Do you remember travelling on a plane? If you do, you have probably heard the instructions of the cabin crew reminding you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else with theirs. This advice is often told as a story for self-care because it expresses accurately why it is so important.
A woman was travelling on a plane with her twin 4 year old daughters. The safety message clearly stated that should there be an emergency the oxygen masks would drop down. Passengers were instructed to ensure they fitted their own masks before going to aid anyone else.
There was an emergency, the oxygen masks fell. The mother tried to fit a mask on one of her daughters, who wriggled and screamed and so she failed. She tried to fit a mask on her other daughter with the same effect. By the time she had unsuccessfully tried to fix their masks in place she had lost consciousness. They too lost consciousness. Sadly they all died.
This is why it is so important to look after you first. To put your metaphorical oxygen mask on first. So that if there are problems with helping others, you are still alive to keep on helping.
There are very few situations in your daily life that mimic the wake-up call of a plane emergency, so it’s very easy to keep putting off self-care. Easy, that is, until you get ill, overwhelmed or physically exhausted, and suddenly you don’t have the energy to care for the people who count on you. That’s when you realise that you haven’t been caring for yourself. It begins to dawn on you that taking care of yourself is not selfish or indulgent; it’s just plain practical.
Putting yourself first means that it might be necessary to say no to someone else in order to say yes to yourself. For many of you, that is the point where guilt kicks in and you feel you could or should be doing something for someone else. Keep in mind the oxygen mask metaphor.
You can encourage yourself by saying “I am caring for myself so that I can care for others” or any other sentence or phrase that you find encouraging. It will also help you if you remember that self-care doesn’t have to be very time-consuming. In fact, the best prescription for taking care of yourself probably means small, daily rituals; for example, taking a half-hour for yourself at the beginning and/or end of each day to meditate or journal, think or read or just be. You may also like to transform your daily shower or bath into a half-hour self-pampering session occasionally.
Whatever you decide is right for you, making that small gesture where you put yourself first every day will pay off hugely for you and the ones you love.
Putting yourself first is not selfish, it is vital; you just need to be reminded how important you are to you and everyone else.