One day, while flying to Atlanta on Delta Airlines, (Duh,Everything Leaves Through Atlanta), I discovered that flight attendants state the best advice for caregivers—all day long:

“In the unlikely event of the loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. Securely place your mask on first, before helping anyone next to you who may need assistance.”

That small directive, which I call the “Delta Doctrine,” contains applicable wisdom for so many circumstances— but probably none as poignant as for those of us serving as a caregiver for a chronically ill or disabled loved one.

Listen to THE DELTA DOCTRINE from HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER the audio book!

Have you noticed that they don’t tell you how to open the peanuts or pretzels—which are surprisingly difficult?  Nor do they explain how to use the atomic suction device known as a lavatory. I suppose they think we will just figure those things out on our own!  But every flight attendant, pilot, and every government and civilian entity associated with flying will remind us to put our masks on first.


Because they know it’s counter-intuitive to human beings.  When a loved one is in peril, we simply throw caution to the wind and race in to help.

How long can you hold your breath?

Compassion and love often mistakenly lead us to hold our own breath while trying to help someone else breathe. Once we make that decision,however, it is only a matter of time before we find ourselves gasping for air. And, if we are unable to breathe, how can we help anyone else?

Many of America’s 65 million caregivers desperately try to assist a vulnerable loved one while growing dangerously close to “blacking out” themselves. Grabbing the mask first is not a sign of selfishness but rather the whisper of wisdom. Unfortunately, that soft voice is hard to hear over the often- deafening cries of someone we love.

Those who “push the wheelchair” serve as the critical team player for a suffering patient. Sadly, too many caregivers don’t know how to create a sustainable care-structure for themselves. Simply getting sleep and eating a proper diet is not enough. Caregivers must remain healthy: physically, financially, emotionally, professionally, and spiritually. But staying healthy is impossible if we don’t reach for the mask first.

Caregivers Benefit from Emotional Triage

Help is available, but caregivers must be willing to accept that help while tuning out the fear.  That fear, (and sometimes the panic) can consume us during highly stressful moments. On a plane, one must simply reach for the mask that dangles. For caregivers, however, reaching for help is different. Most of the conflicts that caregivers experience involve relationship dynamics. If the patient is bleeding or injured, then it is a medical crisis and that involves a different set of skills and needs, generally referred to as triage.

Caregiving scenarios that strain the bonds of friends, family, and marriage could benefit from “emotional triage.” Since the one who suffers will, by definition, probably not be providing leadership in those areas, it is up to caregivers to ensure their own safety and well-being. Just as paramedics train to care for an agitated (and sometimes even violent) patient, caregivers can learn to protect their own emotional safety and peace of mind.

When the “turbulence of caregiving” hits, I’ve found three simple things that help me make healthy and positive decisions in high-stress moments: Wait, Water, and Walk.


Take a moment before responding. Regardless if the culprit is dementia, drugs, or just your loved one behaving badly, all types of “emotional tug-of-wars” seem to be happening simultaneously while caregiving. If you pick up the rope and involve yourself in a tug-of-war, one of two things will happen: You will win and end up on your rear, or you will lose and end up on your face.

Don’t pick up the rope!

Simply wait before responding. Rarely do you have to apologize or make amends for some- thing you didn’t say. Breathe slowly (inhale four seconds; exhale eight seconds), until you feel yourself growing calmer. Stress and anger are toxic for good decisions. WAIT can also stand for, “Why Am I Talking!” Sometimes, we simply need to “bite our tongues and learn to like the taste of blood.”   If we go silent and don’t make a situation worse, that counts as a win.  Waiting can be one of the best ways for caregivers to “put their masks on first!”


Drink some cool water. It will buy you time to think more clearly. Avoid sugary drinks or even coffee, and instead grab a bottle or glass of water. Your body needs water—your brain needs water. From high blood pressure to fatigue, water helps a myriad of issues. A tanked-up brain functions better. Drink to think!


Caregiving creates extreme stress, so when things are bouncing off the walls, take a few moments to put on some comfortable shoes and walk off some of that tension. By doing so, you are truly putting on the mask first, getting better oxygen to your body and brain, and bleeding off anxiety. Walking immediately helps facilitate calmness. Settling yourself down allows you to bring your “A-Game” to the caregiving scenario.

Wait, Water, Walk

These things cost little or nothing but can instantly help a caregiver make better decisions, calm down, and feel more at peace. These are the initial steps of the Delta Doctrine. “Put your mask on first” is the most responsible and caring step in your efforts to help others. In doing so, the patient gets a healthier, confident, stronger, and more “self-controlled” caregiver who can provide leadership while offering love.

Peter Sharing "There Delta Doctrine"Peter Rosenberger is the co-founder of Standing With Hope.  He hosts a weekly radio show for family caregivers heard live on Sundays at 3 PM CDT on 1510 WLAC in Nashville and streaming through IHeart Radio.

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Both of these programs have the single goal of equipping broken and hurting individuals to stand with hope in Jesus Christ.


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