One Piece of Wellness Advice I Will Never Give Again

I’m a rule follower.

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Leaving again?

That’s why when I hop on a plane, which I’ve been doing regularly this year, I’m the geeky one who puts down my reading material to listen to the safety talk.

The information hasn’t changed in years, but I pay attention for the same reason I renew my CPR regularly. When someone is standing in front of me having a heart attack, I don’t want to be trying to remember which comes first, the rescue breaths or the chest compressions.

After the flight attendant reminds us how to fasten our seatbelt and use the seat cushion as a flotation device, she provides the cautionary reminder in an event the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks deploy:

“Put your oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs.”

A Wellness Metaphor

It makes for a thoughtful wellness metaphor, and I remember liking it the first time I heard it used in that way. I even began using it in my wellness workshops from time to time.

Many women can relate. We are masters at putting everyone else’s needs ahead of our own until we end up sustaining ourselves on diet cokes and airplane snacks.

Coincidentally, I sat next to just such a super woman on my flight to the east coast this week. We shared a laugh when she asked the flight attendant if it was too early for a diet coke, who then jokingly differed to me. I said, “Well, I happen to be a wellness coach—okay, just this one time.”

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A picture of wellness.

It turns out my seat mate was Lisa Patno Bianconi, runner-up for the first ever Music Educator Award given out at the Grammy Awards this past year. She beat out over 34,000 applicants for the honor.

What makes her so special is the music program she developed at the Kurn Hattin School in Vermont uses the power of music to help abused, neglected, and at-risk youth find hope in a life that often feels hopeless. One of her young students was quoted as saying, “She felt like the mother I never had.”

After hearing her story, I wanted to say–forget the diet coke, let me buy you a drink.

Rethinking 

Talking to Lisa, who has made it her life’s work to place oxygen masks onto the little faces of lost children while hers dangles in front of her unused, made me realize how ridiculous this metaphor is as a motivational tool. It makes no sense.

First, women are fearless caregivers. It’s what we do. And we will risk life, limb, and even our own health to do it. We’d rather go down with the plane than watch our teachers run out of paper, our kids struggle to succeed, or people in our community hurting.

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Nose dives: For experienced pilots only!

Not to mention, once the mask drops down from wherever it drops down from—(thank goodness I have no idea where that is)—it’s a little late to worry about who gets first dibs. My guess is there are emergency lights flashing and loud buzzers going off in the cockpit signaling a massive system failure of some sort.

And even if the pilot—or the woman in a wellness crisis—does pull out of the nose dive in time to land safely, valuable time is lost and precious moments are spent not feeling like our well-selves.

You get my drift.

A Better Approach

The smarter approach seems to be what airlines and pilots do to keep those yellow masks tucked safely away in their secret compartments, and airplanes flying smoothly and on time to their destinations.

  • Regular maintenance: Check-ups, yearly health screenings, and a glass of red wine here and there.
  • Pre-flight checklist: A morning routine that puts our wellness on the radar screen, and charts a course for a feel-good day ahead.
  • Quality fueling: A simple, healthy, doable nutrition strategy that fuels for the long haul, not the puddle-jump.
  • Smooth take-offs and landings: Getting up and down frequently during the day; sometimes for longer periods of time and at faster speeds. Lifting heavy objects is also good from time to time.
  • Down time at the gate: Regularly scheduled personal time to recharge and renew. Adequate sleep, naps, and spa days (I invited Lisa to Glen Ivy next time she’s in town).

Now that’s a metaphor that makes more sense.

Taking Action

I laugh at the thought of trying to convince someone like Lisa—-or any woman, for that matter—to put their oxygen mask on before helping the people around them. I just don’t see it happening.

But what if we could begin to connect the dots and recognize that fueling our lives with wellness, rather than sheer adrenaline and diet coke, would help the cause in a more sustainable way?

Maya Angelou said it best, “Nothing will work unless you do.”

Sure, the whole oxygen mask wellness metaphor thing sounds good at first. But look up from your book the next time you fly and really listen to the safety spiel. Deciding whose oxygen mask goes on first is one decision you don’t ever want to make.

