Self-care means survival

By Caitlin Kelly


This is a tough time of year for many of us.

Forget (!) the U.S. election and how weary some now are of constant comment, opinion, raging, crying, etc.

Some families are withdrawing from one another over the holidays to avoid (further) estrangement.

The next six weeks also mean a lot of rushing around, to parties, (for work, for fun, with family), to buy gifts, to attend professional events.

Maybe, on top of all that, you’re looking for work or a new job, or coping with illness or injury.

This time of year can also mean new, fresh heartache; we have friends who recently lost both parents (to a drunk driver); a friend whose husband died this summer; a friend whose husband of many decades died a month ago…each of them facing their first Christmas and New Years as an orphan, a widower and a widow.


Taking consistent care of ourselves is crucial to our ability to help nourish and sustain others, whether children, parents, friends, spouses, neighbors.


A few ways to nurture yourself:


Keep fresh flowers or plants in your home

As I’ve written here many times, especially as the trees lose their leaves and color here, every week I buy fresh flowers and keep our houseplants thriving. Even $15 worth of grocery store mums can fill multiple vases and jugs around our apartment.

Flowers are everywhere in our home: bedside, bathroom, dining table, side tables. I recently splurged $27 for three plants at a local nursery, including a pale purple cyclamen and a deep purple African violet.


We live, most of us, in such a noisy world! Traffic, airplanes overhead, other people’s music and conversations, our children, our pets.

Silence is deeply restorative. Find a place, at home or out in nature, to be alone, silent and still every day.


Talking to, hanging out with, patting your cat/dog/guinea pig.


Since the election, I’m sleeping 9 to 9.5 hours every night, an escape from fear and stress. Self-employment from home allows me to nap as needed. Few escapes are as consistently accessible, free and comforting as a nap or a refreshing night’s sleep.

Meditation or prayer

Making time to intentionally focus on your spiritual health is sustaining. A friend living in another state recently started an on-line group of us to meet for meditation together. It sounds odd, but we were all grateful she thought of it.

We’re not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!


Face to face or on the phone or using FaceTime or Skype only. We really need to see our dearest friends’ faces and hear their laughter (or sighs). None of this online silliness! Get a hug. Give a hug. (In times of stress, ditch/avoid faux friends and competitive types, emotional vampires and frenemies. You need backup!)

Especially with those you’ve known for decades, reminisce about all the great times you’ve had together — and plot some adventures for 2017 to look forward to.



I keep a scented candle on my bedside table and it’s a soothing, calming final sight before I blow it out at night. It creates a ritual. We also light candles every evening when we eat dinner together ,(no TV blaring, no phones) and that, too, is a ritual that gently slows us down and moves into the evening.

Soft textures

I step onto a cozy bedside sheepskin rug every morning and treasure our woolen throws and blankets to nap under. Whether you wear a silk scarf or a cashmere muffler, or snuggly socks or slippers, keep your body as coddled and comfortable as you can.

Lovely images

We have a large collection of art, design and decorative arts books (all of which can be borrowed from your local library.) Few things are as pleasant as leafing through inspiring bits of beauty. Thanks to the Internet, virtually every museum in the world is now available for browsing.

Even better, get out to a museum or art gallery, sit on a bench and really, really savor a few pieces — sculpture, paintings, pastels, a mask or chariot — slowly and carefully.



Get out there! No matter the weather, fresh air and light are a great way to detach from grim thoughts, social media and yet another bloody screen.

Avoid all social media

It’ll wait.

Looking at art restores and refreshes me. This astonishing life-sized painting of Joan of Arc hangs in a hallway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City


This is one of my favorites, whether listening to the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto or Erik Satie or the Stones or…Crank up the stereo and sing along as loudly as you dare.

If you’re a musician, what a great way to lose yourself! I so envy — and have been fortunate enough to know several talented amateur musicians — those who can just pick up a flute or violin or harmonica or guitar and delight themselves. (I need to get my guitar out of the basement and start building up my calluses again.)

