“Secure your own oxygen mask first, before helping others.”
This phrase started out as a straight-forward instruction to airplane passengers and has become a cliché of self-care. And despite being a cliché, it is pretty good advice. If you don’t look after yourself, you won’t have the capacity to look after others.
A large part of self-care during these very uncertain times is managing one’s own emotions and coping with the generalized anxiety that seems to hover in the air. People are fearful about their health, the health of their loved ones, and the economic fallout from the pandemic. While this is all understandable, it doesn’t make the negative emotion any easier to manage. At the same time, we’re getting used to many new realities: staying at home, perhaps looking after children who miss their routines and their friends, gyms, shops, and places of worship closed. We’re both in closer proximity with some people and separated farther from others.
A lot of people are on edge. Managing one’s own emotions is crucial. Conflicts can be sparked by trivial matters. It is important not the allow small disagreements to escalate.
A number of philosophical and religious traditions from around the world stress the importance of our attitude to events. The tradition I’m most familiar with is Stoicism. To the Stoics, the key to happiness is to have the right mindset. What this means now is to recognize that while many people are under extreme stress, you have power over your own thoughts and attitudes. You can care for others without taking on their anxiety. You can focus on what is going well in your own life and on doing what you can to improve things in the moment.
Here are some practical suggestions:
- Being honest about your fears will help you keep them in perspective. Have at least one person in your life you can be honest with.
- You also need one person in your life whom you can vent to about daily annoyances. (If possible, this should not be someone you live with.) But keep it brief. Limit a “gripe session” to five minutes. Going on and on isn’t good for you, or for the person who has to listen to you.
- One sure way to get out of your own head is to ask yourself what you can do for others. Remember to reciprocate, and give your “venting partner” an opportunity to share his or her anxieties with you. (Again, limit this to 5 minutes or so.)
Taking the time and effort to manage your own emotions in a stressful time is one of the most effective ways to practice self-care and ensure that you have the emotional capacity to care for those around you.
About the image: Royal Australian Air Force Leading Aircraftswoman gives a safety brief to passengers. Source: photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch, Flickr