Finding Your Oxygen Mask

Perhaps, we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us, they know exactly how it should be done. ~ Rudy Francisco

Humans are busy and exhausted creatures. In fact, being busy and exhausted has become so ingrained in us that we have started bragging about it. This is what Oliver Burkeman has entitled the “busy brag.” Even if you have never heard the term, you probably have a good idea of what it is; when your friend, or family member, or (*cough*) even yourself, say something along the lines of, “Oh, I would love to help with that, but I’ll have to slide it in between the town council meeting – I’m the keynote speaker – little Mark’s student of the month ceremony, updating my blog (yes, that was a self-deprecating jab), and preparing my patented, never-fail fruit cake for all my friends and family;” that is a busy brag.  Hanna Rosin and Graceful Grit’s own Keira Mountain note that how busy an individual’s schedule is can be seen as a mark of social prestige. The implication being the busier you are the more important you are. Perhaps this helps account for The National Safety Council’s findings that ninety-seven percent of the American workforce has at least one risk factor for fatigue, and why over thirty percent of Americans get less than six hours of sleep per night. We often run from one activity to the next with very little fueling us, but caffeine and determination. As a result, we often feel overwhelmed, tired, and burned out.

It is more than just physical exhaustion; however, it is emotional as well. Many of us are tired, to our very core. This can be particularly true of caregivers. Caregivers pour a great deal of time and energy into the lives of others; sometimes with very little in return (here’s looking at you, moms and dads). However, I would argue that everyone is a caregiver. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t take care of anyone; I’m not a caregiver,” but you would be wrong. You are responsible for the care of at least one very important person: yourself.

If you have ever flown, you have heard the safety instructions the flight attendants give before take-off. One of the eventualities the attendants prepare passengers for is the cabin losing pressure. If that happens, oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartments. After instructing passengers on how to put on the mask, the attendants always remind the passengers to put their own mask on first. Why? Shouldn’t they first selflessly help the child or the cherubic grandmother sitting next to them? No: they need to put their own mask on first because if they don’t they are not going to be able to help either themselves or anyone else. Self-care is an oxygen mask, and everyone needs oxygen.

I am a latecomer to the self-care movement. Until about three years ago, I had never heard the term; and when I first heard it, I thought self-care was synonymous with personal hygiene. Self-care was the same thing as brushing your hair, and I wasn’t wrong. Self-care can be brushing your hair, but it encompasses much more than personal hygiene. I define self-care as time dedicated to rejuvenating my inner-self: it is my oxygen-mask time. If you, like me, are late to the self-care movement and are still figuring out how to incorporate self-care into your life, here are some questions to ask yourself, and some tips that I have found helpful as you begin to develop the habit.

What activities relax and refresh you?

It is important to realize that self-care is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Self-care is a flexible concept – which is one of the wonderful things about it. Your self-care oxygen mask is going to be tailored to fit your needs – not the needs of anyone else. So, if you personally find taking walks in nature to be taxing, or long baths make your head spin, or lighted candles make you nervous, skip it. What do you always feel better after doing? Try to think up about five or six such activities. Then compile them in a way you can remember them. If you are like me, you’ll make a list (I love lists). Or lists might make you feel overwhelmed, so another way is fine. Just keep them fresh in your mind.

Here are some self-care activities I love:

  1.  Reading. I am a committed bibliophile. Taking twenty minutes to reread a passage
    Yorkshire England
    Yorkshire, England: James Herriot Country

    from a beloved book (James Herriot never fails me), or to indulge in a new one, invariably makes me happy.

  2.  Napping.  I do not get to indulge in this type of self-care frequently; but when I do, I really enjoy it. I spritz my pillow with lavender-water and fully revel in how nice it feels to lie down, even if it is only for ten minutes.
  3.  Organizing a cluttered corner of my house. Bringing order to chaos soothes me.
  4.  Looking at pictures of people and places I love. Loneliness is becoming a bit of an epidemic in today’s society. Over thirty-percent of Americans report feeling lonely on a regular basis. Psychologist Guy Winch says one way to combat feelings of loneliness, especially when you are parted from loved ones, is to look at pictures of them; looking at the picture of a loved one helps you remember you are not alone. Looking at the pictures of loved places is my own addendum. When I look at the places I have been and I have loved – particularly when I am feeling like I don’t do anything other than work and study – those photos help me remember that is not true.  

Flex your self-care muscles.

Any new skill takes practice, and self-care is no exception. If you want self-care to become a habit in your life, you are going to need to practice it. To that end, you need to set aside some time for yourself. This is a hard ask – I know it is – but it does not have to be a huge amount of time. Ten minutes a day, or twenty minutes every other day is a good start. Once you have your time carved out, set a boundary around it. That boundary must be a sturdy one because the time within it is sacrosanct. Then practice, practice, practice your self-care activities. Read, nap, organize, rest.

