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Essential Work – Caring For Yourself
by Jessalyn Lau
Those of us who have flown in a plane are familiar with the airline safety brochure. The flight attendants take the time to go through each of the safety measures including what to do if the oxygen masks are deployed. We are instructed to put our own mask on first before helping others. For some, this may seem like a no brainer, but for others, their first reaction is to help the person next to them – their spouse, their child, their loved one. It may almost seem selfish to put your oxygen mask on first but the truth is, it’s not! Putting your oxygen mask on first doesn’t mean that you have a lack of love or care for the other person because the reality is that if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first, you may run out of oxygen and you won’t be able to help anyone else.

-We cannot give what we do not have-

It is important to remember that taking care of yourself, first and foremost, is essential. We often tend to neglect taking care of ourselves and put the needs of others before our own. Though we are strong and capable of doing so for a while, we begin to feel the damaging and draining effects of it in the long run. We need to remember that we cannot give what we do not have.
Maintaining your mental health is very important. Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses in life, can work productively, and is able to contribute to his or her community. Having good mental health means being able to have an awareness of your emotions, the ability to manage and express those emotions, and be in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
This month, I interviewed Dr. Vimala Vajjala, Director of the video EEG Epilepsy Monitoring Unit and Director of the Concussion & TBI Center at Hawaii Pacific Neuroscience and asked her, “How important is it for us to care for our mental and emotional needs?”
Dr. Vimala shared that how we make decisions influence what decisions we make. Those decisions determine whether we recognize the consequences of our decisions which impact the actions that we take. This cycle is influenced by our personality and helps to establish our behaviors. Characteristics of mentally and emotionally healthy individuals are positive self-esteem, sense of belonging, sense of purpose, positive outlook, autonomy, and the ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships. Good mental health can lead to increased productivity, increased happiness, and satisfaction, better physical health.
Renowned American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed the theory of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” in 1943. In this theory, there are five categories of human needs that dictates a person’s behavior. Those needs are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Our basic needs are at the bottom of the pyramid while more intangible needs are at the top. A person can only move on to addressing the higher level needs when their basic needs are adequately fulfilled and met. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can help us to prioritize what’s most important to us, find balance between our needs and wants, and assess the direction of our life.
Dr. Vimala also shared that the secret to maintaining good mental health is resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to deal with stress, trauma, and adversity. A resilient person has the tools to cope with difficult situations, maintain a positive outlook, and remain focused, flexible, and create in both the good and bad times. Developing resiliency isn’t easy nor is it pleasant-but it is necessary and vital to grow and mature. The good news is that resilience can be developed. Some helpful tips to help you develop resiliency are:
  • Get enough sleep – Taking care of your mind and body will help you to better cope with challenges in life.
  • Practice thought awareness and cognitive restructuring – Don’t allow your negative thoughts to get you down, inhibit your progress, and derail your dreams and ambitions. Practice having a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) and begin to change the way you think about negative situations and challenges.
  • Learn from your mistakes and failures – Significance is not placed on how many times you fall but on how many times you stand back up!
  • Choose your response – You may not always have the ability to choose what challenges and situations come your way, but you can choose how you respond to them! Rather than respond with fear, panic and stress, choose to respond with faith, positivity, and strength.
  • Develop strong relationships – There is a correlation between resiliency and relationships. The stronger your bond with your coworkers, family and friends, the happier and more stress resistant you are! These strong bonds will put you at ease knowing that you are not alone and that someone has your back!
If you are used to always putting the needs of others before your own, it may be difficult to even think about how to start to care for yourself. Perhaps the hardest, yet most liberating thing you can do for yourself is to simply start saying ‘no’ to others. It is important to ‘protect your yes’, speak up for yourself, and most importantly, do not feel guilty about having free time to yourself.

So I challenge you, spend a relaxing day at the beach, finally try that restaurant you have been wanting to go to for the last month, or just fill your day with absolutely nothing except your favorite book. Whatever you decide to do, do it for you!
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