Put Your Oxygen Mask On First: A COVID-19 Lesson

Premier Health Now
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As we mark COVID-19’s one-year anniversary, Premier Health Now is reflecting on lessons we’ve learned the past 12 months. We asked Samaritan Behavioral Health Clinical Counselor Amy Monteith, MS, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, to share her observations about self-care during the pandemic.

“You know when a flight attendant says to place the oxygen mask over your own mouth before assisting others? I think this past year we’ve learned that’s also important when you’re on the ground,” says Amy. “We need to take good care of ourselves before we can do a good job of caring for others.”

In many instances, Amy has witnessed self-care at its best this past year. “Many people are managing stress by spending more time outdoors, eating healthy, and getting a good night’s sleep,” she says. “Even dogs are enjoying more exercise! These are all good ways to be kind to ourselves.

“I’ve watched people come together to organize food banks, make donations, work extra shifts at the hospital, and rally to make the tough times easier for others. We’re exhibiting amazing resiliency,” she says. Yet there are those who have lost loved ones or their job this past year, she reminds us. “Some may struggle to simply get dressed or take a shower. It’s OK to have days like that,” says Amy. “Deciding to spend a day in bed is a form of self-care.”

But interacting with others is important. We’re social creatures, says Amy, which is why she’s not a fan of being told to “socially distance.” “The message should have been to ‘physically distance,’” she says. “We need social interaction to survive. Without it comes depression, anxiety, or reaching for drugs or alcohol to fill the gap.”

In some instances, the virus has had a positive impact on society, providing some much-needed perspective, Amy believes. Celebrating birthdays with family can be as much fun as an extravagant party, she says. An overnight at a cabin with hiking, fishing, and playing games provides closeness not always found at the beach. “It’s not necessary to constantly be on the run.” In her own home Amy has resurrected a dinnertime activity that puts the focus on the positive. “While we eat, we all describe one or two things that we are grateful for. It reminds us not to take good things for granted.”

If you grew up believing that self-care is selfish, Amy encourages you to remember the oxygen mask. “Self-care isn’t selfish at all. You’ll do a better job taking care of others if you take care of yourself first.”

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