Be gentle with yourself.

No new skill is learned overnight. As you are developing your self-care routine, give yourself grace. If you miss a day – or two, or three – don’t beat yourself up. Be gentle with yourself. Self-care is supposed to rejuvenate you, not cause you stress. If you find yourself feeling panicked about your self-care routine, I strongly suggest you reevaluate it.

Be flexible.

I adjust my self-care routine on a regular basis. Sometimes, what helps me feel rejuvenated is cleaning my kitchen. Sometimes, it is taking a walk. Sometimes, it is going to the library. My self-care depends on what is going on in my life, and what my emotional needs are, at the moment. So, those self-care activities you brainstormed earlier? Don’t be afraid to revisit them, to add to them, or throw them all out the window.

In our hectic and exhausting lives, we desperately need our oxygen masks. Developing and incorporating a self-care routine – one tailored to your specific needs – will help you feel replenished and refreshed. We are all caretakers, and if we don’t have our masks on, we are not going to be able to help anyone else.

Girl at Lake

Want more self-care ideas? Check out these resources:

Self Care Guide: Thoughts on how to care for all your many parts.

23 Ways to Treat Yourself: This self-care list is one of my favorites because it does involve eating or buying anything.

20 Ways to Practice Self-Care: This list is both beautiful and thoughtful.

30 Day Self-Care Challenge: Are you not sure how to get started on your self-care routine? Blogger Brianna Fae has created one for you.

© Julie Wright 2018



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Julie is a full-time student currently studying English Writing at the University of Colorado Denver. She has been writing in some format for the bulk of her life, and eventually decided, why not pursue it as a career? She is passionate about people, but women, their inner strength, and their stories have a special hold on her interest. Julie’s fascination with the stories women tell is one of the driving impulses behind Julie’s contributions to this publication. Julie is also passionate about her family, books, cooking, books, nature, and did we mention books?

2 thoughts on “Finding Your Oxygen Mask

  1. This topic is perfect. Not only do I hear these types of busy brags often, I find myself tempted to do them as well. As you mention, being busy has become a testimony of our social prestige. I absolutely love the phrase, “with very little fueling us, but caffeine and determination.” Yes! We’ve all been there and can relate to this! I also appreciate the sentiment that all of us are caregivers. How easy it is to fail to take care of ourselves when we are running from one thing to another, especially as moms. Excellent analogy of the oxygen mask on the plane to self-care. In this simple example, we begin nodding our heads: “Yes, I see what you mean. I need to be alive and well to truly take care of someone else.” I like that you give us the freedom to establish what self-care means to us. The supporting facts/articles about loneliness are well-placed. Sacrosanct is an awesome word! Love the simple conclusion!

    Some thoughts…

    – For some reason, I’m having trouble seeing the yellow color that this theme uses for hyperlinks. Is there a way to make it a bit darker? Also, could you choose to open the first link in a new tab so a reader doesn’t need to use the Back button to return to your article (the others are already)?

    – Instead of using the semicolons for the parenthetical in the first paragraph, I would make this a separate sentence (the punctuation was just a bit distracting): “…good idea of what it is. When your friend…friends and family,’ that is a busy brag.”

    – In the first sentence of the second paragraph, what would you think of putting the “however” at the beginning rather than in the middle? Because “exhaustion” is the noun for which both “physical” and “emotional” are modifiers, I think it would flow better without the break in between.

    – I think I’d remove the comma between “tired” and “to” in the second sentence of the second paragraph. This is a powerful sentence but feels like two with the break.

    – In the third sentence of the second paragraph, the semicolon should be a comma.

    – The American Airlines safety video is an excellent addition! Is there any way to stop the video prior to the life vest portion?

    – In the “What activities relax and refresh you?” section, the phrase “think up” seems out of place. Maybe just “think of” would flow better?

    – Maybe I don’t know all of the definitions, but is “addendum” the right word choice?

    – In the “Flex your self-care muscles” section, I would place a comma after, “every other day.”


  2. Hi Julie,

    I really enjoyed that you incorporated statistics into your post. I thought the stats on risk factors for fatigue and sleep were great and helped tie some great information to make more of an impact. I also enjoyed the subheadings. They helped keep the piece organized and broke the text up into sections. The analogy of self-care being like the oxygen mask was a very fitting example. It is something we hear so often, but never really put much thought into until now. You must help yourself to help others.

    A couple things to watch out for:

    -Make sure you stay consistent with making sure your “self-care” is hyphenated. Your first paragraph of the “be flexible” section has one that isn’t hyphenated.

    -There are some commas here and there that do not need to be there. Just look through your piece and reread and you should be able to spot them.

    Great work!


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