Attending a concert is a great way to destress. Jose and I recently attended an evening choral performance, all in Finnish, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in upper Manhattan. It was sublime! The echoes!

Play a game

Anything! Gin rummy, Scrabble, Bananagrams, cribbage, bridge, mah jongg. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Borrow your kids’ or grandkids’ Legos and have at it.


Yay, endorphins. This has been my preferred method of stress management for decades, whether dance class, spin class, a long walk or playing softball. Especially this time of year, as we all start eating and drinking too much, burning off some of those calories will help.

Spa stuff

Some people hate being touched by strangers. But for some of us, a massage and/or manicure and/or pedicure and/or facial (yes, costly!) can be a great stress-buster. We’re lucky enough to live next door to a very good hotel spa, so I have incentive to work and and save hard for another visit.

Cooking at the house we rented last year in Ireland


Only if you enjoy it! Creating something delicious is both focusing and distracting — a stack of muffins, a savory soup or stew, a pile of roast vegetables fills your home with great smells and gives you instant, possibly healthy, gratification.

18 thoughts on “Self-care means survival

  1. Steve

    Its kind of interesting for me to see how females handle stress and conflict. You like to cook and go to the spa, classical music and scented candles. My personal favorite is to throw some stuff in my camper, hook it to my truck and get out of Dodge. Even though I live in a really rural area the opportunity to just get away is quite the respite. Quite often my wife finds me in our backyard sitting around a fire in my rocking foldup chair. I cherish getting out in the woods or going for a paddle in my kayak especially if I can somehow finagle to accidentally leave my phone somewhere I’m not. If all else fails I can plan a visit with one or more of my grandkids. I’ve discovered that slowing down and taking time to smell the roses if you will brings way more personal joy than doing all the things I’m supposed to be doing and never seem to find the time to complete them anyhow.

    1. Good to hear from you again! 🙂

      BUT…I also play softball (heading out today), go golfing — often days without my phone! — and go for hikes in the woods, so let’s not make assumptions about “females”…:-)

      It’s a shame we live right on the Hudson and I have yet (!) to own a kayak or canoe or sailboat to really enjoy it more. I’m wary of the strong currents and there’s a lot of river traffic moving quickly.

      Doing nothing slowly is the best!

  2. Some things I’d add to that list:

    1. Some good TV or movies: taking a couple hours out of the world and going into the world of someone else is, I find, always relaxing I actually find a good horror film relaxing, believe it or not. And I’m never stressed when I’m watching a good one. So if you have something you lie to watch, just watch it. Take some time off of your life and enjoy someone else’s. It does great things for you.

    2. ASMR: This is something that’s emerged online that has become something of a phenomenon. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it refers to a tingling sensation on the scalp that some people get when exposed to certain sounds or other stimuli. Many people find this tingling sensation relaxing, and there are thousands upon thousands of videos online devoted to ASMR and bringing out that relaxing tingling sensation. Not everyone feels it, but I’ve noticed it, and it relaxes.

    3. Hypnosis; Just saying, hypnosis is not scary. It’s meant to calm and relax and help you make positive life changes. I’ve done it a few times, and it’s had positive benefits for me.

      1. Actually, no…In order (on my PBS station) of appearance, starting at 8pm: The Durrells in Corfu, Poldark, Indian Summers and then reruns of other BBC shows.

        I haven’t seen Dr. Who in years.

  3. I’ve been going through a really tough time (won’t go into details here, but it would be good to talk via email if that’s okay with you). I appreciate your ideas for self-care — just need to make sure I actually put them into practice.

  4. I love this! Today I played tennis, jumped on the trampoline with my kids, and played the guitar and piano. I’m currently reading my favorite blogs while enjoying a savory bowl of homemade soup. Your tips have sparked further inspiration, and I plan to try several in the coming weeks. Thank you!

  5. it is so very important, and often the last person taken care of, unfortunately. your suggestions really resonate with me, as i also use many of the same strategies for calming, centering, and recharging.

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail

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