First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask

A Self-Care Journey, Part 3

Last week I shared an article about what self-care is and what it is not (see blog post here) and the week before I shared a story of my own self-care journey (see blog post here). Today, I want to provide self-care ideas that you can adapt to your own self-care journey to living a better, healthier life.

I mentioned in last week’s blog post that all aspects of our well-being are dependent on how we feel physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. If any one of these areas is not functioning properly, then the other areas will start working harder to compensate for the part of us that’s not working well. If this continues on for a prolonged period of time, another area might breakdown and then another until we have a complete breakdown and stop working altogether.

This is why it’s so important to take care of all aspects of our life and not just focus on one area or another. In order to live the best life we possibly can live, we need to maintain our health in these four key areas:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Mental
  • Spiritual

We will look at some ideas below on how to take care of yourself in each one of these areas, but first, let’s breakdown self-care further into two parts: necessary self-care and optional self-care.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a licensed medical practitioner, dietitian or therapist. All statements made in this article are based on my own personal opinion and experience, and should not be used in lieu of professional advice.

Necessary Self-Care

Necessary self-care includes activities that we all must do to maintain a level of health in our lives. These activities are not optional. Skipping these activities can result in serious long-term consequences that would have a negative impact on your health.

Necessary self-care includes activities such as:

  • Eating at regular intervals every day
  • Eating food that is good for your body
  • Exercising at least thirty minutes a day
  • Going to bed on time
  • Sleeping the length of time that your body needs
  • Getting adequate rest (this goes beyond sleep and includes taking breaks and vacations)
  • Brushing and flossing your teeth
  • Visiting your doctor for an annual physical
  • Visiting your dentist for an annual or semi-annual cleaning
  • Visiting your eye doctor for an annual or biennial eye exam
  • Not letting your emotions get out of control
  • Taking steps to minimize stress

The consequences for skipping any of the above activities range from minor to major. For example, if you miss your yearly cleaning appointment with your dentist, you may have a cavity the next time you visit. However, if you don’t ever brush your teeth, you may have more than just cavities to worry about—you might need a root canal or a cap one on or more of your teeth. Not only are these very expensive procedures, but the health of your teeth has deteriorated substantially which may require more work in the future.

Most of us don’t struggle too much with not remembering to visit our doctor or dentist, but we may struggle in other areas, such as not enforcing a proper bedtime or eating too much junk food.

When I went through an extremely stressful period in my life, going to bed on time was one of the hardest things for me to do because I felt obligated to finish my novel-length to-do list before going to bed. Not only did this result in me going to bed late, but it also prevented me from being able to relax my mind which in turn prevented me from being able to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night. Not getting enough sleep made it extremely difficult for me to function well at work and I was often irritable with colleagues, clients and family.

Another aspect self-care that I failed at terribly was by overeating, not eating at regular times and eating foods that were bad for me. The direct consequence of this resulted in me gaining weight until I became borderline obese, which then began to result in other health problems with long-term consequences, such as the onset of type-2 diabetes and chronic fatigue.

Optional Self-Care

I call this section optional self-care not because the suggestions below aren’t as important, but because they vary from person-to-person. While they may work for one person, they won’t work for every person.

Optional self-care includes activities such as (but not limited to):

  • Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep-breathing exercises
  • Prayer and Bible study (for me, personally, this is a necessary act of self-care because I function better as a human being when I’m more connected to my Heavenly Father, but I place it under optional self-care because I understand that not everyone shares the same beliefs as me)
  • Taking naps during the day
  • Watching TV
  • Reading a book
  • Going to Church
  • Connecting with other people
  • Drinking herbal tea instead of coffee

Now that we have established the difference between necessary methods of self-care versus optional methods, we can dive further into self-care ideas based on the four areas of our lives: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The highlighted statements fall under the necessary self-care category, but each bullet point is optional based on your own personal preference.

Physical Self-Care

Exercise for a minimum of thirty minutes a day, either in the morning before work, during lunch or after work.

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
Exercise. First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask, A Self-Care Journey, Photo Copyright 2013, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Walk around your neighbourhood
  • Take a hike along a forest trail
  • Jog or run outside or on a treadmill
  • Participate in a marathon or walk-a-thon
  • Swim in a pool or at the beach
  • Go to the gym
  • Lift weights
  • Stretch your muscles
  • Stand instead of sit
  • Help a friend move
  • Mow the lawn or shovel the snow
  • Clean the house
  • Join a sports team

Eat well-balanced healthy meals at regular intervals throughout the day.

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
Eat healthy foods. First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask, A Self-Care Journey, Photo Copyright 2020, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Make a home-cooked meal instead of eating out
  • Pack a lunch instead of picking up takeout
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables before eating the carbs and starches on your plate
  • Try a vegetarian or vegan diet to reduce your meat consumption
  • Eat one meal a day with your daily recommended meat requirement and go vegetarian for the remaining meals
  • Eat a piece of fruit during your coffee break
  • Start your day off right with a balanced breakfast
  • Try to put one item from each of the four food groups on your plate
  • Make sure your serving of vegetables is double the portion of carbs and meat on your plate
  • Eat more smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals
  • Don’t skip a meal
  • Eat until you’re satisfied, not full
  • Don’t bring junk food in your house
  • Drink tea instead of coffee
  • Limit your caffeine intake

Schedule an adequate amount of time for rest in your day, including sleep and breaks.

