There’s a saying we sometimes use in coaching – “Put your own oxygen mask on first.”

Granted, we blatantly stole the concept, the very words, from the airline industry, but that’s okay because they got it right. If you can’t breathe yourself, you can’t help – or lead – anyone else.

In the past, based on the time of year or maybe the sign of the times, even before this “new normal” came about, many of my coaching clients have needed this directive. My clients who were so exhausted I could see it in their faces. And bodies. My clients who were dealing with family crises…that had been going on and going on strong for years. My clients who had abusive bosses, toxic situations and colleagues, major (difficult) changes in their personal and professional lives.

“Please, please, please,” I would say to them. “Please put your own oxygen mask on first.”

Now more than ever, we all would benefit from putting our own oxygen masks on first. From taking care of ourselves. From making sure we can breathe.

In some ways, it’s difficult to do, because taking care of ourselves can be viewed as being selfish. And many of us are “trained” to put others before ourselves. In some ways, it’s very easy, because there are many ways to take care of ourselves – and fuel our souls – that take very little time and effort, even now (see below). I know – personally and from witnessing others – it is freeing, life changing, and life-rescuing. Oh, and by the way, it isn’t possible to lead – and lead effectively – or to care for others without first caring for yourself.

So how can you do it? It is a personal choice, but here are a few of my favorite life-affirming “oxygen mask” activities:

  • Sleep – simple, basic, no-brainer. Get more sleep, and get help if getting sleep is a challenge.
  • Take a nap – on top of your nighttime sleep. If you can.
  • Go for a walk (if you can) – get a breath of fresh air (while wearing your mask and socially distancing). Get out of the situation. Take a break. Even if it’s only around the block.
  • Sit – find an isolated park bench, a couch, a chair, a stool. Sit for a minute, slow down, breathe, and be.
  • Go to a museum virtually – Use your computer and find a way to look at beautiful things.
  • Laugh – and laugh some more. We’ve written before about the healing forces in laughter, humor, and connection. Call that friend who makes you laugh so much it hurts and go for it. Watch a clip on YouTube that always cracks you up.
  • Consider a massage – while we can’t go to our favorite massage therapist right now, we can perhaps google “self-massage” and find some way to ease our stress. We can perhaps ask someone we’re sheltered with to rub our shoulders.
  • Notice nature – even if it’s just for a minute. Even if it’s just a tree against the sky (again, my favorite). Notice the beauty of the world around you. Listen to the birds in the morning (it’s that time of year) or search out the moon and stars at night.
  • Have a cuppa – of coffee (though not too much caffeine 😀), herbal tea, water, fresh squeezed juice – and maybe stop and smell the roses (or notice the sunshine) while you do.
  • Talk it out – sometimes all you need is for someone to listen as you talk through everything on your plate.
  • Let it go – sometimes you need to remember you’re not in charge, and you’re doing the best you can. Especially now I am reminding clients that they have very little, if any, control over current circumstances. All we can control is how we react and what we do.
  • Look for the good – how have you helped your team? How is your family thriving? What have you accomplished at work? At home? Who have you helped? Choosing to see these aspects can help you gain perspective, and rewire your brain to notice all that’s right around you.
  • Eat well – have food you love and food that fuels your body (and maybe your soul).
  • Move – again, walk around the block if you can, dance, stand up or pace the room during your Zoom meetings. It doesn’t have to be intense, although sometimes that is exactly what you may need. Find excuses to move, play, exercise, and move again.
  • Make time for the people you love – your family, friends, kids, partner, anyone who matters to you. Life is short. Find time for them today. Now. Connect virtually if you can’t connect in person.
  • Listen to music – let someone else’s beautiful creation fill your heart and soul. It can be slow moving classical music, hip hop that makes you dance, ear piercing rock-and-roll, rap, funk, jazz…you get the picture. Whatever will make you smile and feel great, go for it.

That’s just a few options. Obviously, the list could be endless. As I so often coach my clients, find what brings you joy and ease, and go for it, especially now. As our world gets even more 24-7, always connected, always more to do and often more stress, I’ve noticed more and more that we are in crisis – a crisis of lack of self-focus and lack of self-care. Take the time to put your oxygen mask on – to fuel your body, mind and soul – so that you can be the Thoughtful leader, and person, you want to be.

How do you practice self-care and how has it helped your leadership?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

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