Running on empty: Why we need to put our oxygen mask on first

Most of the time I don’t have a clue as to how to do it all. Yet, I often still try. It seems inevitable that something – work, my health, or relationships – will be neglected. 

My client, Jill*, feels the same way. Jill has three kids she adores, her dream job, and a great relationship with her husband. She’s also desperate to be away from them all.

“I would do anything to be alone,” she said. “Not at work, not in the car – just quiet and alone.”

Another client, Joe, is similar. Joe started to take stock of his life outside of work when he was admitted to the hospital for what he thought was a heart attack.

It turned out to be stress.  

"I know I can do more in my career," he said, "but I don't even know why I'm doing it anymore." 

Jill and Joe have given their all and left their tanks empty.

I think we've all been there. We give our time and energy to work. We care for young children. We care for aging parents. We grieve losses. We fear illness. And often times, in the middle of it all, we forget to nurture ourselves.  

Sometimes, we want 'time alone' and overlook time within

We forget to fill our own tank, but that can be remedied. 

Here is a practice of very small steps I recommend to get started. I've found that doing even a little bit on a consistent basis prevents my tank from getting completely empty.  

1)    Find a time of day that can be all yours.

This does not need to be a significant amount of time, but it is important that it is protected - it is your time without interruptions. I like the morning because I can get up before my family, have a quiet house, and give to myself before giving to others. 

Print out this blog and write your time of day below.

The time of day that will be all mine is between (     AM/PM) and (     AM/PM ).

2)    Explore what lights you up, makes you feel good, or feels peaceful.

This could be drawing, volunteering, your favorite podcast or reading a novel. Whatever it is may also change as you go along, and that's okay. Consider something that you’ve been wanting to do for a while or the first thing that comes to mind when you answer the following below: 

Something I’d love to do right now is:  

3)    Make it a ritual.

Rituals take many forms, from making a cup of tea to tailgating at a college football game. While rituals may be habitual in many ways, they are not done on autopilot. 

Rituals are done intentionally

We also tend to notice the details of a ritual, like the sight, sound, smell, touch and taste included in the experience. 

Consider other rituals in your life that you enjoy.

What about it do you enjoy (write down the details)?

One way that I can make this time for myself feel more like a ritual is by including:

Jill and Joe began to find ways that they could incrementally begin to fill up their tanks.

Jill started journaling for at least 15 minutes a day, and then she started drawing in her journal with colored pencils. She's now creating a drawing a day. 

Joe started walking outside for 10 minutes before he would normally get ready for work. He found his walks to be the time to clear his head. Over time his walks became longer and he started seeking more nature, and later integrated nature walks into his workday and family time.  

What do you do to regularly fill up your tank? 

I'd love to hear your story or comments below. 


*I don't share my client's real names or all of the details of their story.