Have you been on a plane and heard the flight attendant tell you to put on your oxygen mask first? The immediate response is, "No way, I need to take care of my kids (husband, mother, best friend, stranger in the seat next to me...). The idea clashes with our instinct.

What does it really mean? Simply put: If you don't put your mask on first, you won't be there for all those other people when they need you. You will be unconscious.

The same applies to caregivers. Our natural tendency is to do for others, because we are caring, loving, nurturing, responsible, supportive and competent people. However, just like the oxygen mask, we need to take care of ourselves so we can effectively take care of the people we love.

So what stands in the way of caring for yourself? The most common barrier is the belief that we are selfish if we do for ourself. Selfish is lacking consideration for others or concern with ones own pleasure or profit. This is not what caring for yourself is. Taking care of ones self is self-care.

It is personal health maintenance or restoring and maintaining physical, mental and spiritual health. Self-care is exercise, eating healthy, getting proper rest, having a support system and taking a time out to just relax. We apply the same skills and traits that we use for caregiving to ourselves when we practice self-care.

Why is this so important? Burn-out, depression, loneliness and physical ailments are just a few results that can happen if we neglect self-care. A good analogy would be if we neglect our car over a period of time, do not change the oil, clean it, rotate the tires, maintain the belts etc. our car will not run very well, and eventually it will break down. The same goes for a caregiver.

Self-care is the oxygen mask for the caregiver. It is an opportunity to breathe in new life.

The question becomes, what is your oxygen mask and where to begin?
For each of us, the answer is different. However the key to beginning is with baby steps.

Start small with 10- 15-minute increments and build up.

Here are some examples:

• Take a shower and turn on your favorite music. Listening to your favorite music creates a mental recess and uplifts the spirit.

• Pet your dog or cat. It is vital for human beings to connect with life. Petting an animal will help you create a sense of love naturally and soothes the soul.

• Go outside. Take a walk, or sit in the fresh air. A 5-10 minute walk outside enlivens the spirit, exercises the body to keep it healthy and helps recharge our batteries. Sit in the fresh air and take deep breaths and you will notice an instant change in your well-being.

• Eat the pie. Indulge and take the last piece of pie or make a favorite meal. Treating yourself makes you feel special.

• Laugh. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. Laughing also relaxes the whole body, boosts the immune system, and shifts are perspectives. So read the comics, watch a funny show or share a joke or funny story.

Put the mask on first! This is not selfish. This is practicing self-care to maintain your mind, body and soul.
It is the most valuable gift you can give yourself and the people who depend on you.

What is your oxygen mask?

Author's Bio: 

Sharon Roth-Lichtenfeld, CPC, ELI MP, BFA is a Certified Professional Life Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner from the Institute for Professional Empowerment Coaching (IPEC). She works with people and caregivers who experience life-changing events i.e. catastrophic illness, divorce, physical & mental disabilities & death of a loved one.

With over 40 years experience with catastrophic illness, 20 years as a caregiver, numerous life changing events, her personal understanding, knowledge as well as professional coaching skills enable her to achieve dramatic results when working with individuals or groups. Sharon brings caring, compassion, inspiration and support to her clients through workshops, one-on-one coaching and teleclasses so they can thrive in the face of change and adversity.

She received her Bachelor degree in Graphic Design from Pratt Institute, and had a long career as an art director.

Sharon is involved with the steering committee for special education in her local school district, a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), New Jersey Professional Coaches Association, National Association of Woman Business Owners (NAWBO), Transformations Holistic Learning Center, South Jersey Wellness Council and Powerful You! Woman’s Network.

Clients include: Gilda's Club-South Jersey, Kennedy Cancer Center, People in Transition of Gloucester County, MS Society.

You can reach Sharon at: sharon@goodgriefcoaching.com or www.goodgriefcoaching.com