Why "Put Your Oxygen Mask On First" Doesn't Work for Self-Care: Do THIS Instead

self-care Dec 16, 2021

The classic metaphor for self-care is "Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others." We've all heard it as part of the standard pre-flight announcements, the flight attendant instructs that, "if there should be a change in cabin pressure...put your oxygen mask on first before helping others." I get the importance of this if your plane is in free-fall, but it is not a good metaphor for self-care in everyday life. Why? Because that example is an extreme emergency. If we waited for extreme emergencies to start implementing self-care we'd be burnt out, have autoimmune issues, develop cancer, be overweight, be depressed, anxious, and in pain, etc. Oh wait, THAT is actually happening!!

And that's the problem. In this go, go, go...do, do, do....hustle, hustle, hustle society we don't take time to care for ourselves until our bodies are screaming at us to stop. If we ignore the fatigue, the headaches, the insomnia, the anxiety, the depression that slowly creep in and continue to push through, we push into a wall. A wall often met with physical, mental, and emotional anguish for which conventional medicine does not have good answers. We've all heard others say that their chronic illness or the dissolution of their marriage was a blessing in disguise because it forced them/gave them a "legitimate" excuse to slow down, re-prioritize, and allocate time and energy for self-care.

Why are we so afraid to admit that we want to care for ourselves? For the most part, the models for taking care of ourselves don't exist in our family structures or in our 9 to 5 corporate setting. It takes effort to find examples and to then find support (a tribe) to reinforce those behaviors and thoughts. It takes discussions with your spouse and kids about why they can't be engaged in 3 after school activities each week. It takes conversations with your boss about why you need a more flexible schedule. It takes effort, at least at first. But first and foremost, it takes believing that you are worth it.

So, if we don't wait for a crisis to practice self-care, what do we do instead?

  • read a book...for pleasure

  • exercise

  • say NO to activities or people who drain you

  • take a class

  • talk to friends on the phone

  • schedule time to do nothing

  • take a bath

  • take a walk in nature

  • meditate

  • listen to music that makes you happy

  • spend time with people you love or like

  • put candles out for dinner

  • buy fresh flowers

  • call a friend
  • use positive self-talk

  • eat good food

Start with just one thing and go from there. Once you start practicing self-care, you’ll show up more fully as mom/dad/partner/spouse. You’ll reconnect with what makes you who you are, you’ll have more energy, you’ll have less anxiety and less depression. But don’t take my word for it…try it out. Today. Now. You can’t wait for an emergency or life crisis to put on your oxygen mask and implement basic self-care. Breathe in the oxygen each and every day.

If you are stuck in the belief that you don’t deserve to care for yourself, don’t have time to care for yourself, etc., try spending time with people who do value their own self-care. If you don’t have those people in your life, look for them. Surround yourself with positive messaging. If you don't have people and environments that make you feel positive, it's time to find them. It takes effort, but the rewards are huge. And remember this is a self-care P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E…that means it is ongoing. The more you do it, the better you get, and it is constantly evolving and changing. I am continually learning more about my self-care needs, and as schedules change, I have to adjust what and how I care for myself.

If you know someone who could benefit from this, please share it with them (and then become their self-care accountability partner!).