The oxygen mask theory should be your mantra
I grew up in an era where I was encouraged to put others before myself. To treat people how I wanted to be treated. And to give without expecting anything in return.
Today, if you want to help others, you have to help yourself first. The oxygen mask theory is not selfish, it’s self-preservation. It should be your mantra. By putting yourself first, you can still be there for others. And put your best foot forward.
It’s a fine balance when you have endless commitments. Extra challenging too, if you are a parent and have little people to care for. However, tip this balance the wrong way and you leave yourself more susceptible to mental health issues, and a whole array of other physical diseases later in life which plague the older generation.
Turn up the self-care during transition
Change and uncertainty are part of life. Change happens but transition is the time it takes to adjust to the new change (e.g., redundancy, house/country move, loss, divorce, becoming a parent, etc.). Transitions can bring extra challenges and drain your energy more. During these periods in your life, you should focus on your self-care even more. With a healthy dose of self-awareness, you will know exactly what you need when.
What is self-care?
The WHO defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
Self-care is anything you do for yourself that feels nourishing. It can be relaxing or calming, or it can be something that is intellectual or spiritual, physical or practical or something you need to get done.
Self-care helps people live and work at their optimal performance, yet it does not mean the same for everyone. It does, however, require checking in with yourself and asking yourself how you’re doing and what your body’s asking for. And this needs a degree of self-awareness.
Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. Think mind, body and spirit. Your mental, physical and spiritual health all need attention. They are all deeply connected and contribute to you being the best glowing version of you.
Self-care is about finding joy in a combination of activities or rituals which support your all-round health all year round. Accept that your self-care routine might change from one day to the next. You have to discover your personal combination and adjust with age and according to external life stressors. No one size fits all. Remember, if your self-care falters, your well-being is at stake.
One of my favourite words in Danish is ‘overskud.’ The noun translates as ‘surplus’ or ‘profit’. To have ‘overskud’ is about energy (mental or physical). I’ve introduced this word to several of my English-speaking friends, and we use it frequently in our conversations to check in with ourselves. It’s become a kind of temperature check in terms of how well we are coping with life. And to know if self-care has been neglected.
What does self-care look like?
The commercialized definition is about pampering and withdrawing from the world. Self-care does not need to take a lot of time, cost a lot of money or be done solo. It should bring you joy and somehow recharge your batteries. Your self-care list might be something you do privately or include letting others into your private world.
Here’s what self-care looks like for me:
- Saying no
- An early night
- Positive self-talk when things don’t go according to plan
- An uplifting call with a friend
- A coffee in a café reading my favourite magazine
- A massage
- Going to a yoga class
- Time in nature
- Not rushing
- A day with no appointments
- An intimate dinner party with homecooked food
- A walk on the beach with my dog
What would be on your list?
Burnout is not a badge of honour!
How much you work affects your well-being. Excess screen time, a predominantly sedentary lifestyle and a socially undernourished existence will take their toll.
For some, it’s a sign of success to be super busy. One thing we’ve all learned as a result of the pandemic is to manage our time differently. With no commute, there has been an extra hour or two to use on something else. Using it behind the computer may give you brownie points with your boss (if they notice) but not your health.
Expectations you put on yourself are almost always higher than your employer. Why does it take burnout, a chronic illness or a stress-related disorder to make you realise it?
How to bring more self-care into your life. Here are my top tips:
Choose to be present. Always. This is a gift in itself. If you’re struggling in the present moment, you can remind yourself that this too shall pass.
Build your self-awareness. Learn about yourself and acknowledge what brings you joy and energy.
Never stop learning. Your brain is a muscle and will thank you for it.
Prioritize people and connection. Build nourishing friendships and banish loneliness.
Step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Something which supports your health. This could be a new recipe, meditation or breathing exercise. It will increase your confidence too!
Sleep well. You need more than you think.
Get a dog. Self-care can be practiced through pet care.
Your health and well-being are your responsibility. With a healthy dose of self-awareness, you will know exactly what you need when. Say yes to your best life by saying yes to self-care. Your future self will thank you for it.