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Oxygen Mask: Focusing on Self-Care in Order to Help Others

— Basil Jackson, Host of the So I Was Thinking Podcast

I know. It sounds weird to associate a tool used in emergencies with philanthropy and service.

But hear me out.

When crisis strikes on a plane and those oxygen masks deploy, what is the number one rule? “Make sure to put your oxygen mask on before assisting others.” While counterintuitive, there is some logic to the idea that you can’t help others if you’re not okay yourself.

Applying this concept towards giving and serving others, you must prioritize self-care. If you don’t, you’ll be unable to properly care for those around you. So what steps might one take to practice self-care? Look no further than below:

Practicing Daily Check-ins

If you don’t read another line, my main advice would be this: Be sure to mentally check in with yourself regularly. You could journal, practice meditation, or even just look in the mirror and ask: “How am I feeling today?” Having a baseline awareness of your emotional/mental state can change the course of your day. 

Several times I have started a volunteer experience with low energy, only to realize how my mood was affecting how I presented to the people around me. After internally checking in, I was able to readjust and be fully present. In turn, I could sense the spirit and energy of those I was serving lift as well.

Checking in with yourself may seem like a small task, but it can have profound effects on our health, and thus on our ability to help.

Staying active

While it should go without saying, there are a ton of benefits to staying active. Even still, when I reflect on the first activities I drop when I get overwhelmed, it’s doing exercise. 

So my advice: make it easy and fun! For me, when I can’t make it to the gym before work, I might hop on my skateboard which changes up my commute but also gets me moving in a fun way. 

If I’m stretched for time, I may even schedule little ‘dance’ breaks in my day to keep the blood flowing. The point is, even if you’re stressed from your responsibilities, carving out time for physical activity can be the antidote to keep you going.

Organizing Your Finances

Especially important for young professionals, the sooner you can get your financial affairs in order, the better. Take it from someone who figured this out later than he would like – having a budget or system for your finances can give you tremendous peace of mind. It also gives you more power to donate more on a more consistent basis. 

Again, this is the oxygen mask principle at work. If your finances are not in order, you’ll often find yourself unable to donate to the causes that matter most to you. So, schedule a weekend and take the time to sit with your finances. Here’s an article to get you started.

Creating a Support System

At the risk of sounding cliché, there is a saying that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” For young professionals focused on philanthropy and service, it is imperative to have a support system (with one strong recommendation).

For most, this means curating a group of friends, colleagues, or family who support you and your endeavors. They can also be there to lean on when things don’t go well.

Personally, every support system should also include therapy (if affordable). Speaking from my own experience, therapy can be a vital tool to not only help you maintain a well-balanced lifestyle; but also enable you to be fully present and productive for others.

At the end of the day, we’re only able to help those around us if we’re on stable ground as well. Although life doesn’t come with the little instruction manuals we see on airplanes, people should remember rule No. 1: Make sure to put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.