Learning To Put My Own Oxygen Mask On First

Last week I did something unheard of during my first 32 years as a camp director. I took a full day off during the very first week of camp.

On my day off, I did several things that “refueled” me:

  • I took a long hike by myself.
  • I took some long, deep breaths.
  • I finished a book.
  • I wrote in my journal.
  • I called a friend and got caught up.
  • I drank coffee.
  • I sat down on the couch and stared out the window.
  • I wrote letters.
  • I did laundry and tidied up.
  • I snacked on berries.

The day was restful and enjoyable, with plenty of quiet time. When I returned to work after my day off, I was happy to be back. I was ready to be fully engaged with the campers and staff. I was able to smile more, listen well, and be attentive. I felt so grateful for my job and noticed all the good things about camp. The normal daily challenges didn’t seem so daunting.

I had successfully “refueled” myself.

For years I’ve read about the research behind the importance of “putting on my own oxygen mask first,” but until this past year, I haven’t successfully and consistently put self-care into practice in my own life. My overworking, overachieving, perfectionist habits had worn such deep grooves over half a century of practice that it took some concerted effort to learn how to take better care of myself.

But I am finally learning and practicing the art of “refueling,” and I am already seeing that by doing so, I am much more relaxed, less anxious, and better able to care for others. Here’s what I have learned:

  • I have become more aware of what I’m feeling in my body. Stomach ache? Headache? Feeling exhausted? Craving sugar? Those are just a few of my body’s way of telling me that something is off.
  • I need to get enough sleep, at least 7-8 hours a night. I know others can get by with less. I can’t.
  • I feel much better when I start the day earlier, with some quiet time, so I need to go to bed early (by 10).
  • I must focus my job priorities on the things only I can do and delegate the rest of the tasks.
  • I am more effective when I ask for help.
  • I say “no” to things that aren’t a priority.

In years past, when people commented on my taking time off (something they hadn’t seen me do much of before), my tendency was to get defensive. Instead, I’m now learning to respond with a positive comment like, “Yes, I’m really learning to take better care of myself.”


Several books have been excellent resources on this journey. If you’re wanting to learn about slowing down, refueling, and taking better care of your own well-being, check out one or more of these books:

The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living

Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul

Or, if you’d prefer to listen, here are some TED Talks on the importance of self-care.

Other Resources/Related Posts:
Good Things Come to Those who Breathe
Learning to Enjoy the Little Things 
7 Books That Will Help You Slow Down and Appreciate Your Life
Take a Deep Breath…And Join the Slow Movement
7 Ways to Refuel Yourself