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We all know what a care package is, even if we haven’t been to summer camp or been swept up in a natural or manmade disaster. It’s a box of food—blessed food, much-needed supplementary nutrition, typically high in calories—with a side of non-edible treats.

Nothing was more welcome when I was a burnt-out undergrad (I say that like I also spent years as a burnt-out graduate student, but no). I was always working three or four part-time jobs—babysitter, housemaid, caterer, and para-actuary (not a real title)—and attending classes full-time, so you can imagine that I hit the wall every semester or so. When I did, my self-care emergency plan was as follows:

  1. Get up and pull on some sweats.
  2. Drive my uncool vintage Chevy Suburban to the supermarket.
  3. Get in the checkout line with a bag of donut holes and a pair of paperback mysteries, creating an instant Self-Catered Self-Care Package.
  4. Drive back to my apartment, get back in bed, and stay there until I’d finished both books and all the donuts, and I felt like moving my body again would actually be nice.

I couldn’t really afford to do this on a day I was scheduled to work. The Self-Care Package shipped very rarely, on days when I would be missing nothing but class (priorities!), and only when I was at the very end of my rope.

In other words, pretty much how I do it today. Of course, I know how to Use My Words With Friends, and make sure I’m staying hydrated and getting enough protein, and do all the other things Oprah would be glad I’m doing. I mean, there are plenty of things we can do to reduce the frequency and severity of self-care emergencies, and I do them! And I hope you do too.

There will still be times we come to the very end of our rope.

Those are great times to grab hold of our cookie of choice, our no-heavy-lifting novel, or anything else that feels like relief and delight, flip the “Open” sign to “Closed,” and give ourselves the gift of a break when we’ve really got to have one.

As the gods of timing would have it, today is a very good day for a self-care package in my world: a Jonathan Keller mystery and some leftover birthday cake. I’m going to go break that out right now.

If you have more ideas for easily rustled-up self-care packages, pop them in the comments below!

Tip: This is a recipe easily doubled or tripled. If you’re putting together a package for Present-Day You, take another minute and make one for Future You, and another one for your friend in need.

Maybe there’s a sexy international thriller tucked in with that fruit.
Image:  Petronella Elias with a Basket of Fruit, Ferdinand Bol, 1657, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.



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.

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  • As an alternative or an add-on: A long hot soak in a scented bath (or bath salts given to a friend). Eases the heartaches and the muscle aches and contains absolutely no calories. Chocolate of your choice afterwards is optional.

  • Darlings, this came to mind immediately! A recipe from the One Pot Chef on YouTube – Three Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
    Beat together 1cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 cup peanut butter
    Roll teaspoon sized balls between your palms and place on parchment lined baking pans (you should have around 25) then flatten gently with the tines of a fork.
    Bake at 375 for 10 minutes, let cool on the pans for another 5 minutes, and remove to wire racks. Or your face. Seriously.
    Then give thanks that you already had all that stuff in the cupboard and get back to that mystery!

    • Oooh, this is good.

  • Such a good read! My quick-fix self care toolbox (break out as necessary while mom-ing so hard): dab of essential oil / rub on wrists and breathe deep, hot tea/delicious coffee, la croix in fave flavor of the moment, Tara Styles yoga videos, halo top ice cream (or a pint of jeni’s from Whole Foods if I need a legit treat.) And sweatpants. Always the sweatpants.

    • Where do you get the delicious coffee and what do you put in it?

  • Exactly what Self Care package has no knitting? I am sure there is some cozy wool and silk cowl in there somewhere….quick and comforting. Surely it was not (gasp) purposely elided? I am confused and a bit bereft.

  • I will just add that one of my dogs or cars has to be parked with me on the couch while I read (Anne Lamott and Rachael Held Evans are great for re-reading), knit (something with lacework and very soft, slightly silky fibers), and eat (raspberries unless they are hopelessly out of season and would taste like cardboard).

    • Cats, not cars. Believe it or not, I did read it over for typos before hitting “post” and I missed that one. My couch is not large enough for me and a car. Plus cars do not love you back. It’s not entirely clear cats do either but I tell myself that it is not just about food for my cats and that they really, truly adore me.

      • This made me laugh so hard that I cried!

      • Lol. I was wondering how you got a car on your sofa! Lol

      • Yes, a car did create an amusing visual! LMAO I love my Subaru but I’d much rather have my sweet orange Tabby by my side on the couch while knitting. Much softer, takes up less room

      • But the visual of you and one of your cars (because you have so many, doesn’t matter which one) parked on the couch is hilarious. Think Mater from Cars. lol

  • knitting and streaming (or audiobook)

    • YES! As a food addict that’s my abstinent self care package.. and a phone call with a good friend!

