This saying refers to an individual who is not in a stable situation themselves, and worries about other people's problems. Please give me the English/American equivalent.

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    'Hold onto your hat/s' is often used metaphorically; it is equivalent to 'Prepare yourself for a rough ride'. Brace yourself for hard times ahead. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 21:19
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    When you say “worries about other people’s problems”, do you mean someone who worries about other and tries to help them despite their own problems? Or someone who criticises others for things that they too suffer from? For the latter, there's put your own house in order (second definition) and people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 23:59
  • (That was supposed to say, “worries about others”. Damn five-minute editing windows!) Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 0:12
  • I think "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" is a great answer for this question. @Janus Bahs Jacquet, would you add this as an answer so I can vote it up? Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 4:21

4 Answers 4


My first inclination was to quote the Bible which has the phrase "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." -Matthew 7:5, but there's also the lyric from Elvis' hit, Clean Up Your Own Backyard.

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    The Op's question didn't seem to me to suggest hypocrisy, more someone who so attends to other people's troubles that they forget to take care of themselves.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 0:12

Put your own oxygen mask on first (before helping others).

It is a saying adapted from pre-flight safety instructions and used as a metaphor like OP's phrase. It is self-explanatory. You should help yourself first before helping others. (which also implies that you might not be in a stable situation yourself.)

An example article that mentions this metaphor:

Self Care Sundays: Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First / jugglingspoons.com

As FumbleFingers suggested in the comments, "Charity begins at home" is a common phrase that comes to mind but it doesn't meet certain criteria:

  1. It is not about individuals, not about "self-care", it is about helping people close to you. Also, it is mentioned that it is frequently misused: http://www.cracked.com/article_20251_the-5-most-frequently-misused-proverbs_p2.html

  2. It doesn't imply that you are an individual who is not in a stable situation. OP's phrase and the phrase I mentioned both have that sense.

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    Never heard of it. For a long-established "saying", there's always "Charity begins at home". Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 21:51
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    I don't think it's an established metaphor but would be widely understood among people who regularly fly. However the "before helping others" doesn't feel like a good fit to the Q for me (no vote either way).
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 21:55
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    +1 Your answer is very much along the lines of the OP's request, IMO, though probably a bit long for idiomatic usage. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 22:59
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    +1 from me. I immediately thought of the same thing. It does relate to the "before helping others" because the whole spiel is along the lines of: If cabin pressure should change, panels above your seat will open revealing oxygen masks; reach up and pull a mask towards you. Place it over your nose and mouth, and secure with the elastic band, that can be adjusted to ensure a snug fit. The plastic bag will not fully inflate, although oxygen is flowing. Secure your own mask first before helping others.”
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 23:00
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    @KristinaLopez: Thanks! You can omit "before helping others" also.
    – ermanen
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 23:03

Martin Manser, The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs (2002) has this entry for the saying "Physician heal thyself":

physician, heal thyself Do not reproach another person for something that you are equally guilty of; also used to imply that you should solve your own problems before you try to deal with those of other people: [citations omitted.] The proverb is of biblical origin: "Ye will surely say unto me this proverb: Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country" (Luke 4:23).

Note that this saying can be used to advise that "you should solve your own problems before you try to deal with those of other people"—which is essentially the same recommendation that U.S. airlines make with regard to oxygen masks in their pre-flight instructions (cited by ermanen in another answer). The Facts on File dictionary also offers this saying:

if every man would sweep his own doorstep, the city would soon be clean If people made an effort to improve their own behavior, instead of criticizing other people's, the world would be a better place: [citations omitted]. The proverb was first recorded in 1666, in an Italian proverb collection, but the sentiment it expresses is of earlier origin.

Another anglicized proverb comes from the final page of Voltaire's Candide (1759), where the hero says in response to a philosophical musing by Dr. Pangloss: "All that is is very well, but let us cultivate our garden." This conclusion yields the idiom (in English):

Let us cultivate our [or our own] garden.


a literary character comes to mind - Rip Van Winkle

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