Every time I travel by plane, I am reminded that it is not selfish or navel-gazing to look after yourself: to take care of others we need to take care of ourselves. We all know the emergency instructions: put your own oxygen mask on first before you attend to those around you.
Begin by thinking of your life as a chunky black bicycle wheel. In the centre is you. The spokes radiating from the hub, meanwhile, are all the different aspects of your life, whether that includes a family, a job, your pet, a hobby, or your friends. If one of these spokes is damaged or falls off, your wheel, along with all the other spokes, will keep turning, as long as you have remained centred. If, however, you put something or someone other than yourself at the hub and it comes away, then the whole structure falls apart.
Draw your own bicycle wheel or use this illustration. If you can’t fill in all the spaces between the spokes, don’t worry, just colour or shade in any remaining ones. As valued as each of these aspects of your life are, this activity is about putting yourself in the centre to provide a stable frame- work.
A second way of feeling calm and centred is to remind yourself of your strengths. Typically, we are good at remembering what goes wrong in our lives, in the same way we remember criticism rather than praise. Our brains are designed this way. As animals, we have evolved to look out for danger and we are all descendants of those who tiptoed away from angry lions. Our modern kind of danger is internal and psychological, namely all that introspection and telling ourselves bad things. Let’s begin by focusing on the positives instead. Note some of your strengths and recent compliments you have been given, which you may struggle to remember. This is about putting yourself first – in a good way. Typically, we tend to give out compliments readily but find it hard to absorb and receive them. Thus armed, you will be in a good frame of mind to complete the rest of the activities.
It’s your turn to put yourself first.Exercise: fill in the bicycle wheel illustration with the different aspects of your life in the spaces between the spokes.
- This exercise is from Singing in the Rain by Rachel Kelly, bestselling writer, public speaker and mental health campaigner. It is a workbook of 52 exercises that you can complete, week by week as you take on more responsibility for your own mental health. You can listen to Rachel’s Head Talk podcast here. Singing in the Rain: An inspirational workbook – 52 Practical Steps to Happiness, is published by Short Books, priced £12.99.