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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Please Adjust Your Own Mask Before Attempting to Help Others

By Rosanne Bane

oxygen maskI was out of town last week for a family emergency and on the flight home, I finally got an explanation for why flight attendants demonstrate how to use a seat belt. (I’ve always thought, “Really, you’re going to show us how to use a seat belt? Is there anyone on the plane who’s never used a seatbelt before?”) Apparently, car seat belts are released by pressing down and airline seat belts are released by pulling up and the FAA thinks that an important distinction.

The other thing the FAA thinks important enough to repeat every time we’re on a plane is that in case of cabin depressurization, a mask will appear from the ceiling and that oxygen will be flowing even if the bag doesn’t inflate. (Somewhere in there there might be a metaphor for life emergencies — that the most essential things will appear and what you really need will be flowing to you even if it’s not apparent that that’s true…)

And then there’s the bit I really want to talk about: “Please adjust your own mask before attempting to help others.” This is a metaphor for life. You must take care of yourself first so you have the energy and focus you need to help others. You don’t do anyone any good if you pass out or make stupid mistakes because of oxygen deprivation.

You have the right and the responsibility to take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself is not, as so many of us have been socialized to believe, selfish. Taking care of yourself ONLY is selfish. Never taking care of yourself is also selfish – because ultimately you’ll burn out and other people will have to pick up the pieces, pieces that wouldn’t have to be picked up at all if you practiced appropriate Self-care.

If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be as creative as you are meant to be. You’ll miss the opportunity to contribute your unique and valuable threads to the tapestry of life. That’s why Self-care is one of the Recommended Practices.

I suggest 30 to 60 minutes a day, 6 or 7 days a week. You can mix and match Self-Care: working out at the Y three days a week, taking a nap in a hammock on the weekend, going to a yoga class once a week, meeting a friend for lunch.

Self-care can be anything that supports you as a writer and a human being:

  • Exercising
  • Walking
  • Meditating
  • Practicing yoga or tai chi
  • Eating healthy food
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Giving yourself quiet time
  • Taking your vitamins
  • Laughing
  • Getting together with friends
  • Being in beautiful places
  • Enjoying life
  • Learning something new

But be careful that your Saboteur (aka Resistance) doesn’t suggest something for Self-care that is really self-indulgence or self-abuse. Lying on the couch, channel surfing while eating ice cream from the carton might be okay once in awhile, but it is self-indulgence, not Self-care. Working out for 3 hours when you haven’t exercised in months is not Self-care, it’s self-abuse.

I’m curious: Have you been giving yourself enough time for Self-care? What do you do for Self-Care? What’s the funniest or strangest thing your resistance has prompted you to do in the name of Self-care (but was actually self-indulgence or self-abuse?)

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5 Comments on “Please Adjust Your Own Mask Before Attempting to Help Others”

  1. Sana Johnson-Quijada MD December 11, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    nice post! i found u through word-press as i post on related material. this is awesome but difficult to do. keep talking.


  2. Joni Bonnell July 6, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    For the first time ever, I can say with resounding confidence that this is so true! I always told myself that it was important to take care of me first, but in the last 3 weeks, I have been mandating 60 minutes a day to ME time, (thanks to a class I am taking which forced this upon me), and my writing, my personal relationships, and my self-esteem have all greatly improved.


    • rosannebane July 7, 2009 at 3:27 am #

      I’m delighted to hear that self-care is working so well for you!



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