Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Developing Strength as a Childbirth Educator Part 4: Burnout

In the early days of childbirth education, I remember reading not only in the International Journal of Childbirth Education but also in the Lamaze’s Genesis Newsletter, articles about childbirth educator burnout.  I remember thinking, “What is this thing called burnout?  I could never get this!  I love what I do!”

Educators do, however, suffer from burnout.  Today, the contributing factors tend to include:
Having childbirth education as a second job, and trying to squeeze that second job into an already busy lifestyle.

  • Having feelings of “Why do I do this? No one is listening.  Just look at the statistics!”
  • Feeling as if the work you are so passionate about is undervalued or not valued.
  • Having feelings of grumpiness or lack of interest in teaching.
  • Not getting compensated for the time, energy and continuing education.
  • Teaching the same material, week after week, year after year and in some instances, decade after decade.
  • Trying to reach a generation of learners who are always staring at their phones.
  • Working within a medical community that does not value education or informed decision making.

If any of these sound familiar (or perhaps all of them do), you might be a candidate for childbirth educator burnout.

Burnout is associated with situations in which a person feels overworked, under-appreciated, confused about expectations and priorities, over-committed with responsibilities, or resentful about duties that are not commensurate with pay. Burnout can occur when a person feels they are unable to meet constant demands, and they become increasingly overwhelmed and depleted of energy. Debilitating sadness, anger or indifference can set in. They may begin to lose the interest in doula work/childbirth classes or lose the motivation that led them into the field in the first place. Burnout is not simply excessive stress. Rather, it is a complex human reaction to ongoing stress, and it relates to feeling that one’s inner resources are inadequate for managing the tasks and situations they are facing.

The signs and symptoms of burnout are similar to those of stress, but burnout includes an emotional exhaustion and an increasingly negative attitude toward work and, perhaps, life. Since burnout is not an overnight occurrence, it's important to recognize its early signs and to act before the problem becomes severe. In a chronic state of stress, the body will begin to show the following physical signs of stress overload:

  • psychosomatic illnesses (psychological/emotional problems which manifest themselves physically)
  • digestive problems
  • headaches
  • high blood pressure
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • teeth grinding and fatigue.

Since burnout is a physical and psychological response that is connected to feelings you begin to have about a work or life situation, it is important to attend to the mind as well as the body when treating burnout. To prevent and reduce burnout, you can make the following changes to improve your physical, mental and social well-being. A body's ongoing response to stress wreaks havoc on physical health. If you think a colleague is experiencing burnout you should talk with them about:

  • Taking a break: small or large!
  • Talking to someone with a background in burnout.
  • Setting boundaries and learning to say “no”.
  • Getting a better night’s sleep.
  • Examining what they are eating and when.
  • Exercising.

Burnout often occurs when life feels out of balance—they feel they are giving too much of themselves to the jobs or others and are constantly in a state of stress and anxiety without any time to relax and enjoy life. To address the psychological effects of burnout they can:
Hone coping skills. They teach relaxation skills – encourage them to practice what they preach. Call attention to their breathing and have them make sure they are giving their body adequate air.  Additionally, encourage them to have quiet time, pray or meditate.  Studies show that having quiet meditative time daily can reduce many of the symptoms of burnout and stress.  A great website for this information is www.mindbodygreen.com

  • Help them learn how to say “no” to those who want their expertise.
  • Learn effective time management. To help them develop control over work and home life, they might consider taking more time off, scheduling more frequent breaks while at work, or delegating tasks.
  • Set realistic goals – don’t over schedule themselves with clients or classes. Put themselves first. Regularly set aside time to be alone and to do something THEY enjoy. Although time alone is important, maintaining a balanced life also means spending time cultivating relationships with others.
  • Poor relationships can contribute to burnout, but positive relationships can help prevent or reduce it.
  • To enjoy a healthy, sustainable life, let the mind, body, and spirit be continuously renewed.

**Now that I’ve said all of this, it is also important that the potentially burnt out person or person who is already feeling the symptoms of burn out are ready to hear what you have to say.  As with all adult learners, a readiness to learn makes the biggest difference between hearing what is being said and actually listening and owning what is being said.  Know the right time and place to speak.

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