Self Care: Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First!

Self Care: Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First!

2015 is the beginning of my tenth year in practice.  After working one-on-one with clients for literally thousands of hours (somewhere over ten thousand now!) the theme that has emerged as being closest to my heart is Self Care.

I have always been what most people would consider a “healthy” person. I wasn’t- but more on that later.  Up until about 18 months ago, my definition of self-care was something along the lines of:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating good food
  • Looking after my body through regular “tune ups”, similar to servicing a car.

Now, while my idea of self-care still includes all of this (plus so much more), it can be summed up pretty simply as:



Before a plane takes off, we are always instructed to make sure that we can breathe first before helping others around us in the case of an emergency.

To me, this idea of meeting your own needs first applies to all areas of our lives.

The Art of Extreme Self Care:


In 2012 I went to an event to see some of my favourite authors speak.  There was a woman there named  Cheryl Richardson.  She was promoting her book, The Art of Extreme Self Care.  I had never heard of Cheryl before, but boy did her talk hit home for me!   She began her talk by sharing a story with us about her first experience seeing a personal coach.

During the intake process, the coach asked Cheryl to tell him about herself, so that he could get an idea of who she was.  For the next 20 minutes, she proceeded to tell him about how she spent her time:

  • working as a business development counselor on nights and weekends
  • teaching at seminars
  • volunteering for a local job search network
  • supporting friends who were struggling.

She said:

“As I listened to myself talk about my schedule, I have to admit that I felt pretty good.  There was a certain level of satisfaction from being needed and in demand”.

As she finished speaking, her coach was quiet for a moment, and then said-

“Wow, you’re doing a great job taking care of a lot of people.  You’re a great person.”  

Cheryl smiled, thinking “yes, that’s what I try to do, he really understands me”.

Then he continued…

“and the truth is Cheryl, your “good girl” role is going to rob you of your life”.


It hit me like a tonne of bricks.  This really resonated with me.  At that point in my life, I was:

  • Working myself into the ground- I was on the path to burnout.
  • Saying yes to everything I thought I “should” do
  • Trying to be everything to everyone
  • Ignoring my own needs, and resenting others as I tried to make sure that their needs were met.
  • Generally spreading myself thin.



The result?  I wasn’t fully showing up in my work, my relationships, or anywhere.  When people said to me “what have you been up to lately?” my response was “I actually don’t know.  I’ve been so busy but I don’t know what I’ve been doing”.  Why?

Because I wasn’t present in my own life. 


Several years back, I would say yes to every social invitation that I thought I “should” go to.   Staying hours later than I wanted to, because I would be a “bad friend” if I didn’t stay until the very end.  My body would be in the room, but I wasn’t all there.  Part of me would resent being there.   Similarly I would say yes to every request made of me with working between two clinics.  I now see that while I was helping my clients, I wasn’t showing up fully for them in the moment.  And if I kept up that pace, I was on the road to burning out.

Why do we need to take care of ourselves first?


Because then we can take care of others around us FULLY and happily, without any resentment and with plenty of surplus love to give.  We end up taking better care of them. 

If you fill your own cup first, it will be overflowing and you can give freely.

If you drain your cup dry while caring for others, you have so much less to give.

Cheryl even spoke about parents.  I am not a parent myself, but I do have so much respect for people who have taken on that role.  I don’t pretend to know what it is like, because I don’t know yet.  But I would like to share this idea with my clients who are parents.

If you take care of yourself first, you have more to give to your children.  You show up fully for them.  And you set a beautiful example for them.

At the time of her talk, Cheryl had recently been to the funeral of a fifty year old woman.   During the funeral, they played a photo montage of this woman’s life.  When she was youger, the woman looked radiant.  As the years progressed and her babies grew into adults, the woman slowly became more and more overweight.  She also slowly faded into the background of the photos- she was hiding behind her friends and family. Everyone who spoke at the funeral reapeated notions such as “she was an amazing woman, she always put her family first” and “she always put herself last, she took care of everyone else before she took care of herself”.  Cheryl had the sad thought:  “she always put herself last, and now she is dead at 50”.

I don’t want to upset anyone by sharing this story, but it did strike a chord with me, especially after years of seeing what so many of my clients go through.  I thought I would share it in case in strikes a chord with you too.


I certainly haven’t got this figured out.  I have a very long way to go.  I also fall off the wagon during particularly demanding times- when we need self care more than ever.

Now, things I do to put on my own oxygen mask first are:

  • Make sure that I have a decent stretch of time alone at least once a week, and pockets of alone time every day.   I’ve always needed this, and when I don’t get it I can feel overwhelmed with having too many people around me.  Things that would never usually bother me will get on my nerves.   Now I make sure that I get this time so that I can be fully present with lots of surplus love to give to the people around me.
  • Making sure that I eat good food so that I feel great, and have the energy to take care of my loved ones and my clients.
  • Taking my dog for a walk every day- I love our time together, the walk loosens my body up and the time outside clears my head.
  • Not saying yes to everything that I think I “should” do, and not feeling like I always need an excuse to say no to something.


I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this topic.  What are some things that you can do to take care of yourself first, so that you can take better care of those around you?


– Clare x

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