On my recent flight back from Haiti, I found myself tuning out the flight attendant's "in case of an emergency" speech before take-off. But the speech came back to my attention when I heard the familiar line, "For your own safety, be sure to secure your own oxygen mask before securing that of the person sitting next to you."
"Self care." I thought.
The analogy is simple. Airlines asks that passengers (especially mothers traveling with children) secure their own oxygen before they assist the person sitting next to them, so that they will have the oxygen necessary to sustain them through helping their neighbor. If mothers were to tend to their children and ignore their own needs, there is a good chance that the mothers would suffocate before they could help their child, and neither party would have a chance.
Following those instructions seems to make sense logically, but think about how difficult it would really be in that moment to take the time to save yourself when you know your child is suffering right in front of you. Would you really be able to make the choice to help yourself? It takes a conscious decision to do what's best in the long term, so that you both can survive.
This is completely relevant to self care. It is easy to put the needs of the people you are taking care of above your own. You give so much of your limited time and energy to your caregiving role, that sometimes when you stop and look around, you can't breathe.
Women, especially, have a difficult time putting their own needs before others. We feel guilty, or we don't think there is enough time in the day to set aside time for ourselves. But if you think about it in terms of the flight attendant's instructions, taking care of yourself is not only recommended, its required.
If it is important enough for airlines to remind travelers on every flight about the policy, and it is the training that they requires all employees follow, then there must be something to it, right?
The take away point is this: If you feel guilty about taking time out to do something for yourself-- to ground yourself, to release stress, recharge your batteries, or recenter your spirit-- then don't.
I know this is easier said than done, but the truth is, it is the only way that we will survive in the long run. It is the only chance we have at being present, compassionate, effective caregivers for any measurable amount of time. Without making self care a priority that we accept as general policy in our lives, there is a good chance we will damage ourselves to the point of having no chance to help anyone else, because we can't breathe.