Most parents have heard the advice given on airplanes before each flight. “In the event of an emergency, please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” While the instructions may counter our natural instincts, the logic is sound; if you pass out, you won’t be of much use to the person sitting next to you.

This is particularly sound advice for those of us who work closely with others as part of our business model as well. Our ability to lead, facilitate, and listen directly correlates with how centered and grounded we are for each interaction within each relationship. The people with whom we work feel the difference when we are centered versus overextended. When our own energy wains, our efficacy in helping another person see clearly through a situation may be compromised.

Taking a break–an hour, a day, or a week–is one part of our work. While it may feel counterintuitive to step away from work when the pace and intensity is increasing, the choice we make to hit the ‘pause’ button can make the difference in the degree to which we are able to assist the people around us.

Scheduling breaks and honoring them also sends an important message to the people around us. Through our actions, we communicate our commitment to both ourselves and others. Would you rather work with someone who is constantly stressed, overworked, and overwhelmed or with someone who is happy, rested, and productive? Knowing how to reach for our own oxygen mask assures others that we are well enough to assist them if and when they need our help.

Where do you go for a bit of oxygen? I find small breaths in my morning meditation and through swimming, biking, and running. For a deep breath, I head for the beach. Even a couple of hours of listening to the ocean waves restores my perspective, clears my mind, and restores me to center. Before big events, I listen to music, and I sing–literally moving the air in and out of my body.

Knowing where your oxygen mask is stored is the first step. Choosing to put it on–even when it goes against your instincts–can make the difference in how able you are to assist the ones you want most to help.