The greatest of follies is to sacrifice health for any other kind of happiness.
1788 – 1860
I’m sure most of us have been on a plane and heard the pre-flight warning about oxygen masks–you know, the one where they tell you to put your own mask on before assisting others. And we all understand the reasoning behind the instruction: you need to ensure your own health and safety first, because if you pass out from lack of oxygen, you won’t be in any condition to help others. And depending on the specific circumstances, you may not have much time or warning before you lose consciousness.
The core message the airlines are sharing–protect your own health first–applies to our everyday lives as well. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to convince ourselves to ignore it.
How many times have you put the needs of family, friends, or work ahead of your health? It probably happens more often than you think. It might be something small, like skipping a workout or a proper meal. Or it might be more significant, like missing doctor’s visits or postponing much-needed time off from work.
The problem is, you might not realize the full cost of your actions until it’s too late. In the oxygen mask scenario, by the time you notice that you’re feeling dizzy, you may not be able to grab a mask and put it on before you pass out. Similarly, if you delay a doctor’s visit that reveals a serious condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, or cancer, your body might sustain irreparable damage before you receive treatment. Even small concessions can lead to big problems as the toll of each one accumulates and adds to overall strain on your mind and body.
So what can you do? Quite simply, be aware of your needs and make them a priority. Don’t be so quick to dismiss your basic needs: proper nutrition and rest, regular exercise, adequate medical care, and mental downtime. I’m sure some of you are saying “I don’t have enough time”, but if you don’t make changes, eventually your body will force the issue.
Let’s look at some ways you can begin making self-care more of a priority.
For a start, you may have to turn down some requests for help. You can limit or eliminate optional activities that aren’t satisfying or nurturing. You might choose to do certain chores less frequently. And you should look for ways to do the same jobs more efficiently, like shopping online rather than driving to a store and walking around to collect what you need.
Next, be sure you take full advantage of the time you do have. When you’re on the phone listening to ‘hold’ music, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. If you’re stuck in the carpool lane at school, do a quick meditation with Calm.com‘s smartphone app. If you work at a desk, have a quick stretch while your computer boots up. These simple acts can be done in a minute or less and they do make a difference.
Finally, don’t try to be a superhero. It’s okay to admit that you need help too. Healthy relationships have a balance of give and take; if you’re always the one giving, then adjustments need to be made to ensure that your needs aren’t neglected.
It can be difficult to put your own needs first–particularly for women, who often define themselves as caregivers. But tending to your own health is crucial. You can only neglect the needs of your mind and body for so long before one or both break down.
So as you go through life, stop regularly and be sure you’re putting your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, there’s a good chance those decisions will catch up to you and you won’t be helping anyone.
I believe that the greatest gift you can give your family and the world is a healthy you.
Copyright © 2020 John Chancellor and Cheryl Chancellor