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  • Writer's pictureKapil

Wear your own oxygen mask first

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

I have been seeing a variety of posts online on things you can do to keep yourselves constructively occupied. There are many skills you can learn, plenty of knowledge you can gain, ideas you can develop, and hobbies you can pursue. An article capturing some of these options was sarcastically titled the ‘The COVID19 Extracurricular Olympics’. To nudge you further in this direction, tweets like the one below have been circulating on social media:

While I am all for productivity, I also deeply believe in wellbeing. Some of this hype about making the most of your time may work to the detriment of your wellbeing.

In a recent dip-stick survey that I conducted in a group comprising of current and aspiring professionals largely from the social and education sector, I asked them to rate practices on which they would require the most support. Nearly half the respondents said they would need the most support in the following areas and an additional third said they would need some support in the following areas:

  • Identifying with a purpose larger than myself

  • Being emotionally self-aware

  • Practicing self-compassion

  • Being empathetic towards others and acting with compassion

  • Fostering and sustaining meaningful relationships

I am wondering how individuals will make time for doing all of this while focusing on demonstrating to the world (including your friends, acquaintances, colleagues, family members, current and future employers) how well you have utilized the time during the lockdown. The anxiety, stress and other negative states that comes with these times should ideally make individuals double their efforts towards self-care. Striving for productivity in just the traditional sense should not become a barrier to this path of wellbeing.

According to the Oxford dictionary, self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own wellbeing and happiness. I agree self-care is a privilege that not many can afford. However, like it is advisable to wear your own oxygen mask before helping others, there is little we can do for the world when we are facing an inner crisis. Self-care is neither self-indulgence, selfishness nor self-pity. It is essential maintenance work for our being.

Different individuals have different approaches to self-care. To practice self-care in this lockdown, I :

  • Exercise regularly — including a balance of strength training and cardiovascular workouts — to feel energized

  • Eat meals at fixed times and drink plenty of water

  • Practice mindfulness and write in my journal for emotional awareness and regulation and to reconnect with my purpose

  • Watch the sunset to feel a sense of awe, wonder, and connectedness with nature

  • Talk to the ones I love to alleviate anxiety about their wellbeing

  • Participate in circles for dialogue and listening to widen my viewpoints and feel our interconnectedness

Each of these activities serves one or more aspects of wellbeing — physical, social, emotional, mental, etc. It takes a significant amount of time (approximately 3 hours) to do all of this every day but making it a part of my daily routine is what makes it work. Over the last five years, I have invested consistent time in this direction and reaped the benefits. Experiencing the benefits of wellbeing is what is helping me maintain discipline. However, if you are just starting off, you can start with any one thing you enjoy and do it for five minutes a day until you are ready for more. See wellbeing as an ability you can develop and not as a goal you have to achieve.

The road to wellbeing is a long one, but one worth exploring

I am not an expert on wellbeing but I understand its value deeply. However, if this post aroused your curiosity, here are a few resources you can refer to:

(Remember, this is not a to-do list and should not in any way add to your productivity pressures. Explore it further only if you are recognizing a personal need and are feeling compelled to serve that need.)

To close out, I wanted to remind you that it is okay to pause to deeply listen to yourself and to practice self-care. Don’t measure your time in the lockdown just by how productive you have been. If what I have shared doesn’t convince you, then this beautiful opening of Maria Popova’s recent article in Brainpickings just might:

Even when nothing is happening, something is happening. This is a difficult fact for the human animal to fathom — especially for us modern sapiens, who so ardently worship at the altar of productivity and so readily mistake busyness for effectiveness, for propulsion toward progress. Silence is a form of speech, Susan Sontag wrote, “and an element in a dialogue.” Stillness is a form of action and an element in advancement, in evolution, in all forward motion.

This article was first published by Kapil Dawda on his blog on 23rd April. Kapil is the founding team member of the Wellbeing Movement.


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