You’ve heard it before – put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. It’s a simple concept, but one that’s often difficult to apply, especially in college, where you’re surrounded by friends dealing with daily stressors and varying levels of anxiety. For many people, it’s a product of our natural empathy to want to help, to provide that shoulder to cry on for our friends. Now, I’m definitely not saying that you shouldn’t be there for your friends, but there are some things to consider first.
Be Your First Priority
You need to be your own first priority. A great way to think about this is to see yourself as a rechargeable battery. You can be full, you can be partially drained, or you can be empty.
When you care about someone, being there for them is amazing and enriching in its own way, but it’s also emotionally taxing, or in terms of this analogy, draining. You’re giving some of your “charge” to that other person, whether that’s through the act of baking them cookies to brighten their day, or just spending time and energy listening and giving advice. It can take a lot out of you, and if you aren’t already in a good place yourself, it can leave you empty.
Once you’re empty, you have nothing left to give to others, leaving you unable to be there for anyone else. Maybe even worse, you feel like shit now. By letting your own needs fall to the wayside, you’ve ended up losing your ability to be a support system for those you care about.
Consider Their Impact
Another thing to consider is how often someone is draining your battery to recharge their own. This isn’t to say that there are never times that your loved ones will be draining. But, part of that relationship trade-off also means that there should be a balance. When you need them, are they there for you? Are they willing to sacrifice some of their charge to refill your battery?
While this may sound harsh, something important to pay attention to is whether or not your relationships are actually benefiting you overall. Of course, as mentioned, sometimes they won’t—it could be because you’re having to support them through a hard time, or you could just be in a minor argument. The point here is to realize whether or not the relationship is net positive. If all that person does is drain you, and when you look at the greater picture of your friendship the majority of interactions are negative, what’s the point of being in that relationship? Loyalty is important, but remember that you have no obligation at this stage in your life to anyone but yourself. Ignoring that is a disservice to you, and in turn, a disservice to those who are truly worth your care.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether someone has a place in your life. It’s also up to you to care for yourself before you put your energy into someone else. Everybody is different, and every relationship is unique, but as long as you’re prioritizing yourself, you’ll be equipped to make the best decision regarding yourself and your relationships.