Oxygen mask vs. ripple effect

Oxygen mask and ripple effect

I am sure you have heard the phrase ‘put on your own oxygen mask before helping others’. The instruction, though laudable in most circumstances, is however very easy to dismiss unless you are in a disastrous aerial situation. For those of us who feel ourselves responsible in varying degrees for issues relating to offspring, our spouses, our homes, our parents, our finances, our clients, and our friends (for starters), carving out time to breathe slowly (with or without an oxygen mask) can slip down the priority list remarkably quickly.

Doing too much?

But when we habitually deny our own needs at the expense of others’ we are likely setting ourselves on a road towards poorer health. There are lots of reports, documented beautifully by Gabor Maté in his various books, about how certain traits are linked with many diseases (including autoimmune issues and neurological complaints). These traits include repressing anger, having an overriding sense of duty, role and responsibility and an undue concern for the emotional needs of others whilst ignoring your own and an often unconscious belief that you are responsible for how others feel.

In my practice I see remarkable similarities between many people who are highly reactive: often having been a good girl or boy when they were growing up, they feel that they can do everything themselves, that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that everything needs to be done to the best of their ability and meet their exacting standards. They spend a lot of time doing and giving, and driving themselves forward… and little to no time assessing their own needs and resting and recuperating.

This is clearly anecdotal and not a rigorous study on personality and health complaints! It may also be that like attracts like, and my clients are drawn to me as I am cut from the same cloth – though having recognised it, I am slowly trying to unpick and repattern some of this behaviour.

The ripple effect

What I am trying to convey however is that putting on that oxygen mask is not a selfish pursuit. On the contrary, when you take time to calm your nervous system, be that through formal practices, like heart-focused breathing or tension and trauma release exercises, or through spending time doing things that bring you joy, walking in nature or creative pursuits, your ability to be here in the present moment increases and you may well actually be better able to support others. You have a greater ability to respond thoughtfully rather than react emotionally. You are likely to become more efficient and effective, as your clearer head means you aren’t running around in a flap, starting but not finishing hundreds of tasks.

When you are calmer you emanate this calm into your surroundings and affect others’ moods without conscious effort. If you don’t believe me, consider the opposite situation, when you have walked into a room where two people have been arguing and you can sense the fug of anger even before you speak to anyone… Your calming presence thus has a ripple effect on those who you may be supporting, and who knows, may help them to regulate their own nervous system so they are actually less reliant on your active intervention to diffuse any crises.

So yes – we have all likely heard that self-care is not selfish, and maybe we have historically brushed this off, saying ‘that’s all very well and good for other people, but I don’t have time’ – but I invite you to flip that thinking on its head and experiment with the possibility that making time for practices that slow you down, and bring you joy and connect you to the present, is a loving act for all those you are caring for, as you are offering them your settled nervous system as a gift.

Getting support

If you are interested in exploring tools to help you do calm your nervous system, then I would love to hear from you. I have found that Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE®) are particularly useful in this regard, and also have further training in Heart Math techniques to support stress and anxiety.

I am available for 1 to 1 TRE® or nutritional therapy sessions, and also run group TRE® classes in Pyrford and Oxshott, Surrey or online. See here for the current timetable or to contact me to book a discovery call or a TRE session.

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