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Recently we talked about preventive self-care, or getting out ahead of the inevitable dips, so that dips don’t turn into pits full of poisoned stakes, aka emergencies. That remains my very best self-care meta-tip: Don’t quit while you’re ahead. Press on! Get out a little more ahead, while you can, by planning.

The more we can practice self-care in maintenance mode, the fewer emergencies we’ll have. When we’ve done our best to stay on our own side, as a rule, we just don’t lose our balance as much.

But not all emergencies are preventable. Life doesn’t offer 100% disaster avoidance. Death, loss and accidents—large and small—happen to everyone.

Or maybe we have a sudden self-care systems failure, such as the sixth-season premiere of Elementary being pushed back indefinitely. (Not ashamed to admit that Lucy Liu and her weekly fashion show help me cope.) As I say, large and small.

Either way, when things go sideways fast, and your emotional reserves are drained in an instant, you need a plan. Thus, the Emergency Self-Care Kit. Like a chocolate frog after a Dementor attack, these techniques will restore enough equanimity and trust to carry on.

In Case of Emergency: Clip & Save

Here’s my own list. I do actually have this written down (though I made it less swear-y and more mature-sounding for you), and I pull it out as needed. It’s not sequential, and everything is optional, except for the first two:

  • No fighting myself or my feels. I let myself know how I’m feeling, and remind myself that any way I am feeling is the right way to be feeling. That’s number 1.
  • I remind myself that no matter what I’m feeling or thinking, I don’t have to take any action. Indeed, postponing action until I’m feeling better is the best way to reduce further harm.
  • I get in nature, if possible. I can take a walk, or I can have a picnic with a novel. (I actually have a picnic basket ready to go at all times. It’s a jute bag from Cornwall, and it’s full of plastic plates and happy memories.)
  • I have a short list of people I can call or text who will talk to me calmly if I can’t do it for myself. Happily, they’re not all in the same time zone.
  • I start “tapping.” Also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, tapping combines touch with verbal reassurances. I love this technique, because it rejects candy-coated “affirmations” and allows paradox. It starts by acknowledging what’s hard, and accommodating hard feelings. Like this: “Even though I’m really furious at [person] right now, I’m allowed to be furious at [that person].” From that starting point, it’s so much easier to move on to a solution, or a better feeling.
  • I reach for what I think of as a “Friendly Book,” a trusted companion in text form. If I’m a panicky wreck, F*ck Feelings, by Michael Bennett, MD and Sarah Bennett, will get me off the ledge. The Bennetts’ pragmatic, stoic approach reminds me why bad things happens, which is often this: for no reason. (Not because I’m being punished for being bad, an old idea left over from childhood that is a serious impediment to full adult living.)
  • Speaking of adulthood, haha, I have a toy clown, Clownie by name. Clownie and I are twins, having been born/created at the same time. It’s been a few years, so I can tell you now that I required his presence for several weeks in 2014.
  • I have a playlist for rage and love to dance and stomp it out. You’re welcome to my Spotify playlist; I call it the “Swamp of Fury” (link below).
  • Finally, nothing beats a good closet cleaning.

Collectively, I think of these techniques as skillful parenting moves. (Except for Clownie, I guess.) It’s OK to wish I didn’t need to have them written down. But I do need to; Atul Gawande and his Checklist Manifesto would approve.

More Ideas

To give you more ideas, I consulted some women on my Emergency Call List. Here are some of their favorite dance moves, for your consideration:

  • My favorites are [the basics]: Go to bed at a set time. Get up at a set time. Put 8 hours in between. Wash your face! Drink water.
  • I literally pretend I’m leaving a mug out at night for someone I love. Then I’m delighted to find it in the morning. I honestly somehow forget!
  • I wipe the counter or do the dishes as if I’m doing it for someone who will be so surprised it’s been done for them. And then when I walk into the clean kitchen, I smile and thank myself.
  • I wrap up in favorite blankets. A lot.
  • Heavy work, of any sort, as it gives proprioceptive input (strong sensation into muscles and joints). Examples: weights, digging in the garden, running, yoga, massage, carting a wheelbarrow, rearranging a bookcase (good for rainy days). Heavy blankets work well too (see above).
  • I have hoodies that I only wear when I need to remember I’m held and supported and cozy.
  • I always get champagne when awful things happen—new love breaks up with me? Champagne! Laid off from job? Champagne! It’s a ritual to remember good things swoop in eventually.
  • Pet an animal, if available.
  • Write down a “brain dump” of what’s bothering you.
  • Think of things that you’re looking forward to (the smaller and more do-able the better, like . . . watching next episode of show on Netflix, for example).
  • I like reading something in a book (must be a book, not the internet).
  • Press pause on whatever is happening, consciously visualize climbing back into the driver’s seat of the mind (internal panicking self will shout but you have to be Boss with her for a minute), breathe.
  • Listen to yourself and acknowledge the panic and difficulty. Acknowledge how sad and upsetting and frustrating it all is. Be sincere, because the childlike parts of ourselves need to be treated, actually, like a small child. Brutalizing ourselves when we’re in distress is counterproductive.
  • Consciously care for yourself throughout as you would a child: healthy food, enough sleep, some time to play, lots of encouragement and praise, time with friends, hugs.