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
Rest. First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask, A Self-Care Journey, Small-Town Girl at Heart, 2020, Photo Credit: Canva

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Set and enforce your bedtime to ensure you get the required number of hours you need to sleep
  • Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before bed to give your mind time to wind down from stimulation
  • Read a non-stimulating book before bed or until you fall asleep
  • Take a nap if you feel you need one, but set a timer for 30-60 minutes to limit the length of your nap
  • Don’t nap too late in the day otherwise it may affect your sleep at night (my rule of thumb is no later than 4:00 p.m.)
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after 12:00 noon so it doesn’t affect your sleep, as caffeine takes about eight hours to get out of your system
  • Take adequate breaks throughout the day away from your work, especially if you start feeling stressed
  • Organize your day in order of priority to ensure the top priority items get done (include a time of rest in your top priority)
  • Get a massage, go to the spa, get your hair or nails done, or do whatever you find relaxing
  • Take a sick day when you really are sick instead of forcing yourself to go to work anyway

Emotional Self-Care

Deal with your emotions as they arise and learn to control how you let your emotions affect your behaviour.

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
Practice deep breathing. First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask, A Self-Care Journey, Photo Copyright 2011, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Speak to a counsellor or trusted friend to talk about trauma or stress in your life
  • Identify what triggers certain emotions (e.g. if you feel irritable with people, find out why—did you get enough sleep, are you not feeling well, is the person you’re talking to triggering a past hurt) and deal with it
  • Practice deep breathing and/or mindfulness techniques to deal with stress and emotions
  • Keep an emotional journal to help you identify your emotions and look for any patterns that trigger certain emotions

Mental Self-Care

Ensuring you maintain a state of good mental health will improve your health in all other aspects of your life. After all, your brain is the control centre of your entire body, so if your brain is unwell, the rest of your body will be unwell.

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
Practice gratitude. First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask, A Self-Care Journey, Photo Copyright 2019, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Practice gratitude daily to remind you of the positive aspects of your life
  • Limit the amount of time you spend watching or reading the news or negative stories
  • Limit the types of books, movies, music, TV shows, and video games that affect you in a negative way
  • Say something positive instead of something negative (but avoid false or toxic positivity – see this article for an explanation of this concept)
  • Don’t constantly complain about things you don’t like; instead, praise something you do like
  • Lift up others in praise and/or compliments
  • Love yourself for who you are and what you look like. It’s fine if you want to change something you don’t like about yourself, such as wanting to lose weight, but if it’s something you can’t change, such as the structure of your nose or the width of your hips, then accept yourself as you are.
  • Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses unless you can change your weaknesses
  • Embrace change when it happens. Change is an inevitable part of life. If you spend too much time clinging to the past, you may find yourself left behind.
  • Live in the present, not the past or the future. Let go of what has happened and don’t dwell on what hasn’t happened yet. You can only live your life as it is right now.
  • Talk to your doctor if you don’t feel well mentally (e.g. if you are dealing with anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders/mental illnesses). Dealing with any mental health issues early on can prevent long-term damage that you might not recover from down the road.

Spiritual Self-Care

Last but not least, your spiritual health is just as important as all other aspects of your well-being. If you don’t feel secure spiritually, you may find this affects other aspects of your life. For those of you who do not identify as “religious,” simply replace the “religious” phrases with your own spiritual terminology.

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
Study the Bible. First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask, A Self-Care Journey, Photo Copyright 2018, Small-Town Girl at Heart, All Rights Reserved

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Spend time each day in prayer and study, as much or as little time as you need to help you tackle the day.
  • Join a prayer group at work or church and pray for other people in your group as well as other people in your life.
  • Pray for people or situations in your life that you find difficult to handle.
  • Meditate on a passage of Scripture to help you through the day.
  • Say short, one-sentence breath prayers throughout the day, not only when you find the day difficult, but also when you are feeling thankful.
  • Take a short break to take a “prayer walk,” even if it’s just a walk to the bathroom and back.
  • Instead of listening to the radio or music, pray silently while you’re commuting to and from work (this takes a lot of practice to learn how to block out everything around you and focus on your prayers).
  • Invite God to be a part of all aspects of your life, not just your “spiritual” life.
  • Talk to God throughout the day, offering prayers of thanksgiving or praise.
  • Join a Church community, such as a small group, to have a support system that will help you through your spiritual journey.
  • Talk with others about your faith and beliefs, and listen to their own story without judgment.

These are just some suggestions to help you along your self-care journey. You don’t have to do all of these suggestions in order to take care of yourself. Pick and choose the ones that you feel will work best for you and practice them. If something isn’t working for you, drop it and try something else.

Self-care takes dedication, discipline and practice. Don’t leave it to sit on the back burner. Make it a priority and make sure others know it’s a priority, even your boss, your spouse, and your kids. Don’t budge if someone asks you to do something that would sacrifice your own health and well-being.

If you have flown in an airplane, then you know the safety protocols that the flight attendants go over before the commencement of each flight. In an emergency situation, you are told to first put on your own oxygen mask before helping others to put theirs on, including your children. Why? Because you might pass out and won’t be able to help anyone. You may even put others in danger if you pass out and need assistance.

When it comes to self-care, pretend you’re on an airplane listening to the emergency protocols. It’s okay to take care of yourself first. In fact, you have permission to take care of yourself first. Only once you are in a state of good health and well-being will you be able to help others.

So put on your oxygen mask and take a deep breath.

First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask
Put on your mask and take a deep breath. First Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask, A Self-Care Journey, Small-Town Girl at Heart, 2020, Photo Credit: Canva


You are not alone.

You. Are. Loved.


I hope you find love, hope and peace in these words.

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