If you've ever flown, you've heard the airline safety demonstration about putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others if the cabin pressure were to drop in the plane. Fortunately, I've never had to make the decision between myself or my child getting an oxygen mask first, but I think my instinct (like many parents) would be to help my child first. When I think about it intellectually, I understand that hypoxia, or a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain, can cause many issues including confusion to the point of being unable to help others or even yourself. In the moment, though, it's hard to think intellectually, and that's why flight attendants remind us every time we fly!
In the same way that prioritizing our own oxygen supply is critical for saving the lives of those around us in a hypothetical plane crash, it is necessary to prioritize caring for yourself so that you can better care for your loved ones. Self-care can mean different things to different people from a massage to an hour alone to reading a book. Self-care can sometimes feel like an indulgence that we shouldn't desire when, in fact, it's something we should not ignore.
In his article, Dr. Matthew Glowiak from Southern New Hampshire University said, "In a society in which people are expected to work long hours and pass on vacation days, there is an underlying belief that we must always be productive – which can ultimately take away from opportunities for self-care. But by taking some time out to engage in self-care, you may relieve the pressures of everyday life and reset yourself to get back to a healthy point where productivity is once again maximized."
As I was researching for this post, something so obvious began to emerge from my own experience. These days when I hear the word mask, I don't think of oxygen masks on a plane, but instead I think of the homemade cloth masks that I've made over the past several months to help protect my family and those around us from the COVID-19 pandemic. Very early on in the first lock down, I purchased a basic sewing machine. I had to have my 7th grader teach me how to use it since he'd recently taken Family and Consumer Sciences in school. I remember scavenging for old t-shirts and scrap fabric that I could use to make masks. This was back when you couldn't find pre-made cloth masks and the disposable ones had all been bought up. Because of my lack of sewing skills, it took me hours to make just one mask, but I made enough for my whole family (in the event that we'd actually leave the house!)
Over time and with practice, my sewing skills and access to fabric and thread improved enough that I was able to begin making more masks. I made masks for my husband, two sons, some friends, and then more for the kids. I was wearing and washing, wearing and washing the three masks I had (two made for me by a friend and one that I'd made myself.) I bought fabric to make myself more, but whenever I got the sewing machine out, I ended up making masks for other people and put my own masks at the bottom of the priority list.
Only today when I was thinking about the parallels between putting on your own oxygen mask first and the importance of self-care did it hit me that I need to make myself some masks! I'm the one in the family that spends the most time away from the house due to my job, but yet, everyone else has more masks than me. Once I have enough masks, I will feel more secure, less frustrated and spend less time laundering my small supply of masks.
There are selfish people in this world, but many of us think of others before ourselves. It's time to begin looking at self-care as a way to help others. Perimeter Health Care in Georgia explains on their website that, "Self-care encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can transmit the good feelings to others. You cannot give to others what you don't have yourself."
Consider these easy ways to care for yourself:
Even though the metaphor of oxygen masks meant actual masks in my life, it can mean anything in yours. Choose at least one way to care for yourself this week because if you continue to give to others without caring for yourself, the less you are going to have to give. Put your mask on first!
Glowiak, Matthew. “What Is Self-Care and Why Is It Important For You?” Southern New Hampshire University, 14 Apr. 2020, www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2020/04/what-is-self-care.
Coffey, Helen. “Hypoxia Definition - Why Adults SHOULD Do Their Oxygen Mask BEFORE a Child's on a Flight.” Express.co.uk, Express.co.uk, 24 Jan. 2017, www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/758140/hypoxia-definition-flight-mask.
“The Importance of Self-Care.” Perimeter Healthcare, 2020, www.perimeterhealthcare.com/about/news/the-importance-of-self-care/.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!