As always, more suggestions are welcome! Add yours to the comments.

Additional Resources
Emergency Call List Squaddies
Image:  Allegorische vrouwenfiguur met scheepskroon en een Triton op woeste zee (detail), Jan Luyken, 1687, Rijksmuseum.

About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Knit, knit, and knit some more.
    Knit your heart out.

    • Yes! No matter how bad a day I have had, knitting helps me so much. I lapse on a lot of my other self-care, but never knitting.

      Social knitting too – no matter what happened during the day, what I am still stewing over, etc., my weekly knit night cures all ills.

  • These articles have been so great to read. I need to clip and save them all.

    Elementary is slated to return in April!

    • NOOOOOOOOOO! What will I do until April?!

  • Saw this on line recently…a weighted blanket. Google it. It’s 15 lbs and when you are under it it feels like a complete body hug. Therapists actually use them on their patients. I was so enthralled with this idea that I bought one and love it! 15 minutes under it and I am refreshed. It is literally like the weight is being lifted off of me. There are even instructions to make your own on Pinterest.

    • Wow, I have to get one of those. I used to lie under the mattress when I was upset!

    • Got my husband one for Christmas and you are right. It is AMAZING.

  • Practice gratitude-it always works to change your mood & get away from bad feelings.

    • I keep a gratitude list; it works great. Sadly, sometimes I struggle finding an actual moment of gratitude on a particular day. In those cases, I write down something good I did. Like, being kind to a stranger, helping someone on my staff, doing my husband a surprise favor, etc.

  • This is so great … so many helpful ideas, at a time when I really need them! I just shared it with my “Tribe” (my widows group).

  • Great list! Your second and fourth bullet points always work for me. Sometimes you need to discuss things with someone else because left to your own devices, you’d set yourself on fire.

    • Yes!!! My son was recently in a car accident and through no fault of his own is left with a long road of recovery. A very good friend visited, grabbed me by the shoulders and told me it was OK to be angry and yell at me. Until that time I was coping with managing the family, but it broke me. I didn’t realise how angry I was and that it was OK for Mum not to stay strong all the time. I yelled at her, everything that I was thinking and feeling, followed by a big hug. Good to go again….

  • I can’t wait to try the tapping…

  • I deep clean and organize like a crazy lady! Give me a vacuum cleaner, storage containers of all shapes and sizes, and a label maker – then watch out! I can’t control my daughter’s cancer, but I can take control of my home…and that works just fine on some days! And it helps to get all that pent up anger out of my system!

  • I like to wear as many hand knits as possible, especially if I have to leave the house. It reminds me that I care for myself.

  • Another rejection of candy-coated affirmations, Jason Headley’s H*onest Meditation app is brilliant. Here is the iTunes link: but it is also available on Android.

    Fair warning: there is lots of very creative swearing. But I am a creative swearer myself and it really works for me!!!

    • LOVE!!! Thank you, Jennifer 🙂

    • I am not a swearer by nature, but this is absolutely brilliant. I may have to buy the app just to support the concept.

  • Good list! My sister is a huge proponent of tapping. I keep thinking I’ll try it. You are nudging me further.

  • Chocolate is my drug of choice. Pampers me, satisfies my desires, changes my mood. Can’t believe chocolate isn’t on other’s lists, too.

  • It’s great to read this because when I’m in that place I think 1. I’m the only one who experiences those dark places (eg something terribly wrong with me) and 2. It’s never going to end. So reading an article like this and knowing there’s something on the other side of this are two things that can help me.

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