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The Oxygen Mask Rule: We’re in this for the long haul and extreme self-care is essential

photo by: Shchennikova Alina

By David M. Dworkin

The housing industry is in crisis mode, creating massive workloads for nearly all of our members. Many of us have been working twelve-hour days, seven days a week. Just two examples from our members:  1) mortgage forbearance requests grew by 1,270% between the week of March 2 and the week of March 16, and another 1,896% between the week of March 16 and the week of March 30, according to data released by the Mortgage Bankers Association; and 2) 31% of renters were late in paying their April rent, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. And that’s just April rent. The latest unemployment numbers disclosed an additional 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week. May numbers will be exponentially worse.

This work is vitally important, and I know that you, like me, have been energized by the opportunity to help our stakeholders and the millions of consumers we touch. As many of us are realizing, however, this isn’t a sprint – or a marathon – it’s an ultra-triathlon that we will be in for months, if not years. Long after we have “flattened the curve” of the pandemic’s health impact, we will be dealing with the economic fallout.

Now is a good time to apply the “oxygen mask rule” – that pre-flight takeoff guidance we’ve heard countless times: “In the event of an emergency, please put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.” This is valuable advice in times of crisis, especially for those individuals who are responsible for the safety and well-being of others. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to effectively care for anyone else, let alone support the thousands of communities and millions of people across the country in need of our help.

  • Take a day off, if at all possible. If not, reserve two half-days over the weekend to turn off and tune out. “Make time to unwind,” the CDC suggests. Although we’re largely confined to our homes right now, try to set aside time to do something that brings you a little joy – whether it’s catching an episode of your favorite TV show, spending half an hour in the garden or sitting down in the afternoon with a cup of coffee and a good book.
  • Balance your information pipeline. I’m a news junky, but much of it is repetitious, and most of it is focused on negative content that, regardless of whether I agree or not, reinforces feelings I already have. My wife recently suggested one great source for balance, John Krasinski’s SGN – Some Good News. On Episode 2, the original cast of Hamilton sang the opening song by video chat for a nine-year-old girl who couldn’t use her tickets because the theaters on Broadway had to close.
  • Stay connected to others. Social isolation can be extremely difficult to cope with, especially when you’re managing a workload more demanding than usual. Try to stay in touch with friends and family during this time. Zoom and FaceTime are great options to hear from loved ones and an opportunity to share your own feelings with others. Last week my daughter had a Zoom dinner with her grandmother. Both cooked the same recipe, ate dinner, and talked for an hour. My wife hosts a weekly call with her kids and extended family. The last time all of us were together was the last wedding. Now we get together every week.
  • Exercise and Meditate. You don’t need a Peloton. Online exercise classes that don’t require anything more than a t-shirt are plentiful. If you’ve never tried meditation before, Tara Brach is a popular teacher of meditation and has great resources for beginners.

While many housing leaders are working around the clock to mitigate the chaos, we all need to take care of ourselves if we are going to be effective in helping others. Even if you have to schedule it in on your calendar, make the time to get a break and apply some of these tips so that you can better cope with stress. This will allow us to better support our peers in the industry, our employees and the hundreds of millions of Americans who depend on us.

All the best,


David M. Dworkin is president and CEO of the National Housing Conference

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