practicing dentist in Acton, Massachusetts, husband, and father of two kids. He is known as The Stress-Free Dentist and hosts the Stress-Free Dentist Podcast.
He is the author of three non-fiction books and one children’s book. He lectures nationwide, helping dentists become more efficient, productive, and less stressed. He is the co-founder of the International Academy of Dental Life Coaches or, which matches dental professionals with life coaches who understand dentistry.

He is a wellness ambassador for the American Dental Association and former chairman of the Health and Wellness Committee for the Massachusetts Dental Society.