Putting on your oxygen mask first: The importance of self care.

You’re in a plane with your family, and suddenly the plane starts shaking and oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. Who’s mask do you put on first? While your instinct may be to help your child or loved one first, really it needs to be yours.

Just like the cabin crew remind us every time we’re on a plane, we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. Self care is not selfish – we need to prioritise care for ourselves if we’re going to become caring people who have strong relationships and who can cope with the unexpected turbulences that may arise in our lives.

At its most basic level, there are six important aspects of self care to consider.

Everyday self care is about taking ongoing care of yourself, by managing and monitoring the following key things:

  • Our sleep
  • Our hygiene
  • Our diet
  • Our exercise and movement
  • Our use of medication
  • Our relationship with alcohol and other drugs

By maintaining a good self care strategy, we’re setting ourselves up to benefit from a healthier life and better mental and physical wellbeing. This includes:

  • Improved general health and quality of life
  • Prevention of health issues
  • Improved management and control of existing conditions
  • Increased productivity and wellness
  • Better relationships with the people around us
  • Reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience

Self care is one of the things which is within our control, and which we can take a proactive approach to, although it’s easier said than done.

Often we’re so busy being a mother, father, friend, daughter, son, employee, carer, sister or brother, that we forget to put ourselves first.

Let’s take a look at the six essential steps to self care.

  1. Sleep.

Research shows that it’s important to maintain proper sleep hygiene, and to get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep each night to maintain personal wellness. In order to get a good night’s sleep, we recommend:

  • Regular sleep and wake times – setting a routine and going to bed at approximately the same time every night really helps.
  • A bedtime relaxation ritual and winding down before bed – this might include reading, dimming the lights and getting into comfy pyjamas.
  • Avoiding naps during the daytime.
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals close to bedtime.
  • Regular exercise.
  • Setting up your room appropriately to avoid distraction – for example removing screens and tech from your sleep space.
  1. Hygiene

Maintaining good personal and home hygiene is important for removing germs and bacteria from our environment, in order to minimise risks to our health.

Good personal hygiene includes:

  • Showering daily and regularly brushing and flossing your teeth.
  • Keeping your finger and toe nails clean and trimmed.
  • Washing your hands regularly after using the bathroom or before handling food.
  • Changing towels, sheets and pillowcases regularly and wearing clean clothes.

Hygiene in the home includes keeping kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms clean, to remove germs and bacteria from surfaces, particularly those where you’ll be preparing food.

  1. Diet

The say goes, “you are what you eat”, and it’s true. No, you won’t turn green if you eat a lot of broccoli, but if you put junk in, you’re going to feel like rubbish.

To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, the Australian dietary guidelines recommend choosing nutritious foods from the five food groups every day, and drinking plenty of water.

Limit your intake of ‘treat’ foods which are high in saturated fats, salt and sugar, and focus on eating the rainbow of fruit and vegetables which are out there, to get as much nutrition from your food as possible.

Also be sure to prepare food properly and store it safely so that it stays fresh and healthy.

  1. Exercise

Regular physical exercise is the key to good health. Not only does it help to maintain a healthy weight range, it also helps us to feel good – with many benefits for mental health linked to regular exercise.

Physical exercise can:

  • Improve overall health
  • Manage your weight
  • Improve balance and lower the risk of falls
  • Increase your energy, improve your mood and contribute to better quality sleep
  • Improve your sense of personal wellbeing, self-esteem and achievement
  • May protect against cognitive decline

You don’t need to be running marathons or lifting huge weights to benefit from exercise – little and often is better then rarely and intensely. Even just a daily walk is a great way to incorporate exercise into your routine in a way which is beneficial and sustainable.

  1. Medication

Take a healthy approach to your medication, and always regard the advice of your doctor or medical professional.

This means never abruptly stopping your medication, changing the dose or changing medications without first consulting your doctor.

  1. Alcohol and other drugs

Problematic drug use or consumption of alcohol can lead to devastating consequences, and is the opposite of good self care.

Problematic alcohol consumption occurs when a person is consuming excess amounts or relying on alcohol to get through their days. The Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.

Problematic drug use includes using illegal drugs, or using a legal drug without a prescription or in excessive amounts. Drug use can have a significant impact on mental health and lead to a long list of problems, both for the person using the drugs and the people around them.

So think about your self care and remember to prioritise your own wellbeing. What could you do today to improve your self care? It could be something as simple as preparing a fresh, wholesome meal tonight which is full of vegetables (and flavour!), or making the choice to go for a 30-minute walk in the fresh air.

If you need support or assistance to keep on track with your self care, and understand manageable self care strategies for yourself, contact us at Dr Olga Lavalle & Associates to schedule an appointment with clinical psychologist Ryan Spencer on (02) 4244 5636.

Written by Ryan Spencer

Registered Clinical Psychologist With a decade of experience, Ryan is a registered Clinical Psychologist who delivers a client-centred approach to psychological assessment and intervention for various client populations with unique symptoms and presentations. Hs focus is always upon ensuring that any treatment is customised to suit the client which is aimed to promote functional, psychological, and social independence for the person within all aspects of their life.


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