It will be a while until I get on a plane, but thanks go to a perky flight attendant on the Tucson-Chicago flight for this simple idea. It happened years ago; yet the whole idea is particularly timely right now. So with a bit of tweaking to update my priorities, here we go. 

The Story

On that particular flight the attendant was quite attractive. I usually listen to the safety instructions; sometimes I even twist around to scope out the nearest exit. Perky FA was very engaging as she  went through the seat belt and exit instructions; I just sat back and watched her. Then she moved on to “Should the air flow to the cabin be reduced, an oxygen mask will drop down from overhead. Pull the elastic over your head, place the mask over your mouth, and breathe. If you are traveling with a young child or someone who needs help, put the oxygen mask on yourself first.” 

At this the woman next to me sighed, “If only I could do that every day.”

Well, hold on now, why not? I readily acknowledged there are things that made me feel like there was no time for me. I was a classic “people pleaser.” My To Do list tended to be endless. “I don’t have enough time” was sadly overused. The  “I have to’s”  and “shoulds” often edged out any chance of doing meditation, or just sitting and staring from my patio and doing … nothing. 

Let Go of Old Ideas

Research shows that 4 minutes of meditation can change brain waves, a nap does refresh you, and going to sleep if you are tired has its benefits. Huh? This went against much of what I had been taught and that still is enculturated in the “success” mode of Western societies. Work first, then play. Finish the job. Push though. Suck it up. Yes, these enabled me to get the job done. The compliments of being organized, efficient, or competent sometimes actually sabotaged my health. The recovery from the resulting stress often made for a very unbalanced equation. Situations like IBS, neck “issues,” insomnia, and impatience became all too “normal.” Competent, but not self-caring.

Things That Call for a Virtual “O2 Mask”

Bad vibes, dis-ease, negative news, too much news, can make me want to escape. Even new situations sometimes call for a break. New job, new house, new food plan. Same with losses through death or divorce. Even a change in habit, although for the better, calls for practicing letting go, a kind of “death” of the old idea. Life can be difficult. Stress isn’t always negative. Positive stress like the excitement of a book launch, an upcoming holiday, requires time to relax before, during, and after the event. 

When I pushed aside/ignored uneasy feelings, they built up like a soda can that was rolling around in a hot trunk. If the feelings weren’t lessened, it had to blow. The tension that built up around the feelings, thoughts, expectations of these situations = STRESS! If situations got repeated, it became chronic stress. Stress—when your mind says NO and your vocal cords form a squeaky yes. If I followed the dots of stress there was always a connection to accepting and dealing with an illness, pain, difficult person, etc.

A Looming Stressor: COVID 19

Today the layer over every action is the reminder we live in a pandemic, battling  a virus that strikes all ages and claims 15 million cases in the U.S. Each occasion of grocery shopping, medical appts, work, deliveries includes the new “don’t leave home without it”: mask, the wipes, sanitizers, wash your hands so much you feel like Lady Macbeth,  preparedness to “don’t touch,” and be ready to ask people to move back-small actions with big emotions attached. Add in more stress if you are a caregiver, first responder, and concern of relatives for their family and friends.

Changing Habits
Life also calls for being friendly to myself. Practicing detaching from a “storyline” and only looking at the action helps me be more objective and less apt to cling to fear or former “people pleasing” thoughts. 

Write Your Own Permission Slip

Taking care of myself might be just the thing someone else needs to see to inspire them to “take care.”  With lots (and lots) of practice I am able to put on that “O2 mask” first! If I have my 2020 “Don’t leave home without it” kit always prepped and in its now assigned spot on the shelf by the door, it saves flustered time when I’m on my way out. If I step onto my yoga mat each morning I move into a space of reliability and assurance. 

“O2 masks” That Work for Me

  • Yoga, dance- (forget the line “dance like nobody is watching.” Nobody is watching!), read, walk, hike, bike, a plain old bath-light a candle for soothing light. 
  • Start/end the day with time to: walk, read, meditation, exercise, sleep, eat healthy pleasant tasting foods, cut out sugar. Ex.: Pema Chodron, Shakti Gawain, 365 Days of Richer Living or listen to Deva Premal, iRest Yoga Nidra, Pandora’s relaxing channels.
  • Daily: Listen to music, write affirmations, put a Do Not Disturb sign on your office doorknob or desk, breathe. Parents: Put Yourself in Time Out. (Remember those 4 min.)
  • Make a Comfort List. Take respite time and actually do one or four/five/six of the things on the list. 
  • Practice saying in an even tone, “I’m really sorry but I have to say no.” “I can see this is really important to you, let me think about it and get back to you.”  “I’ll pass on this until it’s safer for me to be in a group.” It’s like having a mental cue card.
  • Spend time with treasured folks, those who also value self-care time. Self-care is not selfish. 

What is your O2 mask?

© 2000 Ethel Lee-Miller Enhanced Life Management, rev 2013, 2020

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.