We’ve all heard the flight attendants say to put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you. But what does that mean in a family? What do you do as a parent (or teacher) when you are feel overwhelmed by the demands of caring for children, family, marriage, and work?

Between homeschooling our eldest, keeping the house semi-clean, and kickstarting some major projects, I’ve felt stressed. I’ve been plugging along like The Little Engine That Could. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!” Until last week a friend asked me how I was doing, and I burst into tears.

Years ago a psychologist told me something about myself that I’d never noticed before–maybe you can relate to it too. She said that my personality was the type that “doesn’t know you’ve taken on too much until you are in over your head.”

After bursting into tears with my friend, it all made sense. If I were the Titanic, I wouldn’t have realized that there was a problem until all the lifeboats had been deployed and the remaining passengers were holding onto pieces of the ship.

I think that a lot of teachers and parents (especially mothers) do this too. We take on more and more in order to be loving to those around us and to care for others. It can be hard to see the toll this takes, not only on ourselves, but also on the same people we are working so hard to care for.

Worse still, when you are drowning in things to do, the last thing you want is to have to care for yourself–it’s another thing to do!

I’ve learned this lesson over and over again in my life. And apparently I’m still learning it.

Why is self care important?

When you are stressed your body creates cortisol. Cortisol can make you feel lonely, angry, and agitated, and it is associated with a bunch of other negative effects on our health including inflammation, a weakened immune system, osteoporosis, damage to the memory, learning impairment, depression, disrupted sleep, etc. When we are not flooded with cortisol we experience more health, joy, connection and empowerment. When we are grounded, it’s easier to be a good leader–at home or at work–and we also have more ease and fun.

How do you avoid getting overwhelmed?

You can’t. Overwhelm and heartbreak can’t be avoided in life. But what you can do, is learn how to deal with sadness, anger, and stress. Regena Thomashauer says that caring for ourselves and having joy and pleasure in our lives is the highest possible value that women can stand for. When you have joy, you can give joy, when you have self-love, you can give love, when you’ve cared for yourself, you can care for others. Thomashauer teaches that our pleasure fills us with self-love and then we can connect with others. When we have more love for ourself, then we open the door for others to love themselves too.

How do you have more self-love and joy?

Regena Thomashauer says to take pleasure breaks. Take a few minutes, or even 30 seconds. Dance. Take a shower. Drink tea. Light a candle. Cut some flowers and bring them inside. Talk to a friend. Ask for help. Take a nap. Go outside and feel the sun on your skin. Walk around the block. Lower your standards. Breathe. Journal. Read. Hug. Smile. Eat. Drink. Know that you deserve pleasure and that having joy and love for yourself will help those around you too. Caring for your kids, your friends, your family, and your work will all become easier and more fun, when you make your own joy a priority.

My happy ending?

Over the last several days, I went for a walk on the beach with my friend. I started reading a book for pleasure. I took a nap. Drank some tea. Slept in. I let the house be a little messier, but cleaned up the areas that really mattered. I lowered my expectations and noticed more joyful things. I had gratitude for the gifts of my life.

Your happy ending?

You get to create it. What are you going to do? Put in the comments below one thing you will do this week to create your own happy ending. See you there!

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