Whenever the flight attendant gives the standard
safety lecture, no one pays attention, but I stop
whatever I'm doing and make myself watch. It's
a welcome reminder to take better care of
myself. I savor the part where the attendant
holds up the oxygen mask and tells everyone,
"If you have small children traveling with you,
be sure to secure your oxygen mask before assisting
How often do you get permission to put yourself
Traveling parents aren't the only ones who need to
heed that advice. Too many of us, especially
women, are guilty of neglecting ourselves.
We're raised to put our spouse, children, neighbors,
and strangers, even jobs, first.
I once interviewed a psychologist from the Cleveland
Clinic for a radio show about stress. Dr.
Michael McKee said something I've never
forgotten: "Don't have a double standard
for you." You need to treat yourself as
well as you treat everyone else. That lesson
hit hard one day when I planned to go to yoga class
and finally penciled it in on my busy
calendar. I hadn't been to one in months and
made sure I kept the evening free for me. Two
hours before class, a dear friend called and needed
a sitter. Could I watch her son that evening?
Sure, I said, and canceled my yoga plans. Why
did she need me to babysit?
She wanted to go to yoga.
I got screwed out of going to yoga and I did it to myself, all
by myself. I had a wonderful time visiting with her child,
but I didn't stop and consult me before giving my time away. . .
How do we change? How do we put the oxygen mask on first?
First, give yourself permission to do so. Consider this
your official permission slip to take better care of you.
The care and feeding of you is up to you and no one else.
Dr. McKee offered a few solutions to try. Here are some of
the takeaways from our conversation:
Take care of yourself: Don't have a double
standard. Don't respect your commitments to yourself less
than you do your commitments to others. Don't give
yourself away so there's nothing left of you for you.
Don't pencil in time for you--put it in ink.
Take five: Stop and take five minutes to get calm,
centered, and clear. Before picking up the kids after work
or stopping at the store, sit in the car and be still.
Reboot. You'll make better decisions and discover you
really aren't the axis on which the world spins. What a
Take six breaths a minute: I suck at
breathing. Dr. McKee suggested taking just six breaths
every minute. Inhale for five seconds, then spend five
seconds exhaling. Try it. It's amazing.
Take it back: Don't hand the remote control of your
emotions to others. No more blaming: "That guy
is driving me nuts. . . My boss is giving me an ulcer. . . The
kids are giving me a migraine." Take back the remote
and keep pressing CALM. You can't control what others do,
but you can control your emotional reaction to them.
Take a breather all through the day: Pick cues for
practicing your new breathing, like when you're stopped at a
light, get an e-mail from your boss, or have to wait in line at
the store. Take one or two ten-second abdominal breaths
and say to yourself, "All is well, all is well."
Take a pleasure cruise: Every week set aside one
hour for you. Make it your own personal pleasure
cruise. Take an hour of beauty and go to the art museum, a
jewelry gallery, or visit a flower shop. Take an hour of
calm and listen to your favorite music, read a favorite poet,
use your favorite bubble bath. Take an hour of nature and
soak up the sun, the sound of the rain, the glimmer of
stars. If you can't do 60 minutes straight, give yourself
three 20-minute gifts of pleasure.
Take a blessing inventory: When you're stuck in
rush-hour traffic, look around and make a quick gratitude
check. The car next to you is held together by duct
tape. Ah. Be grateful for your car. The car in
front has three screaming children. Om. Be grateful
for the silence inside your car.
Take the short view: See life as a series of
sprints, not one long endless marathon with no end in
sight. In between the series of jaunts, rest and renew.
Aristotle separated the world into thinking, feeling, and
doing. Dr. McKee said to manage stress well, one has to
change in each of those domains. My favorite Aristotle
quote is this: "We are what we repeatedly
do." Try to make it a habit to love yourself as much
as you do everyone else.
Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and everyone around you
will breathe a little easier, too.