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Self-Care as Doulas

I’ve spent the last few months changing my mindset around ‘downtime.’

I’ve come to a healthy understanding that instead of judging myself for being ‘lazy’, I should embrace the brief moments of calm in what is otherwise a hectic life with an erratic schedule.

We encourage birthing people to “rest and be thankful” at points when their labour has slowed or paused. So why can’t we send ourselves the same message? The nature of this work means that consistency in clients and course bookings will naturally fluctuate. So what can you do to help yourself to go with the flow?

I’m the type of person who likes to have everything mapped out and timetabled. So on any given day, you’ll find me up to my eyeballs in to-do lists. Doula work has helped me learn to be more flexible, but I still have much to learn! You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’. Well, that is what I have been trying to do. This month, I was alone in my house for nearly a week, which included the bank holiday weekend.

That’s the first time I can recall in my adult life that I have been responsible for nothing and nobody for such a long time! It was absolute bliss, of course, but the first couple of days, I realised that I hadn’t been taking care of myself either. And I could feel my internal petrol warning light flashing. So I went to Tesco (in my PJs) and bought myself some fancy ready meals and a whole load of salad so that I didn’t have to expend energy to feed myself.

Self-care is a crucial aspect of our lives that is often overshadowed by the busyness in our modern world. It is a way to make sure we are taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. Self-care involves maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing relaxation techniques, and prioritising our well-being.

Taking care of ourselves is essential to maintaining good health and overall well-being. When we neglect self-care, we risk developing chronic stress, anxiety, and other emotional and physical health problems. Stress affects our body, mind, and behaviour in myriad ways, including mood swings, lack of focus, and negative impacts on our immune system. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help reduce stress and build resilience against life's challenges.

In the context of caring professions, it can be even more crucial. We give love, time and energy to our clients and if we are not getting the same for ourselves, it can lead to feeling resentful, overwhelmed and can mean you might suffer from compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is a common condition seen among individuals who spend a lot of time caring for others, such as healthcare professionals, social workers, and caregivers. It is often referred to as secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, or empathic strain. Compassion fatigue can result from a combination of emotional, physical, and psychological exhaustion, caused by long-term exposure to the suffering and trauma of others.

At the Doula UK Conference last month, Dr Rebecca Moore spoke on the subject of Preventing Vicarious Trauma for Doulas and Birthworkers. Man, did I need to hear all of that! But for those who missed it, here are a few simple things you can do to top up your compassion tank and exercise self-care:

  • Get out into nature – preferably during the morning. Your body will soak up some much needed Vitamin D and it will help your system to understand that the day has begun and give you some fresh energy

  • Laugh – preferably out loud! Watch funny films or tv shows, or even just a few clips of something that makes you laugh – my go-to is the scene from Friends when Ross gets a spray tan. Seriously though, laughter can reduce the cortisol (stress hormone) levels in your body and increase the levels of dopamine, endorphins and of course, oxytocin

  • Cuddling – another human, an animal or even a teddy. Hugging helps in far too many ways to list here, but at the very least it increases your feeling of connection to people, to the universe and to your inner self

  • Exercise – urgh. Ok fine. No really, any kind of exercise can be beneficial. High/low intensity, walking, running, dancing (my favourite), yoga or even simple stretching or moving your head to stretch your neck muscles

  • Create something – it could be a drawing, painting, sculpture or poem. Or even a meal. The act of creating something helps with expression of feelings and the sense of accomplishment and pride in your work can improve your mood and self esteem

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