Self-Care and the Airplane Oxygen Mask

In a variety of articles or interviews, the self-care analogy often used is the airplane oxygen mask. You need to put the mask on first before you can care for those around you. There are defiantly elements of truth in this. When we feel cared for, our ability to care for others and move though our day in a more balanced and grounded state increases. However, the risk with this analogy is two-fold. First, it is preceded by an emergency. Actually, a catastrophe. So, the unconscious message can become, I am allowed to care for myself if things are bad enough. So, we either wait for things to become bad enough or we make them bad enough so we can “justify” some self-care time.

The other challenge in this picture is we get to take care of ourselves first, so we can take care of someone else. This sounds like what I hear from clients who struggle with on-going prioritization of everyone else until they hit the breaking point, and will only then, care for themselves so they can go back to prioritizing everyone else. The idea that “I take care of me, so I can take care of you” can make necessary self-care for personal well-being feel like selfishness or luxury.

But what if we can actually do better with and for others when we check in with ourselves first? What if we can (or should) start from wellness and not depletion? What if small and often serves us better than recovery from or reaction to the burnt-out disaster?

For those who struggle with self-care, our inner wisdom will tell us what we need to take care of ourselves in any moment. We just need to quiet down for a few seconds to listen. How about approaching a self-care practice by checking in on how you feel for 60 seconds a few times throughout the day. Quiet yourself for a minute and ask, “What will make me feel cared for in this moment?” It could be stretching, a cup of tea, paying your bills, getting the counter cleared off, closing your eyes and breathing, texting a friend or cancelling an optional meeting. It doesn’t take more than a minute, and our innate wisdom is always right there. We just need to briefly stop and check in with it. It will tell us what we need in the moment and it will always be right. Taking several of these moments throughout the day can increase the care you give yourself. Because this part of the analogy is true, when we feel cared for, our ability to care for others and interact with them in ways that are positive increases (and we are usually nicer to ourselves too).