How to put your oxygen mask on first

Stress, tiredness, burn-out and anxiety are all issues that we are seeing a lot of right now and the number one reason for this is that they are all not taking good care of themselves. AKA putting your oxygen mask on first before you help others.

So if this is something you struggle with doing – and especially if you do it for everyone else above yourself – stay with me for my top three tips on essential self-care.

Back to basics

I am talking about the big three – exercise, sleep and nutrition. Seriously, if you do not take care of these three basics, you are going to suffer – you are literally going to run out of oxygen and end up on the floor (I know, I’ve been there).  

And then who will you be able to help?

Just a nod towards your 'guilt' sabotaging voice here (the one that tells you its bad to do this, its selfish, its a luxury, you need to look after others first, you have to be kind, be generous etc). This is not a selfish act.  

When we take care of ourselves, when we have a full tank, we are able to give so much more to everyone else. I hear the guilt line going on in your head and I'm here to tell you that listening to that voice does not serve you or anyone else in your life. When you are running on empty, no-one is getting the best of you. When you constantly run on empty there will be physical, mental, emotional and spiritual consequences.

By making sure you get enough sleep, by exercising and nourishing your body, you are ensuring (and insuring) that on a daily basis you can mentally and physically perform at your best. 

"You can't pour from an empty cup, take care of yourself first." (anon)

Block off time in your calendar

If it’s not scheduled, it’s just not happening. This is an issue for us all - its just how our brain works. If we don't schedule in our exercise, if we don't set an alarm to get to bed early (and up the next morning for a run), if we don't set aside time to buy in the right foods, it will all get sidelined by the day to day tasks. 

So make it a priority, once you've decided what you need to take care of - whether its more sleep, more (or any) exercise, or counteracting that 3pm sugar drop with some nutritious snacks; schedule in the time to do it. Make these time slots non-negotiable. "Make yourself your No 1 client", protect those slots with your life, and whatever happens, do not give them up. 

During those blocks of time, if you have the three basics handled, or for when you do, you can start adding in time for any other kind of rejuvenating activity – that could be just sitting quietly for 10 minutes, giving that brain a rest, listing to music, reading an inspiring book, or enjoying a funny TV show - whatever helps you recharge.

Just say ‘no'

Now I know this can be the toughest step of all, but saying yes to everything, putting others’ needs first, above yours is the most common cause of people heading to exhaustion and finally burnout.

If this is an issue for you, and it is for most of us who weren't taught how to state what is and is not OK with us, or who were actually taught to put ourselves last or who have had our needs ignored, then this is great to practice. Start with someone easy, someone whom saying no to would be no big deal. Or if you love a challenge go straight for the people you struggle saying no to. Notice how it feels. Notice what it gives you. Notice their reaction. 

If you don’t start doing this and carving out some essential, yes essential time to take care of yourself, you will have nothing left in the tank and then whose going to take care of everything and everyone else?


As with anything you want to change in your life it's a two part process:

  • Awareness
  • Action.  

So if you do want (or feel you need) to improve your self care, for the next two weeks decide on what you are going to do, block it off in your calendar, and do it consistently for the next two weeks.  

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London EC1A & W1G
Written by Sue Belton, Leadership & Career Coach, PgD, CPCC, PCC
London EC1A & W1G

Sue Belton works with people who feel unsatisfied with their lives and careers. She helps them get clarity about what will make them truly happy and fulfilled and then helps them create more meaningful lives. Sue has been working as a life coach for ten years.

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