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Are you putting on your own mask first?

Although it may seem like a distant memory, many of us remember being told to put on your own mask first before attending to others.

There is of course, a scientific explanation for this. As cabin pressure drops in a plane, oxygen levels drop and hypoxia is a real concern. Hypoxia is a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain and the longer you go without oxygen, the greater the effects become.

Symptoms of hypoxia vary from person to person but include things like euphoria, numbness, apprehension, nausea, fatigue and belligerence among others. Putting on your own mask first means you will not deplete your oxygen levels and will be better able to help others.

If it is not obvious yet, this is a very real metaphor for life, particularly in Covid times. This applies to leaders, parents, partners and friends. Anyone in any sort of relationship or group.

I see it in all aspects of coaching – career coaching, executive coaching and life coaching and not just during Covid. If you don’t look after yourself, how can you be there to support others. It makes sense, you need to have the energy to be compassionate, empathic, caring and supportive for those around you. If this energy is going out, how do you make sure it comes back in? How would it be to prioritise it coming back in?

There are many reasons why this does not happen. One of the most common I see is a feeling that somehow, looking after yourself is selfish. Looking after yourself means you are not looking after others. It means you are putting yourself first and therefore, putting others second.

Let me ask you a question:

How would it be to put yourself first?

For a lot of people, that question will have made you feel a little uncomfortable. You may have shifted in your chair. Suddenly had to scratch an itch. Had a part of you tell you that would be selfish – consciously or subconsciously.

Let me ask you a slightly different question:

How would it be to start to put yourself first from time to time?

It may be that this is a slightly easier question to answer. It may have been less uncomfortable. It is possible that this is a less seemingly drastic shift from where you put yourself now in terms of priority so is a bit more attainable.

If you were to put yourself first from time to time, what would the value be for you?

Often, this is met with something along the lines of ‘Having more energy to look after others’. Often, this is the point of realisation that looking after yourself does not mean you are selfish or not looking after others. In fact, it is the act of looking after yourself, or self-care, that allows you to be there for others more.

If you are in a management or leadership position, looking after people on a human level is more important than ever. Making sure that the people you work with and are responsible for are practicing self-care, whatever that looks like for them, is absolutely critical. Making sure you practice self-care is also critical.

There can be a temptation to separate the personal and professional if how and who you are in work is different to your personal life. But the synergies between work and personal are clear and during Covid in particular, the lines between work and personal are completely blurred.

Without energy coming in through self-care and support by those around you (who also need to look after themselves), it limits the energy going out. This could be energy going out to support others, going into your work, or having enough energy to keep yourself going.

It seems like tips for self-care are everywhere – exercise, getting outside, talking to others, etc. but one thing I have learned is that it is whatever works for you. No judgement. No one thing is better than the other. You don’t need to walk 5k a day, you don’t need to finish a book every week, you don’t need to meditate. You can if these things work for you but the key is to find what works for you and build it into your day.

Put your own mask on first. It is the only way to help others.

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