Amy Rees Anderson

The Put Your Oxygen Mask On First Before Helping Others Principle

I sat staring at the computer screen.  It was an empty page to begin typing todays blog onscreen and I sat watching the curser blinking at me.  I thought to myself “What can I write about today?”…several more minutes went by as I just staring at the screen….that’s when I realized “I got nothin’”…My mind was blank…I was emotionally and physically exhausted…

It’s not that I’ve pushed myself any harder than usual – heck all I’ve ever done is push myself  – so I should be used to that life by now!  I think the exhaustion stems from having several of my friends going through really hard things all at the same time right now.  These last few weeks I’ve had several friends dealing with not just small heartaches, but major ones, the kind of heartaches that break my heart to hear about.  And when my friends or family hurt, I hurt.  But I wasn’t the one going through the hard thing so why was it impacting me to the point of feeling emotionally exhausted?    

In an article written by Jordan Rosenfeld it explains:

“There are real consequences to caring deeply for the struggles of others. After all, when you empathize, you do more than just feel concern; it’s not uncommon for an empathizing person to “take on the sensory, motor, visceral, and affective states” of another, known as experience sharing, according to Jamil Zaki, a social scientist at Stanford. In a study about empathy, Zaki uses the example of a crowd watching a tightrope walker becoming physically tense, anxious, even sweaty, as they watch the person teeter high above them.”

I suppose I never thought about it that way before but it makes sense.  And it highlights something I am going to start calling “The Put Your Oxygen Mask On First Before Helping Others Principle”.  If we aren’t careful to take time to allow ourselves to decompress we just won’t be able to be of much help to anyone else.

So let me suggest something – pretend we are on a plane and the stewardess is telling us to go ahead and put our oxygen masks on…maybe take the weekend to do that and take a deep breathe in…so next week we can feel strong enough to help others…

~Amy Rees Anderson (author of the book “What Awesome Looks Like: How To Excel in Business & Life” )

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