Make (and Take) the Time to Grab Your Oxygen Mask

If an emergency situation were to occur on an airplane in the sky, oxygen masks would be deployed. If you are a parent traveling with a child, you are instructed to put on your own mask first in such a scenario, and then help your child put on his or her mask. The reasoning behind this procedure is a simple truism: In order to take adequate care of our loved ones, we must first take care of ourselves. It’s an idea that we would be wise to adhere to in our day-to-day lives as well.

There are certain things that we should all consider when physically caring for ourselves, like getting a decent amount of sleep, making time for some exercise, and sticking to a relatively good diet. But there’s another aspect of our health that often gets ignored, that which occupies the space between our ears. Our mental health is just as (if not more) important than our physical health, but maintaining it by engaging in healthy activities that we find enjoyment and satisfaction in is all too often the first thing cut from our list of daily to-dos. For parents, this often happens out of guilt. It’s extremely common to feel guilty spending time away from our families to engage is a personal hobby or interest, especially if we’ve already been at work all day. However, we must make time for such activities in order to maintain balance in our lives, which leads to better mental health. When we are in the best place possible mentally, we can show up best for our loved ones.

Running has always been my “oxygen mask” activity. I’ve found over the years that this form of exercise helps me maintain both physical and mental balance like no other. It’s a quiet retreat from an otherwise noisy world that allows me to mentally reset. It acts as a buffer between the stress of work and the time I spend with my family, allowing me to be fully present when I’m interacting with my wife and kids. After all, the amount of time you’re around your kids isn’t nearly as important as the quality of the time you’re spending with them.

While I love running and understand its importance to my mental health, I am also careful to avoid letting it take TOO much time away from my family. As I have gone from single to married, to a parent of one and then two, I’ve constantly tweaked my running routines in order to most efficiently use the time I have. The goal has always been to limit the time lost to family while regularly engaging in an activity that I feel is crucial to my physical and mental well-being. Here are some ways that I’ve made it happen over the years…

  1. Run EARLY when possible. Your family won’t miss you while they’re sleeping, so getting up before the sun means you’re not missing any time with your kids. The toughest part of this routine is maintaining a decent bedtime. This usually means sacrificing activities like social media surfing or TV in the evening, but it’s worth it in the long term. Some people may suggest running after you put your kids to bed. If you are thinking of engaging in such a routine, make sure that you can commit at least 60-90 minutes between the time you finish running and the time you go to bed so that you can rehydrate, get some nutrition, and allow your heart rate to drop before trying to fall asleep. Otherwise, your sleep and recovery will suffer.
  2. Bring your kids along! Invest in a nice running stroller if you have a little one. (For stroller tips, check out THIS LINK.) As your kids get older, teach them to ride a bike, and they can tag along that way. When they’re older yet, they may even run with you!
  3. Involve grandparents if they’re not too far away. Kids love spending time with their grandparents. Grandparents love spending time with their grandchildren. Try scheduling a play date with the grandparents during a time when you want to run.
  4. Run home from the places you hit up for errands as a family. There are a series of stores we use that are about five miles from home. We’ll go shop as a family, and I’ll run home from the store while my wife drives the kids back. It’s a great way to get in a run while not missing as much quality time with the kids.
  5. Stretch with your kids. A good static, post-run stretch is just as important as your run, and shouldn’t be ignored. If you run from home, invite your kids to stretch with you when you get back. I’ve got some very fond memories of my kids using me as a human jungle gym while stretching on the floor.
  6. Pack a bag and run from work. Change into your running attire in the bathroom and pick a route starting from your car. You might also stop at a location that falls in the middle of your commute home to run. This not only gives you a good excuse to ditch out of work ASAP, but it also means that when you arrive home for the day, there’s nothing else on your personal agenda when you get there but to take care of your family.
  7. Speaking of packing a bag, always be prepared to “steal a run.” I always keep a pair of shoes and set of running clothes in the car in the off chance some unexpected free time pops up. It doesn’t happen often, but if a meeting ends early or an appointment gets cancelled, I’m prepared to fill that time in a way that would make Rudyard Kipling proud.
  8. This one is the trickiest, but is also the most important to the family runner: Communicate clearly and often with your spouse so that he or she understands you completely as you are, silly pastime and all. It didn’t happen by accident that my wife came to understand just how much running means to me. It’s something that I’ve talked about with her over the years, and something that she’s been absolutely wonderful at accepting. She knows how it helps me be the best, most balanced version of myself. This is but one of the reasons she’s the most amazingly beautiful person I know. I’ve got no clue how she ended up with my ugly mug, but I thank my lucky stars every day she did!

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