Start With You: Putting the Oxygen Mask On

You’re seated on a plane, waiting for takeoff. Your seatbelt is latched across your waist, your hands rest gently on the plastic arm supports, and your elbows are tucked in by your rib cage. The flight attendant is standing in the aisle with her collection of demonstration props and a voice emanates from the tiny speakers above.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the ‘Fasten Seatbelt’ sign. If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin…”

The safety speech continues as the attendant before you gestures routinely. Your mind wanders and you peer around at the faces of the other passengers – your eyes flit out to land on the cold gray runway out the window to your left. The voice through the speakers keeps talking.

“To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head…”

Your attention returns to the flight attendant before you, donning a yellow plastic cup on her face. She delicately tugs the worn strings of the mask behind her hair in demonstration and something about this act strikes you as interesting as the speech continues.

“…secure your own mask first, before assisting other passengers.”

Whether you’ve heard this airplane spiel in person before, or maybe just seen it on television or in a movie, the concept of securing your own oxygen supply before helping someone else is certainly not new or ground-breaking. But what happens when we transfer this notion into our daily lives? Is it still straight-forward?

Believe it or not, taking care of yourself first can be a more difficult undertaking than meets the eye. Too often do we stretch ourselves too thin, take on too many commitments, and generally devote our time to others far more frequently than we devote time to ourselves. When this happens, we become overworked, stressed, and less empathetic to others. We become less able to muster up dignity and respect.

So be sure to start with you. Place the oxygen mask over your own mouth first and inhale – make sure you’re taking ample time to take care of yourself. Say no to invitations if you need a day of rest. Take time to stay fit and healthy. Take care of YOU so that you can take care of others.

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