Put your own oxygen mask on first

This post serves as a reminder that it’s important to take care of yourself. I offer the reminder not because I’m some wise sage, but because I needed it as well.

I’ve been quiet in this space for the last little bit. It has been a busy time for me. Dissertations and exams needed to be defended. Admissions interviews needed to happen, and decisions had to be made. Summer term preparations had to begin, spring plans amended. New students needed to be oriented online, and all manner of activity had to become virtual and there were meetings to figure out how that would work. Lots of folks have asked for my help with their classes, and I’ve been happy to oblige. My own classes needed to be taught, which included a big project to pull together. Beyond classes, I’ve had many students to check on. And family and friends to check on too. Plus a 5th grader who needs to be occupied. Somewhere in the midst I’ve had to figure out working out school at home for her (more complicated than one might think, and let’s not forget the motivational part of that). And then there was keeping my family safe and fed, sorting out cloth masks (big thanks to a friend for solving that problem for me)…

Just typing all of that makes me feel tired.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I was spending a lot of time taking care of other people, but not a great job of taking care of myself. I was also feeling a strong sense of panic when I checked the news, and feeling frustrated when I looked on social media and saw comments about how some people in my network were watching movies, reading books, painting, and doing all sorts of interesting things that I just didn’t feel I had time for. And so I scaled back a little bit, checked in with myself, and focused only on the essentials for a few days. It felt a little selfish and indulgent, but I also recognized it was necessary.

There’s a reason why the flight attendants tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first during the safety briefing. If you don’t take care of your own needs first, you’ll have limited ability to tend others.

I’m feeling centered again, and have crossed off many items on my work “to do” list. With that under control, I feel like I can breathe. The oxygen mask is working (thanks to regular virtual Pilates classes, getting enough sleep, and family time), so I’m back in this space with a lot of ideas and tips about remote and online teaching that I want to write about.

How about you?

How are you surviving amid the COVID-19 crisis? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Many academics are. Let’s explore some of the reasons why:

  • This COVID-19 thing is scary, and if you understand anything about data, it’s even scarier.
  • Being stuck at home for a long period of time is a claustrophobic prospect.
  • Not knowing how long our lives will be affected by the pandemic — in short, inability to plan for the future — makes staying at home and sheltering place even more challenging (and depressing).
  • Adjusting to virtual work and remote classes is difficult.
  • Doing all of this with kids at home is even more difficult.
  • Doing it while your octogenarian parents still insist on having cocktails with the neighbors or keeping their nail appointments just adds to the stress.
  • The email keeps piling up, some of it surely important, but just so much to wade through and so much of it repetitive.
  • We have a lot of people depending on us to hold it all together and provide guidance. Not just our family and friends, but our students and our colleagues.

Yeah. That’s a lot. And it’s not the full list.

So now think about how you’re feeling relative to how you’re spending your time.

It might be tempting to focus all of your energy on work or helping others right now. There’s a lot of work to be done, revising assignments, recording videos, and whatever else might be a necessary part of shifting course modality. I get it. I’ve actually alleviated some of my own anxiety by writing these posts, helping others rework their classes, doing webinars on online teaching and learning, etc.

It’s also might be tempting to read all of the news updates, looking at the current infection rate statistics (updates in late morning and cocktail hour in my state!) as well as statistical models of where the trends may head, and reading articles about the various social and economic effects of COVID-19.

Social media is a pretty good time-suck, too.

Family members can put a high demand on our time as well, and households are not easy to run.

If these activities are helping you, great! But if not, allow yourself to scale back.

You don’t have to be the watcher of the pandemic. And you’re probably not going to be its slayer, either. (If you followed those links, you know what my family has been binging on lately.)

It’s okay to take a day off. It’s okay to be less than perfect. It’s okay to tell people you can’t to x or y right now. It’s okay to let your house get messy, to eat peanut butter from the jar or have cereal for dinner, and to let the kids skip their baths.

Unless it’s providing a primary connection to the world that you need, go ahead and avoid social media and news sources for a few days.

Instead, do something that will refresh you. Get outside and get fresh air. Exercise. Read a favorite novel or watch a favorite movie. Sleep in (if your children — furry ones included — and anxiety level will let you). Doodle. Make music. There’s no right or wrong here. They key is to think about what makes you feel centered and whole, and do it (or the closest approximation to it that is possible while stuck at home).

I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ve had a meditation practice in the past and let it slide, this is a great time to revisit it … or to try it out if the idea appeals. The Calm app is pretty good for a test drive.

None of this is going to solve the problems that plague us right now, but if you take the time to find your oxygen mask and get it secured right now, it might be a little bit easier to help others with theirs.

If you don’t know where to begin, ask for help. Surely there’s someone else who has their oxygen mask on right now who would be happy to assist.