Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

Melissa Carson
Dec 3, 2019 · 3 min read
Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

For anyone who has flown more than once or twice, it’s easy to tune out the flight attendant when he or she starts going through the safety guidance because we remember what they’re going to say. We hear the message “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others around you,” but I think we often don’t think much about it because we assume we will not be faced with the situation. And, thankfully, most of us probably have never been faced with the situation when the oxygen masks fall down, and we have to use them to breathe.

The holiday season and the impending new year/new decade is a good time to reflect on whether we are putting on our own figurative oxygen masks as we face our day to day challenges. Many of us are going through life so overwhelmed with all the things that we need to do or believe we should do at work, for our families and for our communities that we forget how important taking care of ourselves really is. We’re often caught up in the comparison and “do more” mentality, particularly if our social media and personal networks are always showing us the positive side of life and not revealing that we all struggle with day to day challenges.

Organizations also need to focus on these challenges because research is finding that the focus on driving higher employee engagement may have a dark side. When discussing employee engagement, the study by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence shared “However, the data also showed that one out of five employees reported both high engagement and high burnout. We’ll call this group the engaged-exhausted group. These engaged-exhausted workers were passionate about their work, but also had intensely mixed feelings about it — reporting high levels of interest, stress, and frustration.” According to numerous studies by Marianna Virtanen of the the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and her colleagues (as well as other studies) have found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems, including impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease.

Are you sacrificing sleep, exercise, eating healthy food, drinking sufficient water, and silence/meditation/prayer because those actions sound selfish or because work or your family seems more important? If you are in the throes of the “should do” or superhero mode, pause for a minute to decide it your current strategy is really serving your goals.

Are these choices leaving you energized or are they leaving you

  • More anxious?
  • Short-tempered?
  • Less creative?
  • Less focused than you should be?
  • Less present because you’re always focused on what else needs to get done?

If any of these sound like your current situation or what you expect to happen during the holiday season, it’s time to pause and put on your own “oxygen mask.”

Start with the following actions:

  • Write down (the writing is an important step) the actions that are impacting your health and productivity…sleeping less than 6 hours, living on caffeine, eating too much comfort food, etc.
  • Write down the 1 thing you want to change from this list that you can commit to and will have the biggest impact on your physical and mental health. It’s easy to think you have to change all of them at once but often that defeats us before we even start.
  • Write down what you think will be different/better if you make this change…this is your WHY.
  • Share your intent with others so you build in an accountability for the change.
  • If you have a setback on your change, don’t let that stop you. Just pause and then do the “next right thing.”

Taking care of ourselves — our physical, mental, and emotional health — is not a selfish act. If we want to perform at our best for our families, our work organizations, or our communities, we need to make sure we are prioritizing our health so we have the energy, the creativity, and the patience that we need.

Have you put on your “oxygen mask” yet or are you focused on everyone else around you? Take a few moments to put yours on before you swing fully into the holiday season and end of year activities.

You are worth it!

Melissa Carson

Written by

Enabler for Individuals and Organizations to Reach Their Full Potential * Activator for Change * Strategic Thinker

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