Any of these sound familiar?

  • You just set a new personal record for the least number of new clients in a week.
  • Your line of credit is maxed out. Credit card? Same.
  • You’re being sued by a former patient.
  • Your key – and only – staff member just quit. Effective now.
  • You’ve been told you have 30 days to leave your current practice space.
  • Your associate, whose payments make it possible to pay the bills, is leaving.

At least one of these probably strikes a chord. We’ve felt them, and we know practitioners who’ve experienced almost all of them in the space of a few months. They’re all cause for sudden knot in the stomach, and that anxious sense of near-panic.

I don’t think anyone gets a free ride in practice – we all know what this stuff feels like. What matters, though, is how you choose to deal with it. Here’s our best advice.

1. Don’t Knee-Jerk

This isn’t a car crash. Few disastrous things happen overnight in practice, and you likely have some time.

  • Action 1: If panic has just arrived in the form of bad news, give yourself permission to sleep on it. Being tired makes everything worse. Tell yourself that you’ll take one night off from worry. This isn’t about avoidance. It’s about tackling a problem in your best form. You wouldn’t pull an all-nighter expecting it to improve you marathon time. So don’t do it for a major practice challenge.
  • Action 2: Once you’re rested, figure out how much time you have to deal with the problem. How long can you keep going the way things are? Can you go 6 months without replacing that associate? Thirty days without more money? Three days? Chances are it’s longer than you think. But you won’t be able to think clearly and plan your next steps until you know your timelines.

2. Connect With Others

We have a tendency to not want to talk about practice problems. I suspect many of us would more readily talk about a death, an illness, or a divorce before we admitted that something was going wrong with our business.

But while the problem you’re facing right now is going to be yours to solve, you don’t need to go through the process alone. You need to not isolate yourself.

This isn’t about finding someone to give you solutions, although that might be a great spin-off. It’s about perspective. Someone outside your situation is going to help you realize that a) It’s going to work out, and b) Your problems in practice aren’t because there’s something wrong with you.

Their job is to help you rise above. They may not know it, but they’ll deliver just the same.

  • Action: Book some time with friends. Bonus points if that time involves some stress-relieving physical exercise. (In order to pass Go, you need to also ensure that at some point your cheeks hurt from laughing. You know what I’m talking about.)

Practice is lonely work some times. Solving problems in a vacuum may seem like a good idea. It almost never is. It’s just a bad habit.

3. Look at The Worst-Case

This was the single most helpful tool leading up to our last sabbatical. It seemed like a million things could go wrong. What made the difference was deciding what the worst-case financial outcome was for leaving the practice. And then deciding whether that was a price we were willing to pay.

And of course, worst-cases are just that. They don’t come around often. If you can accept them, you can let them go and focus on doing the positive things that ensure that they never come to pass.

  • Action 1: Ask yourself “What’s the worst case scenario here?” Then ask yourself if you can accept it.
  • Action 2: Reflect back. There’s a good chance you’ve been through tough times before. Maybe this is the worst, maybe it isn’t. Think back to the two most challenging times of your life and note: you’re still here. This too will pass

4. Take Action…The Right Way

I’m listing actions here because the way out of panic and challenge is almost always behavior. You need to rest, de-stress and get your head on straight, but in the end, you’ll need to take action. You’ll want to focus on behaviors that you can clearly identify, complete, and repeat.

The simpler you can make this, the better. Moving out of panic requires the simplest steps possible. You need to feel like you’re taking action, and to feel momentum building.

Remember: it’s not the results of taking action that will relieve your anxiety soonest. It’s the actual action itself.

5. Don’t Hide from The Big Decisions

While small, consistent action goes a long way, occasionally you have to make a big decision. To move. To lay off staff. To dramatically change the way you practice.

The challenge is that we don’t really like to think about these things. I believe it’s because our minds can’t properly separate the thinking about something from the actual doing. We don’t want to think about firing an associate that’s making every day a misery because we start to get stressed about the doing part right away. We start to feel the financial pain of that action, even though we’re just thinking about it.

Give yourself permission to look at options without having to act on them. It takes practice to be mindful and to step outside your situation, so you may as well start practicing.

  • Action: Ask yourself – or have someone smart ask you – what if questions. “What would happen if I left this office and rented space elsewhere?” “What if I fired so-and-so.” This is one of those small-big things. Using what if instead of should or can tends to reduce the anxiety around big decisions.

At some point, we all hit bumps in the road. Some are big, some small.
Just remember that the bump is part of the road, not the driver, okay?

Join the Journey!

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2 Responses to “5 Steps to Dealing With Practice Panic”

  1. Hey Dan, thanks for reminding us all that bumps in the road are a natural part of the journey. I resonate very much with your advice, especially, “#5: Don’t hide from the big decisions”. As practitioners we have to learn how to face the big practice building/breaking decisions so that we can grow. Once I made the (tough) decision several years ago to quit running from business education and start embracing it, my whole practice turned around. Thanks for helping us all stay calm. :)

  2. Karlie Cole says:

    Thanks Dan! Shared with the crowd on & FB page. Maybe you’d like to offer your blogs there, too?

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