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The Oxygen Mask

Save yourself first to be there for others.

People often seek help from psychologists when they are overwhelmed by challenges of their lives: kids' activities, work deadlines, family issues, and so on. As if life was an assembly line of duties and chores—people just jump on it without questioning or examining sources of their despair, causes of their anxiety, and roots of their depression. I suggest stepping off the assembly line, taking a time out, recharging yourself, and reflecting on repetitive patterns and habits that contribute to stress—simply, take care of yourself first!

While I could talk about societal and economic stressors leading to distressing states, I'd prefer to focus on solutions to those stressors. It starts with you—every day, your well-being depends on the choices you make, both big and small. For example, do you like to sleep in, only to find yourself rushing to work, skipping breakfast, or worst yet, eating a two-day-old donut with no nutritional value and with all the fat you may need for the rest of the day? Wake up early enough to take it easy—truly smell your coffee (or tea if you aspire to live healthier life), taste your egg and the crispness of your toast. Waking up early also allows for morning time with your loved ones—playing with the little ones or having a conversation over breakfast with your teens may be perfect opportunity for bonding. Also, let's not forget benefits of an early morning relaxing shower—just you and some high quality H2O, cleansing, and soothing. The above mentioned activities are important in that they assure that you start enjoying the day from the very beginning—no rush, just joy—and it all depends on you. If the first step of the day is taken mindfully, with your own wellness in mind, then it's likely that the rest of the day will progress along the same path of wellness.

Second, you are in your car, and your children may have requests. Based on their age, they may even complain or cry. Solution: Translate or reinterpret their noises into a symphony. Do not look at it as something that has to be endured but rather embrace it as noises of life—surely cries do turn to laughter at some point and those complaints may turn into surprisingly wise commentary and insights on pop culture. The point is not to stand opposed to what is happening, but simply accept it as is.

Third, the body is made to be used, so use it! Walk, run, dribble a ball, and take the stairs when you can. If you have joint pain, take up swimming or jump on that stationary bike and pedal away. Again, all these activities are not something to view as needing to be endured, but rather as something that's as much a part of your life as anything else you deem essential. Just because we no longer need to chase our food—or run away from becoming some wild animal’s food —it doesn't mean that our bodies have received the memo. Both our physical and psychological health depend on activity—simply put, stored energy has to be used up or it becomes baggage, both physical and psychological.

Finally (for the purpose of this blog entry), be good to yourself. If you're tired, do not feel obligated to cook dinner—even if others are expecting it, they'll get over it and settle for some good ol' mac n' cheese or a simple sandwich. If your boss is riding you, do not confuse your role at work with who you are as a person. What happens at work, leave at work, including evaluations and other types of labels—good and bad—your boss, customers, colleagues, and others assign to you on a daily basis. Try to be in the moment as much as possible, appreciate simplicity in all that's essential to life: a breath of air, a warm embrace, the taste of watermelon on a hot summer day. It can be simple if you allow it to be.