I am a road warrior and have to travel often. I tend to ignore the in-flight announcements and the safety drills and get busy with some work or listen to some music. During my recent flight, however, I paid a little more attention to the safety briefing than usual. I was glad that I did, as learned something useful. These “Words of wisdom” came from the flight attendant!
As the plane started moving on the taxiway, the flight attendant started to demonstrate the mandatory safety procedure. She instructed passengers to put mobile phones in airplane mode, informed them that it was a non-smoking flight, and demonstrated the use of the safety belts. She continued with the safety procedure and instructed as to what to do in an unlikely case of an emergency. She pointed to the location of emergency exits and demonstrated the use of the life vest and the oxygen mask. Here is the rough script that she used –
“In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically drop down in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.”
What caught my attention was the instruction – “secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting others”. I started thinking – what would happen if you helped a child or an elderly person to put their oxygen mask first. Would a few seconds of delay in putting on your own oxygen mask result in some problems?
I came across this very informative Youtube video – “Why You Should Put YOUR MASK On First (My Brain Without Oxygen) – Smarter Every Day 157”
What happens if you don’t put on your oxygen mask first?
When the cabin pressure drops, the oxygen level in the cabin is at dangerously low levels. When the brain is deprived of oxygen it suffers from a condition called hypoxia. Symptoms vary from person to person. They may include blurred vision, headaches, fatigues, hot and cold flashes, euphoria, numbness, tingling, nausea, dizziness etc.
As a part of their training regimen, Air Force pilots and astronauts subject themselves to hypoxia under controlled conditions. This helps them to recognize their own hypoxia symptoms and to learn to take immediate action to get some oxygen – in case such a situation arises for real.
As the video demonstrates just a few minutes of oxygen deprivation (in a simulated chamber) at an altitude of 25,000 feet caused disorientation and diminished the thinking capacity. Commercial airliners fly at altitudes of 35,000 or more. Just a few seconds of oxygen deprivation can make you dizzy, disoriented and unable to think or take any action. This could result in your own death and obviously, you will not be able to help anyone else.
Words of wisdom – from the flight attendant!
There is a very neat metaphor in the flight attendant’s advice – “Put on your mask first, before helping others.” As good human beings we do want to help others – take care of family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and anyone else in need. The question is – are you taking care of yourself first? If you don’t you may suffer from symptoms of fatigue, burnout, stress, frustration, reduced efficiency, physical illness or mental condition like depression.
Airplanes have oxygen level sensors – as human beings, we don’t have any sensors to warn us! We need to learn to recognize our own symptoms and take corrective action. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, you need to put on your oxygen mask first!
How to put on your own “oxygen mask” first?
The equivalent of putting on the oxygen mask consists of a few very simple yet important things.
- Exercise regularly preferably 30 minutes total during the day
- Get enough sleep and rest. 7 hours or more per night.
- Spend some daily time on hobbies, meditation, reading, listening to music, and connecting with friends or family.
- Write a journal, develop a habit of gratitude, laugh routinely
Listen to the flight attendant’s advice and put on your own oxygen mask first! We can’t help others if we don’t take care of ourselves first – both physically and emotionally.