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Why & How to Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

Self care

It’s critically important.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed, overworked, and undervalued? Does life seem so fast paced that you can’t keep up? Are your relationships suffering because of it? And does it seem that no matter how much you try, you have a sense that all your efforts just aren’t good enough?

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This is the problem with our culture. We live in a culture that has a supersize mentality. It has been drilled into us that bigger is better and striving for more is what we should be doing. It is the great American way. If you don’t have a McMansion with a three-car garage, you have not made it yet.

Taking Care of Yourself Is a Foreign Subject

The problem is that with this type of mentality, the idea of how to take care of yourself emotionally seems like a foreign subject.

Most people don’t even think about taking care of their emotional health. They are too busy working, shopping and wishing for more. And still, with all the striving for more, there is an emptiness that comes from such a mindset.

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Anxiety disorders are the most common illness in America. And depression is often accompanied by anxiety. In addition to anxiety and depression, Americans consume the largest number of pain medications in the world.

What has caused this sad state of affairs?

We have lost sight of what is most important, love and connection. Love and connection are more important than any big diamond ring or fancy sports car you could ever own.

But, for some people, they sacrifice taking care of themselves emotionally and being true to themselves in order to obtain these nice, fancy items. They create a lifestyle that is based on looking good instead of feeling good. They forget how to stop and smell the roses and instead stay busy reaching for the next big thing to fill that empty hole.

The Empty Hole You Feel Inside

The point is that the next big thing will never fill that empty hole. What fills that empty hole is all found within you.

Learning how to take care of yourself emotionally is a far greater investment than any McMansion, diamond ring, or sports car you could ever own. Having a sense of connection and love in your life will give you the sense of emotional care you are looking for.

The depression, anxiety, and reaching for pain medication that happens across our nation is because of one big cultural phenomenon: people’s inability to feel their feelings. Not feeling your feelings and instead, repressing them, is at the root of many of your emotional struggles.

Our culture has provided you with built-in, ready and available ways to numb out from your uncomfortable feelings. We have happy hours, huge shopping malls, casinos, and 24-hour supermarkets, for example. Over-eating, over-drinking, over-shopping and even gambling is often right at your fingertips.

How can you learn how to take care of yourself emotionally when you were birthed into and brought up in a culture that doesn’t even know how? And what does it mean to take care of yourself emotionally anyway?

Your Uncomfortable Emotions Are the Key

Believe it or not, your uncomfortable emotions, if cared for, will bring you more connection, more love, more joy and happiness than you ever dreamed possible.

It is the pushing away of your emotions and not wanting to deal with them that leaves you feeling, sad, lonely, depressed, anxiety-ridden, and reaching for pain medication or other numbing substances.

All of the cultural solutions are outside yourself. When you learn how to reach in, instead of reaching out to people, places and things to solve your problems, your world will transform.

Your uncomfortable emotions are there for a reason. They are trying to tell you something. They offer priceless value to help you if you are willing to listen. If you don’t listen to them and instead repress them or numb them, they don’t go away, they come out sideways in what I call the Three D’s:

  • Disease
  • Drama
  • Depression

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A Process for Uncomfortable Emotions

I have a process called the Four N’s that shows you how to feel your feelings and thus really take care of yourself emotionally. The Four N’s are NOTICE, NAME, NURTURE and NEED.

1. Notice

The first part of this process is to notice that you’re having an uncomfortable feeling. How often have you had a second or third glass of wine or a second or third piece of pizza when you really didn’t need it?

Were you having an uncomfortable emotion that you didn’t know how to handle? Noticing is the biggest first step in learning how to take care of yourself emotionally. It interrupts the habitual behavior.

2. Name

Once you notice, then you can NAME the emotion. There are so many different types of emotions. When working with clients who are learning how to feel their feelings I help them by categorizing feelings into six different types: sad, mad, glad, fear, numb, and shame.

By categorizing them it helps you to distinguish and become aware of the different types of emotions you have. Each emotion has its own unique characteristic. It becomes an art form, learning how to pay attention to all your different emotions and feelings that arise during the day.

3. Nurture

This is at the heart of how to take care of yourself emotionally. Your uncomfortable feelings are energies in your body. They want your attention just like a crying baby wants attention.

Feeling into your body, placing your hands on those parts of your body that are emotionally talking to you and giving them your undivided attention is key to taking care of yourself emotionally. Learning how to do this has profound effects on your ability to create loving relationships in your life.

4. Need

We all have needs but we have been programmed to think that having needs means we are needy. Getting in touch with your core needs is another big part of learning how to take care of yourself emotionally.

Ask yourself, “What do I need?” This is a very empowering question and again there is a fine art to how you answer this question.

When you take care of yourself emotionally, you stop operating from your blind spots, make better decisions, and gain control of your feelings and impulses.

This guest article originally appeared on How To Take Care Of Yourself Emotionally (And Put Your Oxygen Mask On FIRST).

Why & How to Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). Why & How to Put on Your Oxygen Mask First. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 2 May 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.