Birth workers and those who support laboring and postpartum women are continuously challenged to be 100% present physically, mentally and emotionally to their clients. Healthcare workers are trained to look after others. These demands coupled with outside influences like an on-call schedule, workplace politics, childcare, and emotional depletion can influence the birth workers’ coping skills. Add to these demands an unexpected outcome such as a traumatic birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth and the birth professional can experience burnout.
Burnout, simply stated, is a psychological state due to extreme emotional exhaustion. When experiencing burnout the individual will lose their personal identity and experience a decreased perception of personal accomplishments (Maslach ,C., Jackson, S.E., & Leiter, M.P., 2006 Maslach Burnout Inventory).
For nurses, doulas, and medical providers specifically, there are many environmental triggers for burnout. Nurses and doulas may sit with a client for hours bearing witness to the client’s pain and suffering in birth and after an unexpected outcome. This experience extracts a high emotional toll on the care provider. The care provider must be present to help a family understand their choices in order to make a challenging birth choice or an ethical decision about care or life support. This can be heartbreaking work that has a tendency to follow the birth worker home and affect both personal and home life.
To assist in healing the healthcare worker and prevent burnout, time needs to be spent on developing a viable toolkit full of healthy and sustainable coping skills. Too often the lack of a toolkit leads to ineffective coping mechanisms such as smoking, substance abuse, or overeating which have both short-term and long-term effects on physical and emotional health.
In order to build a self-care toolkit, time needs to be spent on understanding what a coping skill entails. Self-care is the process of nurturing yourself, and a coping skill is a learned adaptation to stimuli. The act of crafting and practicing such skills teaches the body resiliency in such situations. Self-care and coping skills are not selfish: rather the act of being responsible for one’s own health. Self-care is preventative care so that the birth worker can move forward without restrictions and limitations of their own health. By stopping and breathing deeply from the feet, a birth worker might be able to reboot the instinctual response to run, cry, scream, or lash out. With ongoing practice of the personal toolkit, birth professionals can be better prepared to process and work through times of stress.
Be your own best friend
Building toolkits are very personal. Approach building your kit as if you are your own best friend, look at yourself from the outside. Spend some time reflecting on your needs, strengths, weaknesses and goals.
In building your toolkit, it might be helpful to note that there are five domains for self care. They are emotional support, physical support, mental support, social support and spiritual support.
Emotional support requires setting aside a few minutes or breaths to reboot and feel calmer, which contributes to avoiding despair or anger. Emotional work usually centers on the breath and then an action. Techniques such as deep breathing, singing, drawing, coloring, or expressive movement can reset the central nervous system. Consider writing about the situation and then letting it go.
Physical outlets improve overall health and vitality, reducing the physical demands of burnout. Sleep is critical to any self-care plan: consider a standing napping appointment or a bedtime ritual. Proper nutrition, yoga, and exercise build a healthy body. Maintaining the body with massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture or another alternative healing method can repair the immediate drains of burnout when the body is healthy.
Mental processing, or the ability to stop and reflect on the moment and the bigger picture, is critical to healing. Affirmations or positive intentions make the individual conscious of life’s small details. Reading, journaling, and ongoing education can support the psyche through reflection. Relaxation techniques involving breath work, visualization, and quiet time are powerful and often overlooked. Talk therapy or working with a mental health provider is ideal when you need a different level of support that your family and friends cannot provide, or when you really need to just release the event and have not been able to do so. Practicing small acts of gratitude is a simple way to cultivate perspective, which is another benefit to a seeking support from a mental health professional. Re-adjusting your attitude or deciding to make the choice to feel a certain way can begin the ripple effect of changing your mood.
Social support from friends and family can be a cornerstone to a healthy recovery. Having a supportive home environment or a network of peers to reach out to in order to decompress. Ask your partner for personal time to touch and be touched as a way to acknowledge life. Reach out to peers or friends to stand beside you and distract you with activities.
Spiritual support can come in many different ways, from organized religion to a more personal reflective time. Both can create a deeper spiritual connection to life and our individual roles and experiences. Prayer, meditation, chanting, and coloring offer the space for reflection and the opportunity to move forward renewed.
By understanding the aspects and the value of self-care, it becomes apparent that all professionals supporting the loss community need to have an intention to carve out a plan for care and to develop strategies to work with the stress of loss. What the plan entails is very individualistic and should not be compared to others. The most important thing is to have a plan for positive self-care and the ability to complete your plan.
Sit down, make a cup of tea, play with your pet, and spend some time reflecting on your toolkit and areas of improvement. Reach out to your network of peers and support in order to build a strong plan for self-care.
Tips for moving forward & staying healthy:
- Get a power song, one that you dance or sing too like nobody’s watching. Sing it and sing it loudly.
- Find a physical outlet: dance, walk, yoga, swim, color, and run around in the sprinklers with your children.
- Laugh hard and laugh often. Do not cut yourself out from fun. Find time to hang out with that friend, the one who makes you laugh so hard that you can’t breathe have tears streaming down your face.
- Take time to relax. Know that it is ok to say NO.