Small Ways to Take Care of Yourself that Won’t Get in the Way

Michele Cantara
Blog Post

I’m a wife, I work at AANE, and I support lots of autistic adults and their families. I’m also part of my husband’s intense and extended Sicilian family. There are a lot of obligations there. Most of them are good, especially since there’s not much left of my own extended family. I also have a few treasured friends, and I assiduously nurture those friendships, but most importantly I’m Joe’s mom. Like most parents of autistic adults, I juggle a lot of roles. 

Joe is 31 years old, and he’s autistic. He is an only child, and he is the center of my world. I really do have to get over that one of these days. I can spend endless amounts of energy worrying about him, figuring out ways to make suggestions to him that helps him advocate for himself rather than disempowering him with tons of parental advice. It also takes energy to stifle myself and remain silent because he does need to live his life and be independent. But my over-focus on Joe is my problem, not his.

As the holidays approach, my juggling act becomes much more difficult, as it does for most parents. It is a challenge to buy and wrap all the presents for the family and friends, get the presents mailed, plan get-togethers and cook up a storm. Neither Joe nor my husband like doing or really can do these things, although they do want to remain connected to most of these people. Since those connections are important to me too, I tend to be the holiday project manager.

Michele’s Self-Care Philosophy

If I just had to manage the holidays that would be fine, but regular life goes on too, as does work, so over the years I’ve developed the following self-care philosophy to keep myself from burning out, getting angry, and depressed:

  • Self-care doesn’t have to be big. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a spa vacation that you keep putting off because you don’t have the budget or the vacation time to go away and spoil yourself. Ideally, self-care should be small in the moment when you sense a sign that you are burning out.
  • Self-care isn’t about the other people in your life rising to the occasion. It’s about you taking ownership for what’s important to you.  For example, certain holiday traditions are more important to me than they are to my husband and son. If I want to celebrate those traditions, then I need to own them or decide not to do those traditions this year.
  • Self-care doesn’t have to be “worthy.” In other words, you don’t have to go running, take up yoga, or do something enlightening. One of my self-care pleasures is watching stupid cat videos on YouTube. It requires no brain power and it makes me laugh.
Practice Acts of Small Self-care

Think of these small acts of self-care as a way to renew your energy by creating thousands of tiny lovely or funny moments. Here are some examples.

  • When my energy is depleted after a meeting or a tough client call, I don’t have time to do anything big, but since I work at home, I can spend a few minutes pottering around and tending to my houseplants. Sometimes I’ll make some decaf green tea and listen to good music for a few minutes, or I watch a silly cat video.
  • While I’m cooking supper, I’ll listen to classical music, jazz, or blues rather than watch the news. This works even better if I have a glass of wine.
  • I sit on my back porch to watch the sun set (with a glass of wine or tea). Where I live, this works best in the warm weather, but unless it’s absolutely frigid outside, it’s surprisingly relaxing even in January if I’m dressed properly.
  • I steal two or three bites of my husband’s dessert when we go out to eat, because I want some dessert, but not the whole portion. He pretends to be mildly annoyed and this makes me laugh.
  • I spontaneously drive to the beach on a weirdly warm Sunday in the middle of the fall or winter. 
  • I go out to hear live music at local haunts on the spur of the moment.
  • I read mindless books, such as Regency romance bodice rippers which are utterly formulaic and require no brain power whatsoever.
  • I celebrate the joy of my son’s smile when he skewers with me his fatal sarcasm. 

Self-care doesn’t have to be an additional “to-do” on your endless holiday task list. Self-care works when it works for you. This philosophy and small acts of self-care work for me. I hope it helps you and your family find the small things that bring you relief and renew your energy during the holiday season.

Happy Holidays!