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The importance of putting your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you.

Updated: May 19, 2023

As a parent, our own needs can get buried at the bottom of the pile. The idea of looking after ourselves can feel selfish and we can be struck by feelings of guilt if we consider doing anything about this. However, we all really do have to remember that self-care is certainly not selfish. Moreover, it is actually crucial that we do this.

Think of the safety message that is given to us when we travel on planes “Always put your own oxygen mask on first before helping those around you”. I had heard this message many times as an adult travelling on my own or with friends and had never really thought about it. But when I was travelling for the first time with my 2-year-old daughter it struck me. My first thought I would want to make sure she had her oxygen first! But then I realised, I need to make sure I am okay first in order to help her.

I find it helpful to remember this message in everyday life, especially during stressful times. Our children need us to be okay, to put our oxygen masks on before we are in a position to help and support them.

When there is a problem with anxiety in your family this is particularly important. This is because anxiety can grow anxiety. Supporting and helping your teen to overcome their anxiety can lead you as a parent to feel a degree of anxiety, which in turn can be felt by your teen and increase their anxiety further. Parent anxiety can come from worries and thoughts for your child’s well-being and the things they are avoiding in life, worries about whether you are doing the right things to help and how to juggle helping your child alongside all of the other things you have on your plate. Anxiety can of course also be felt from other things in life such as career, financial and other family pressures.

My plea if that you put yourself in the best position to help your teen by prioritising yourself every now and then. Here are the ways I take time for myself:

  • I take a walk out of the house on my own. I live in a town but walk over the park so I can feel a little in nature. I use all my senses of notice what I can see, hear, smell, touch - this really helps me be in the moment so that I can move away from any thoughts and worries and find a moment of calm. I am so looking forward to doing this more as the evenings get lighter over the coming weeks and months.

  • Take a shower or bath and again take a moment to move away from the thoughts and worries; narrowing my focus on that moment rather than on to worries about what has happened or what might happen.

  • Listen to an audio book or podcast (I often combined this with going for a walk or doing household chores).

  • Getting into bed early to watch some easy viewing TV (at the moment this is The Apprentice, Next Level Chef or Home and Away).

  • Going for a coffee or to the pub with friends.

  • Going for lunch with my parents.

I know other parents who have different things that work for them (such as swimming, running, going to the gym, reading books, playing musical instruments, doing crosswords, arts and crafts) and I am sure you will have things that work for you. Prioritising these moments allow you take a break so you can rebuild your resources and energy to once more by there for your child.

Remember how necessary it is to "put your own mask on before helping those around you".

Dr Beck


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