  • Knitting and an audiobook, on my front porch with a glass of iced tea. I can feel the tension melt away . . .

  • Pull on some leggings and a big, floppy t or sweatshirt (no bra), grab my earbuds for an audio book (I recommend The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin) and head to the deck with my knitting or spinning and the dogs. Repeat until the blues pass.

  • For me, it is princess time. I have good friend who sits me on a stool on his kitchen and makes me coffee and cinnamon toast with cream cheese. For my friends, I have a saying. “You need to get out of your zip code. Let’s go.” I drive so they can lounge. It doesn’t matter where we go. A simple change in scenery for a few hours does a world of good.

  • If it is warm enough, hammock with a possible audiobook, if my boys aren’t home, just the outside country sounds. Winter = sofa and warm fire, s’mores, buttered rum, both would have me fondling yarn, as being lazy, would only do the occasional stitch. Other than that, I love the local roasted coffee that is yellow dog, and decadent desserts, like blackberry bread pudding with whiskey cream sauce

  • Sometimes it’s just silence that I’m craving.

    • Can be hard to find and slightly unnerving at times, but wonderful, just wonderful.

  • Fresh hot chocolate chip coolies (i cheat and keep dough in the freezer!), some lace knitting that I need peace and quiet for. And sit in the swing on our back deck and watch the sunset.

  • You do realize that not everyone can do this?
    Some things do not go away.

    • Maybe it’s also re-framing a “fail” day as an “I need a $%*@#% break day” and embracing the treat, whatever it is, rather than guiltily obsessing over it. I’m much more likely to fail at an hour of the day while eating chocolate chips from a package and reading total garbage on FB, but it’s better if I CHOOSE that consciously and read some goofy 5-grade novel that my kids have around than FB.

    • I was thinking the same thing. Self-care is sometimes desirable for carrying on, but many times people simply can’t afford it, in many ways. However, it can involve just stopping for a moment to take 3 deep breaths and know that you’re doing your best.

  • Yoga, some alkalinizing cucumber celery juice, paint, knit.

  • When I can’t stop working for a stretch of time, I walk for 10 minutes in the woods, and make myself a special tea when I get back inside. When I can hit pause, it’s British murder mysteries and something yarn-y, spinning, knitting, embroidery, weaving – anything that doesn’t have a deadline attached to it.

  • Stream a PBS drama or mystery while knitting.

    • Yes!!!

  • Reading Gail @ 8:21’s comment, made me think about Insight Timer, a free meditation app, which has a very nice One Minute Guided Meditation that I used, always daily, sometimes hourly in the last year of my husband’s life. It’s a soothing male voice that leads you through a head-to-toe relaxation and ends by telling you that you are loved. That one minute saved my sanity on a regular basis. Self-care quick and to the point.

    • I’m sorry about your husband and thank you for sharing the relaxation/meditation info.

  • The thing about being a burnt out undergrad, however many part-time jobs you are doing, is that you are still kidding yourself. Later life experiences of sleepless nights providing care for others, while holding down a job which will affect others, are of a completely different order.
    That said, in less troubled times, when it is a break from yourself that is needed, I favour “North and South” 2004 on BBB I-player. Four hours of magic.

  • On my intention ally planned off day from work… Lavender tea and homemade Cinnamon biscuits or a can of orange rolls and a magazine of choice.

  • A big chocolate chip muffin…..always hot the spot

  • I pore over ravelry patterns, poke through my stash, and cast on a new project with nary a single flicker of guilt about all my WIPs or all the other chores that are waiting for me.


    • I love your self care plan!

  • I have an entire category of this related to my phone:

    -I set an automatic do not disturb time (all sounds and notifications off) between 7pm and 8am (I can override it if I need to).
    -I leave my phone in my home office at night. I try to do it as soon as I am done with work (unless I am going out and need it).
    -I put it on silent whenever I need some peace during the day.

    I have all kinds of skin and body care routines, but the following are super special to me in the mini doughnuts and good book sense:

    -Cuddling my dog
    -Glass of wine, or better yet, Champagne just for the heck of it
    -Mug of tea (Allegro Tea Rooibos Vibrations is a fave for this purpose)
    -Streaming a BluPrint class (which is how I got into art journaling)
    -Listening to This American Life

    Lastly, I make a nice but never elaborate dinner on Fridays (like a sheet pan supper, or last Friday I did skirt steak, salad and garlic bread). I recently started listening to jazz when I cook and it is awesome! We always have a nice bottle of wine around especially for Friday night dinner.

