“Self-care in Healthcare – why we need to look after ourselves as well as our patients”
As a midwife, my job role is completely centered around patient care. As soon as I step on to the maternity unit, it’s no longer about me anymore. My worries and stresses are left at the door, and all of my energy and focus is on the women and families that I am caring for. That’s what I’m here to do, and that’s why I embarked on a career in midwifery, because I enjoy caring for people. I think that’s what a lot of healthcare workers struggle with – that the caring doesn’t stop just because you’ve finished your shift. You stay late to make sure your patients are OK, and you think about them when you go home. People then go home and care for their families. It’s easy to forget to care for yourself, but it’s incredibly important. Not only for your own mental and physical health, but also to enable you to be the best healthcare worker you can be. It’s like the old saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.
We all know that stress is bad for you, and that long-term chronic stress is even worse. Healthcare workers undoubtedly experience a different kind of stress – shift work, intense situations, emotional distress, life and death – so we need a different kind of self-care practice. I can’t attend a weekly yoga class because I have different shifts every week. I find it hard to get into a good healthy eating routine because I work nights. I can’t always attend social events with my friends because I work weekends. This is the point where healthcare workers decide to give up on self-care, because it just seems too difficult.
If you don’t look after yourself, day-to-day stress can accumulate and turn into chronic stress, and your resilience to stress goes down. Have you ever had one of those days when you’ll just cry or become annoyed at anything? This is what chronic stress can do to you. This can then lead to burn out, especially in healthcare workers. The first definition of “professional burn out” was coined by Freudenberger (1974), as a state of exhaustion with symptoms such as headaches, poor sleep and gastrointestinal problems. He also noted that people more prone to burn out were more likely to work “too much, too long and too intensively”, and “had a need to give”. So overall, it seems stress is an occupational hazard of healthcare work.
I was finding that just a year into my midwifery career, I was experiencing some of these symptoms. I loved the job, but the environment and the intensity of the job were really taking its toll. So I started to research ways of coping better, managing stress and general self-care and wellbeing advice that I could tailor to my work life. The shifts are just as tough but I’ve found that after making some changes I now look forward to going to work, I can enjoy my job role again and that I’m generally a stronger, more confident and more positive midwife and person.
There are lots of ways to make your working and home life less stressful and to improve your physical and mental wellbeing. Not all methods work for everyone, but even if you find one or two small changes that make a difference for you, then you’re on the right path to becoming a more positive and happy healthcare worker.
Here are some of my top tips for self-care as a healthcare worker:
- Change your attitude – a lot of people underestimate how powerful a change in mindset can be. If you start to view a busy shift as a challenge, start your shifts with a positive mindset and end your shift focusing on the things that went well you’ll start to notice a huge difference. Take a look at my post on perception change for more ideas https://lottielivewell.com/5-things-that-will-instantly-improve-your-shift/
- Create a wind down routine – “switching off” after a shift can be really hard, especially if you’ve been running around all day with a long list of tasks. If you don’t switch off properly your brain continues to act as if you’re stressed, and you won’t be able to recharge properly before your next shift. There are lots of different ways to wind down after work, including going for a walk, having a relaxing bath or reading a book. For more ideas on how to wind down, check out https://blog.jobmedic.co.uk/five-ways-to-unwind-after-a-long-shift
- Schedule things to look forward to – I always thought because I did shift work I had to miss out, but you don’t! Make your friends and family aware of your schedule as soon as you get your shifts, and plan social activities to look forward to. If you need a day off for something coming up, speak to your manager, most will try and be as flexible as possible or a colleague may be able to swap a shift with you.
- Start a new group – whether this is at work with your colleagues or with your out-of-work friends that you don’t get to see very often, starting a group activity is a great way to socialise and improve teamwork. I belong to a monthly book club with my out-of-work friends, so I have a set date that I know we can all catch up on, plus it gets me reading throughout the month which is a great way to wind down. I have also launched a new staff wellbeing group “Midwives Matter”, where I discuss self-care advice and lead meditations and relaxation sessions. This is also great for my colleagues to catch up off-shift, and we can also provide each other with some well-needed peer support.
That’s just some of the things you can do to look after yourself as a healthcare worker. Look out for more advice about being a midwife and self-care for healthcare in my other guest posts here on Job Medic, as well as on my blog www.lottielivewell.com and instagram @lottielivewell
My name is Lottie and I’ve been a qualified midwife for two years. I work in a busy maternity unit as a rotational hospital midwife. I have a BSc in Midwifery and a BSc in Psychology, and have a passion for mental health, self-care and wellbeing. Working in healthcare can be tough, so my objective is to help improve the mental and physical wellbeing of healthcare practitioners by providing tailored advice and support. I run my staff wellbeing group “Midwives Matters”, and I am looking forward to training as a counsellor and psychotherapist in the future.