The Hustle: Save Yourself (at Work)! Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

Photo: Ryanair

I’m terrified of flying. Despite the fact that I have to do it monthly, I have yet to find the experience enjoyable. Because of this, I always have one ear open when the flight crew discusses safety procedures and I make sure I eyeball the exits and, well, the airsickness bag, before taking off. My years of pteromerhanophobia (aerophobia for short), mean that I know very well the importance of not blocking the exits rows and not smoking in lavatories, but one rule that always sticks out in my head is: “In the event of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop down. Put on your own oxygen mask first, then help those around you.” When I was younger and I heard this I’d think, “What? Why would my parents help themselves first and not me?” Of course as an adult it finally made sense: my parents would be useless to me if they’d passed out due to lack of oxygen. Without them healthy and thinking clearly we would all be worse off. Before I allow my brain to think of inflight emergencies for one minute longer, let’s take this example into the workplace…

In work and in life many of us as women are put in “helper roles.” We take care of our friends, parents, husbands, kids, employees, co-workers — the list can be endless. Oftentimes, however, this comes at the expense of our own mental and physical well-being, and often times at the expense of things that make us happy and whole. We are neglecting to put on our own oxygen masks first. Sometimes we feel this is a necessary evil of sorts, that there is no other choice then to give to everyone else more than we give to ourselves. We overwork ourselves or over-promise ourselves in personal relationships. We cut out that morning yoga class, we nix our evening walks, we stop taking care of ourselves. The unfortunate side effect of that is that while we think we’re doing it to help those we love or those we work with, we’re giving them a less helpful and less healthy version of ourselves. Enough!  Oxygen masks back on! It is time to realize that it is your responsibility and duty, not a luxury, to do things for yourself that make you happy, help you decompress and keep you working and living at your optimal level, realizing your highest potential.

What does putting your oxygen mask back on mean? Since mine has already dropped down, let me help you with yours! Here are a few easy steps to dealing with the cabin pressure of life:

  • Take time every day to size up how you feel mentally, emotionally and physically.  Identify your stressors, your true feelings about work and home, write them down and assess how much oxygen mask time you need.  Bad days or weeks sometimes need a little bit more…
  • Never debate, discuss or compromise the following things. Getting enough sleep, finding time for physical activity a few times a week and getting quiet time every day away from anything work-related.
  • Make a list of small “oxygen mask” activities that have a big impact on your happiness and wellbeing. Do them weekly.  For me, it’s daily walks all by myself to clear my head, think, take a breather from “everything” and it’s the choice to take the East River Ferry to work a few times a week so that I can enjoy the view of New York City and some peaceful time away from the hustle that accompanies this city’s beautiful view.  For you it could be a trip to a museum, a class, a run, a pedicure, coffee with friends, time to read, and forth. Just make sure it’s all about you. Make a list of these activities and be sure you find time weekly to do them. Carve out time for you, and use them as mini-oxygen mask breaks for yourself.

That’s it!  Not so bad, is it? Small changes but big differences in your work and home life, as well as mental and physical health, guaranteed. It was hard for me at first, especially dealing with feelings of guilt (“I could be working now, I could be taking care of a friend’s needs”), but the results made it easier. For years I referred to my businesses as my babies and my passion was just “raising healthy babies.” But just like in the airplane scenario, everyone suffers if you aren’t taken care of first!

With that, I wish you a smooth “flight” the rest of the week, with as little turbulence as possible!

–Sabina Ptacin, co-founder & chief excitement officer of PRENEUR