Put on your oxygen mask first!

Give yourself the gift of a life-saving breather

There’s good reason flight attendants, in going through the emergency routines, tell parents to put their oxygen masks on first: we can’t possibly help our kids if we’re incapacitated. So why don’t we do this in real life?

As women, men, dads, moms—working and stay-at-home—we run around all day doing what needs to be done for our jobs, the kids, the family, the house, ailing and elderly parents, other people in need…but leave little—if no—time for ourselves.  For some crazy reason, we don’t consider that important. (It also seems to be the easiest thing to skimp on since we have no immediate and outward consequences.)

In speaking last night to my brother—a dad of 4 kids—I heard about how sick he’s been: lethargic, unable to do his typical running around (which usually involves driving his kids to various soccer games at all hours in between doing what he needs to do for his full-time job). He’s worried; his family is worried. He hasn’t been taking care of himself—and it’s catching up with him.

In fact, SO many people that I talk to tell me how little they do for themselves. One woman I just met with yesterday told me how she has found it so hard to find time to exercise: work has been nonstop with frequent overseas traveling, home life has been compounded by a husband with a bad back, and there are kids’ birthday parties to plan and so much more. Life was filled with just making sure that everyone else has what he/she needed.

I talked to another woman who told me her husband had just been laid off from his high-profile job; she was thankful. “He was headed for a heart attack,” she told me, adding that he’s now finally taking time for himself and de-stressing. “It’s a gift that he got let go,” she said. “He couldn’t keep up at that pace much longer.”

The picture is all-too-common these days. We’re rushing through life at top speed that, at some point, we’re going to be forced to slow down: we’ll get sick or at worse, have a breakdown. I read a horrible story in People this week about a stay-at-home mom who shot both her teenage kids in the head; she killed them just like that. www.people.com/people/article/0,,20463841,00.html

What possible horrific point does a mom need to get to do this to her two babies???? That’s obviously the worst extreme, but I think to myself: this woman had no life and didn’t care of her needs at all—and this built up over time and, most likely combined with mental illness, she lost it. But why didn’t she ask for help? It’s just beyond sad.

The bottom line: we all need to start taking a stand for ourselves: make time for YOU. Take a lunch break, every day. Go to that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Make a date to see a friend for coffee—every week. Get out to walk for a breather in the morning, at night after dinner. Exercise. Ask for help: you can’t do it alone. Eat healthy: sugar and sweets and caffeine can contribute to the frenzy. Drink enough water. Don’t smoke. Have a drink, in moderation. Take care of your mental health; if you feel like you’re spiraling out of control, seek help. Call in sick to work if you need a breather. Wake up a little earlier and create a tea or meditation ritual for yourself. Watch a sunrise. Take deep breaths.

You have to take care of yourself before you do everything for everyone else. It’s not selfish and it can’t be an option; it’s a matter of personal survival.

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Valerie LatonaAbout Valerie Latona
As the former editor in chief of Shape (the active lifestyle magazine) for 5 years, I personally spoke with a lot of women (thousands over the years, from around the nation) and what I found is this: it's not easy to stay healthy, to get (and stay) fit, and to stem the weight gain tide (and even the tide of disease) that inevitably happens to us as we get older.