Danielle Patton, our Widowed Young Support Coordinator, shares how looking after yourself is important for wellbeing and enables us to help others.

Most of us are familiar with the analogy of the oxygen mask – a life-saving device used by airlines and highlighted during the safety demonstrations on all flights.

During these safety demonstrations, we are told that if cabin pressure is lost oxygen masks will be released. We are instructed to put our own mask on first before we help others, which at first seems selfish to some people.

We are taught that we should put the needs of others above our own. So, looking after ourselves first almost seems wrong to us. However, if we don’t put our mask on first we risk passing out due to lack of oxygen, which would be a danger to ourselves and unhelpful to others. We cannot give to others what we do not have ourselves. For those who have children, the best thing we can do is take care of ourselves.

Here are some ways we can look after ourselves:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Do some physical exercise.
  • Explore a hobby or try something new.
  • Connect with others. It can be extremely encouraging to connect with others who have been through a similar experience of grief.
  • Ask for support if and when needed – there is strength in being able to say, ‘I need support’. Support can be found through your GP, a counsellor or even joining groups like WAY (Widowed and Young) or here with Widowed Young Support.

After the sudden death of my husband Russell, those around me just didn’t understand or comprehend the reality of my situation as a young widow, which made me feel incredibly isolated. I realised that I needed to find support in a way that was beneficial to me and my circumstances. For my own mental wellbeing, I had to lay down my pride and ask for support.

Choosing to attend one of our support days or weekends can be a positive step in doing something for yourself – it was my first step in putting on my oxygen mask. Two former delegates share with us their experience of attending one of our support events and how it was a positive step in self-care.

Tor Mackenzie, one of our befriending volunteers:

I first attended a widowed young support event about four months after my husband died, with no real idea of what to expect, but I came away having met others widowed young and some new perspectives.

One thing which struck me at the time was that I felt, ‘if my children are OK, I shall be OK’, but the team helped me realise that in order for my children to be OK, I need to take care of myself, to be able to take care of them. I had always thought self-care had to be big things like spa days (tricky to make these relaxing with young children), but just trying to eat healthily, not demanding too much of myself by expecting to achieve what two people used to do now I am doing it alone, as well as asking for help and celebrating any successes were equally as important.

I joined the day knowing how hard grief is, but left with a sense of hope that there was a future for me – I didn’t know how it would pan out, but I knew I could help shape it. I’m still a work in progress but look back on that day as part of me starting to build a new normal for myself!

Joanna Beattie, one of our befriending volunteers and a part of our CareLine team:

All of us have the same needs, which are important to meet for good mental health and self-care. A sense of belonging, significance, achievement, love and fun are all important to live a fulfilled life. When Ainsley died, all of those things died too. Where did I fit in and belong now? Let’s be honest. Grieving is not exactly fun!

I was a single mum to two young kids and really struggling. I decided to attend the Widowed Young Support Weekend in Newcastle, Northern Ireland roughly two years after Ainsley died. It offered me a safe place to be really heard and understood and feel less alone in the world. This is where I first began to regain a sense of belonging and significance and love once more. It encouraged me to keep going when I couldn’t find it in me by myself.

Self-care is about being kind to yourself and looking after yourself. Even in the midst of grief, our wellbeing is critical. It is about putting on the oxygen mask, and when ready, helping others to put on their mask too.

To find out more about the support we offer, including our support events, visit Widowed Young Support.

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