    • I love this list. It has inspired me to borrow those that resonates with me and to create a list of self care practices that spark my interest to create healthy new habits to implement to my daily routine or during the times when I need some “me” time. I want to make it a priority in my life to take better care of myself and improve my well being.

  • I have 2 hobbies and both are significant for maintaining my sanity. Knitting and Bicycling.
    There are times I will put myself into a chair, focus on my project and the stresses drift away. Knitting is more than just the actual knits, purls, yo, k2tog, etc. It is also dreaming and creating garments in your mind out of the stash you have and seeing what others have done. For me, immersing myself in Ravelry can offer an hour or hours of peace.
    Our LYS has afternoon knitting on Fridays and Saturdays. All are welcome regardless of the source of their yarn. Compliments abound for all FOs and UFOs!
    Although my biking season isn’t long in upstate New York it is an integral part of my existance. It is about being outside! Seeing country that often whizzes by when driving, hearing sounds you don’t get in the city and smelling flowers, fresh mown grass or hay and seeing how high the corn is. For me, 15 – 25 miles will reset most distractions and paralizing angst. (In winter, spinning at the YMCA covers nicely.)
    I know this isn’t exactly doughnut holes but going for ice cream after rounds out the ride and of course, there is always chocolate!

  • Maybe I’m thick as a plank, but if we were able to practice self care we wouldn’t need it. The brain that is stressed out isn’t the kind of brain that can take care of itself. I always falter when advised to practice self care. If looking at Ravelry were self care all,of us would be in ecstasies all the time. Bathing? Really? Don’t you take a bath every night? How is this self care? I do NOT mean to be difficult, but misery is a mood that colors every action. Sorrow doesn’t melt away with a good book. An audio book is just adding noise. Knitting always soothes the soul—but only if it’s soothable.

    • Barbara, you are right. The more we need self care the harder it is to do it. Knitting has always been my best self care. When I find I”m frogging everything and I can’t even concentrate on garter stitch is when I know I am really struggling. So many events as I get older are so so hard to bear. I sometimes find that trying to remember another time when I felt hopeless but then eventually the feeling
      subsided. It does help me at least to remember that often things do get better (or easier to bear). I also have taken an anti-depressant, Zoloft for me, for the last 25 years. It changed my life. I still have the stresses of life, some worse than others and still feel hopeless at times but the severity and length of time is less and the feeling of being too paralyzed to make an effort is also reduced. I hope you will find some peace in the support of others on this site too. Take Care.

      • I have given this matter a lot of thought since my crabby post. You have all been very kind. I realized I needed to think smaller. The goal isn’t that a scented bath will change your life in and of itself, but that yes, as someone said being kinder to yourself in a small way can actual tilt the bigger picture. As a result I started to knit a North Fork sweater in bright colors and knitted to an audio book instead of watching the world self immolate on the news. Knitting to the news is NOT self care, more like intentional self harm. In all seriousness I have come to the conclusion that maybe self care is letting myself off the hook. Just one small way at a time.

    • Barbara, I’ve been there (heck, still am there most of the time.) Send a virtual hug. (((<3)))

    • Sorry. That comment of mine is grouchiest then I meant it to be. I honestly struggle to find a list of self care ideas that really work.

      • Barbara, maybe there is a soap whose scent you really love?

      • Sometimes life really sucks, and you’re right, self care won’t make it go away. But you probably can find ways to be kinder to yourself, even very little ways. Even putting the intention towards caring for yourself, without cookies or baths or whatever, might help you see what would be a break for you.
        In your own head at least, you might find a way to put down the load you’re carrying for a minute.
        To me, that’s the goal of self care.
        Hugs to you.

  • I had a self care emergency at work, and my answer was to slip out for lunch (almost unheard of at my place of employment) and grab a burger and fries. At the time, it was delicious and decadent and thoroughly wonderful. And it saved my day. Really, the whole week. I was able to be present and pleasant with everyone, instead of trying to unsuccessfully hide my grumpy and tired attitude. It’s amazing how a little treat can change so much.

  • My self care is to curl up in bed with my tablet to watch ER reruns and make socks with my cat at my feet!!

  • Add aroma therapy example natural oils > Dap a couple drops of lavender on a cosmetic wipe and set it beside you. Eileen

  • Ice cream and a couple hours in my reclining deck chair if it’s a nice day. If not, a nap on the couch with a cat or two.

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