Lessons in wellbeing: putting on your own mask before helping others

I’m a great believer in taking care of your mental health. It’s something that I actively encourage in others: my eldest brother – an inspiring paramedic but someone who sadly witnesses terrible trauma on a daily basis; my middle brother – a senior manager, Police Sergeant and someone who three years ago amazingly survived unscathed from a 30ft fall from a cliff face; and my colleagues at who are individually taking on new challenges at work each day.

I’m very proud of all of them but as an individual, like many others I am less active in supporting my own mental health – until last week when I took a moment to reflect when speaking to my line manager.

Over the past few weeks I have been travelling the length and breadth of the country with work and in my personal life – from my home city of Manchester to London, Edinburgh and Birmingham – with a few overnight stops at home in between. It was a great experience with many meetings, events and activities and on Wednesday, I had my first day back in the office.

It certainly came as a welcome return as I threw myself back into the normal work routine and the next project, but something also didn’t feel quite right. It wasn’t until I was debriefing with my manager and she reminded me that I needed to take time – even just a few hours in the morning to settle back in, read emails and catch-up – that I realised the importance of my own wellbeing. I had been operating at full speed for a prolonged period and was now trying to return to normal.

As leaders, sisters and brothers, partners, children and parents, it’s very natural for us to focus on those around us and take care of them. But as the crew on board the aircraft always say, we must put on our own mask before helping others. Not only does this enable us to breathe a little easier, but it also enables us to better help others and to act as positive role-models, or rather real-models, on the importance of looking after ourselves.

So whether it’s taking a few hours in the working day to read through emails and catch-up with colleagues in my case, enjoying a longer lunch break or finishing that little bit earlier after a few long days for some ‘me time’, don’t bypass the opportunity and instinctively push on with the next project.

Taking care of our own wellbeing is in fact, taking care of everyone.

Stephanie Kowalewicz, Research and Public Affairs Manager, Bright Horizons