Put your OWN mask on first (guest post).

Please welcome Heat.  She’s inspiring.  She’s wise.  She’s a Self-Care Superhero…and she didn’t even know it.


Three times in the past 12 hours, I have read this:

First put on your oxygen mask. Then help others.

  • The first time, it was directed at me (and was well-warranted).
  • The second time, it was in a blog post that was written a while ago but I finally just got around to reading.
  • The third time, it was a Facebook friend talking to herself out loud.

This is a philosophy that I am very much on board with (and am usually pretty good about). You can’t take care of others if you are not taken care of.

I preach this in my classes. I have this conversation over and over with moms of young kids. With friends who are workaholics and burning out. With people who just don’t know how much vitality they are missing out on by not taking care of themselves first—or sometimes AT ALL.

Today, I’m thinking about it from a different angle.

What if I don’t know HOW to put on my own mask?

For sake of this post, we’re going to assume that clothes, shelter, food, water, safety are all available—the basic life necessities are taken care of. (It is very unlikely, except perhaps for safety, that anyone reading this post is lacking the basics. A reminder to be grateful.)

So what do you need?

In the grand scheme of general things, you need to fuel your body with healthy food. You need enough sleep. You need movement and exercise. You need relationships that fill you up—and a lack of relationships that empty you out.

If you have never (or at least never in your adult life) eaten primarily healthy food, you have no idea how drastically it impacts how you feel. I highly recommend starting today to take steps to move in that direction.

The same applies to getting enough sleep. And getting regular exercise.

We have been taught that being treated badly by certain people is OK because “they’re family” or “that’s just how they are” or “you’re just too sensitive.” The fact is, it’s not OK for anyone to be unkind—or abusive!—towards you. Surround yourself with people who love you, who act like they love you, who make you feel good.

Using myself as an example, as I am prone to do…

I am excellent 98% of the time about fueling myself with healthy food. And when I don’t, I feel it almost immediately and don’t want junk food any more. (For those of you thinking that you wish you were like that—this did not used to be true at all for me. It can change for you, too. But it takes practice.)

I haven’t been getting good sleep or enough sleep, though most of the time, it’s not for lack of trying. The toddler prevents it sometimes. And lately, I’ve been waking up early in the morning for no reason. This is something that has never happened to me in my life, and I’m not diggin’ it. Working on a solution. Will keep you posted.

Exercise and movement are not usually problematic for me, as they’ve become part of my routine. Again, when I don’t exercise for a couple of days, I feel it.

I have spent the last several years working on cultivating positive relationships and letting go of negative ones. It is hard sometimes—there is a lot of pressure to maintain certain relationships at any cost—but the reduced stress in my life is worth it.

So why did a friend need to remind me to put my mask on first?

Well, life is overall a little more stressful here than it normally is. I had two nights in a row of less sleep than usual (even compared to my already-reduced sleep), I was underfed. As a result, I was cranky and was anxious about things that I usually have a pretty good handle on.

Underfed. There is a piece you don’t usually hear much about, especially since most of us are chronically overfed.

Basically, it was just a combination of the kid eating WAY more dinner than I had anticipated, leaving me with not enough dinner (put your mask on first, Heat!) and not having much else to snack on (go grocery shopping, Heat!).

It turns out that a lot of people think that “eating healthy” means “being hungry” and that’s not true…unless you need to go grocery shopping.

With extra stress running in the background, it took only 24 hours of not taking care of myself as I ought to—and only in two of the listed categories—for me to be extremely cranky and anxious. (Without that extra stress, it would take longer…but still not more than a few days.)

When I am extra cranky, I am not a good mom. I am not a good friend. I can’t focus well enough to get work done, or to settle into a good book. I can’t just relax because I’m too busy being angry. There is no silver lining to being like that.

So for the sake of good parenting, of treating friends well, of getting work done, of getting relaxing done, I need to take care of myself.

And so do you.


What is your biggest hurdle in putting your mask on first?




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  1. says

    Finding the mask? Just kidding. I think I’ve actually got much better at if after realizing how less effective I was becoming when I sacrificed the things that restore me.

    • Carla says

      and I almost forgot mine and took care of canine and child first.
      then I remembered — perhaps to their collective dismay? :-)–and made ME FOOOOD then fed/ambulated them.
      it worked :-)

  2. says

    I love this idea and I am always preaching it to friends and family. However, I am guilty of not putting on my mask first. I have always been focused on everyone else and not myself first and that is a habit that I certainly need to break. I would love to eat healthy and I think I do for the most part but most things I find has Yogurt in it and I get really sick if I eat it. However, my motto for dinner is at least 5 nights a week we have a meat and 2 veggies. So that is a start, now I have to work on the rest of it.

  3. says

    Yes, yes, yes. This is so incredibly important. As one who didn’t put her mask on until it was far too late, I can attest. No one wants to end up there. Sharing this post, thank you Carla! <3

  4. says

    Heat, I’m just like you. Give me enough sleep, movement and healthy food and I can take on the world. Take just one of them away, for as little as a day and I’m precariously perched.
    So happy to see you hear and sharing with Carla’s readers! xo

  5. says

    I think this is something that we could all stand to hear at least once a day – it is easy to forget this little thing!! (Maybe that’s why they say it on every single flight!!)
    Great post! I love that you not only explained why this is important but shared a brief glimpse into how easy it is to get bogged down when we don’t do it!!!

  6. says

    Love this – such a simple & really not to understand concept yet so hard for many of us to do especially women that have been programmed to help everyone else efirst

  7. says

    Such a great post and reminder. It is so important to take care of ourselves. For me, the biggest challenge is remembering to actually put the mask on. I usually find it no problem but then end up carry it around with me while I do a million other things first!

  8. says

    Thanks for all of the feedback! It is so easy to forget…or to feel “selfish” when we’re doing it. I am just as susceptible to it as everyone else. Unfortunately 😉