It might just be worth switching out your morning diet coke for a nice hot cup of herbal tea.

Feel good. Be well.  Meg

Do you tend to wait for a wellness crisis (sheer exhaustion, cold or flu, nervous breakdown?) to slow down and take care of yourself? What would it take to balance self-care with care for others?

Or try this week’s wellness prompt . . . 

d6e6e5aa81dccdbf50ec5d65e5c1e44dWellness Prompt: What are your 3 biggest challenges to taking care of your wellness on a day to day basis? Spend a moment jotting them down. Consider some opportunities for taking care of yourself while continuing to help the ones you love around you. What would they be and what would it take to follow through? Ten minute write . . . go!

12 Comments on “One Piece of Wellness Advice I Will Never Give Again

  1. I have the honor of knowing Lisa personally, and you are “right on” about her giving her oxygen mask to everyone else, especially the children first! I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your article. It makes me stop and think too, about that cup of tea and not the diet coke, on the mad dash out the door! I too am a veteran teacher, and know what we would do for our children, but know also that often we forget to take care of ourselves. I’m thrilled to see Lisa honored in such a nice way!
    Thank you Meg!

    • Hi Barbara: You are so lucky to know Lisa personally. I was awed by her story in just the short time I sat next to her. In fact, this piece was already in process and I was so amazed to have stumbled upon the perfect example of a heroic woman while writing it. Of course, it was a teacher! I admire you all for your selfless service–but yes, take care of yourself. The world needs you–and needs you feeling your best! Thank you for reading and sharing your kind thoughts.

  2. I really enjoyed your article, metaphor and all, and the message you conveyed. It’s such an important one, and I needed to hear it. For inspiration and more inspiration. I also wish that I could give back, like Lisa, in ways beyond writing, to make a difference in others’ lives. I can’t think of how because I don’t have those special skills, but I have a need to find it.

    Very special post, Meg. Many thanks.

    • I’m with you. I am always so awed by people like Lisa–I think it is the teacher thing and especially the ones who take the time to really connect with kids who may never have anyone say to them, “I see you and your life matters–you matter.” She has a real gift. I do know, however, that the work you do is just as important. Just think of all the people who need to know it’s possible to live a full and happy life, even with its challenges. It’s so like us to feel like we have to do more. Ha! Thanks so much for reading.

      • What a great article by a really great person. Meg, you mean a lot to me. I’m fighting the “food battle” and at times it’s really, really tough. One thing I have started a few months ago, and continue, is to walk every morning for 40-50 minutes. One day, I’ll win the battle with food. Thank you for being my friend‼️?

        • Doris: You are doing an amazing job–especially keeping up with your walking. Every day is an opportunity to begin again, and you are doing that. So impressed and proud of your efforts. You have come such a long way. Give yourself credit for that and continue to march on–literally!

    • Life has a way of teaching us these things. Soldier on wellness friend! Thank goodness we have our walking.

  3. On one hand, I’m a tough woman. A natural born survivor. On the other hand, my husband once told me–not so jokingly–“You’re too delicate to live.” LOL! I’m sensitive to foods, meds and caffeine or a bug bite can send me to the ER. Other than avoiding those, eight hours of sleep and down time to meditate are my oxygen masks. Brenda

    • That’s what makes us so amazing—the hard and the soft. Love the way your husband puts it. Funny. I hope someone reads your tip about getting enough sleep. That goes a long way in helping us fly on course. Thanks for reading, Brenda.

  4. You are so right–regular attention to our wholeness–body, mind and spirit–is what allows us to operate against the “rules” in a crisis. If we’ve built up a reserve, we can go without when the occasion necessitates it. And hats off to Lisa–I taught in a Title 1 middle school for only three years and the stories of so many of my kids’ rough backgrounds broke my heart–but they depended on me not to be broken, but to be strong and help them to be be strong too. Great lesson in this post, thank you!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and wellness insight. I think you hit it on the head–all the positive things we do for ourselves build up a kind of reserve for the difficult times. What a thoughtful way of thinking about it. Always inspired by teachers like you who have spent time in the deep, deep trenches. Thanks for stopping by, Lee.

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