Fireside Chats – A Celebration of Self Care and Care for Each Other


Bernadette Keefe MD

A Holiday Post that translates to any gathering with loved ones ~ BK

The Path to Wellness

‘Tis the season of celebration. As we are in a festive month, I’d like to talk about a few celebratory health related ‘fireside chats’ that we might consider when we gather with our families and friends this holiday season. Conversations around health and healthcare are often avoided as they can invite a difficult mixture of bad news, fear, criticism, advice, or unwanted cajoling. I’d like to flip these chats towards celebration by identifying four major things in life that are both good for us, and are, at essence, a cause for celebration.

For this post on holiday “fireside chats; a celebration of self-care”, I chose four major topics to delve into: emotional health, physical exercise, food and food culture and the circle of life. Included within are videos, text and references that I hope hone in on the essence of self care, and the process of creating healthy lives for ourselves, and our loved ones.

Let’s celebrate the role of self-care in the lives of ourselves, our families, and our friends!

Emotional Health

The safety that is provided by special, close family members and friends provides a life-saving, life-affirming avenue for airing our struggles and our triumphs. While wider social interaction provides value, it does not have the intimate, safe status of the people closest to our heart. It is so very important to nurture these intimacies, and tend to these very close relationships through thick and thin, for our mutual benefit.

Let’s use these holidays as gifts, as a time to maximize the love and connection with our closest family and friends. Let’s dare to cross a few lines, in the name of love by asking lots of questions and offering our own personal stories. I predict we will be at once surprised, delighted, edified, shocked and challenged by the answers! We can, through sharing our most intimate concerns, gain hope and strength and further the bonds of love and care between us.

Please don’t exclude mental health from your discussions of health. A staggering 1 in 5 (U.S. adults) experience a mental health problem each year, the vast number of which go undiagnosed and untreated. Be attuned to expressions of happiness and pleasure (or the lack of same) in your holiday ‘fireside chats’. Another way to look at mental health is to ask: Are you and your loved ones ‘flourishing’?

It is well worth mentioning that mutual trust and care emanating from our interactions with health care professionals have, potentially, great power to benefit our overall, including emotional,health. The following post is a beautiful first person description of this:



Finally, a conversation around emotional health mustn’t exclude the immense role that gratitude plays. This video captures the essence:

“It’s not just another day; it’s the one day that is given to you today.”


Physical Exercise

Countless studies have shown that physical exercise is good for us, and that we don’t get enough of it. Exercise competes with other desires, and for many, simply does not check the box:“Does It Make You Happy?”(ice cream and chocolate are the big winners here).

If there is one group of people that can help us exercise more, and adopt as a habit, it would be our nearest and dearest friends and family. Instead of the knee jerk ice cream and chocolate solution, consider these arguments in favor of the exercise solution from “Is there a Link between Exercise and Happiness

In addition to increased energy, physically active people may feel a sense of accomplishment in meeting personal fitness goals…. And getting outdoors on a nice day — or even working out indoors around a bevy of strangers — stimulates the mind and shakes up what may be for some people an otherwise monotonous and cubicle-centric daily existence.

But is there a direct link between exercise and happiness? We know that exercise has been shown to improve the sleep patterns of insomniacs, as well as lower their anxiety. Studies on rats indicate that exercise mimics the effects of antidepressants on the brain. Exercise is also responsible for the creation of new brain cells in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

Interestingly, happiness and exercise are similar in two notable ways: both are independently associated with a boost to the immune system, and also with the release of endorphins.

Additionally, because of gravity, simply moving in space is exercise. In general, the more movement , the better. So walking and dancing, both readily available, are ideal and more importantly, free! 

Celebrate moving this holiday season- walk, jog, or run, or dance with your close family and friends. Treat the family dog to some extra exercise! Enjoy~

Food, Food Culture

Celebrations are characterized by the enjoyment of special foods, and ingredients. The December holiday festivities, with their stunning confections and yummy drinks, are no exception, and provide countless opportunities for culinary pleasure!  Add the excitement of being with a larger number of family and friends, and it becomes incredibly easy to indulge. Perhaps the best advice on how to avoid going ‘overboard’ is to encourage mindful eating and imbibing.

Also, we might take this holiday period to re think how we approach food throughout the year. Despite all the cautionary messages and prohibitions around different foods, obesity rates keep rising. So not only are we in an environment where we have lost the innocent enjoyment of eating, but, we have nothing to show for it! In a  recent show from The Peoples Pharmacy, (@PeoplesPharmacy), the globally recognized ‘father’ of integrative medicine : Dr Andrew Weil, who has preached lifestyle change for years, flips the conversation by bring back the the joy eating and the joy of healthy food. Click the image to listen to this excellent interview. I recommend the entire interview but you can cue it at 25:35 and still get a wonderful sense of his essential message: healthful cooking at home is the most powerful ‘self and loved ones care’ weapon we have, as well as being feasible and fun! 


The above discussions of Exercise, Food, and Emotional Health all play into a healthy lifestyle, one that gives us a fighting chance against cancer and other chronic diseases. A documentary just released gives us further inspiration:

The C Word Movie – Trailer

The Circle of Life

Another ‘fireside chat’ that we are likely to have, encompasses the “Circle of Life”; from birth to death and in between.

No matter how valiant our efforts, we will die, and we will watch our loved ones die. But just as assured, we will welcome babies into the world as well. Midwives and birth doulas attend births, ushering mothers through the birthing process. Now, we also have an understanding of the stages of natural death; the gradual separation of a person from the physical life to beyond. Trained professionals in dying, hospice professionals, and the less formal death doulas, provide comfort and solace to both the dying and their loved ones.

Religion often plays a role in such solace, but not always, and different religions have different visions of the afterlife.

Following are two videos (courtesy of @BrainPicker at @BrainPickings) that tell an inspired version of the ‘Circle of Life’, largely rooted in the Buddhist tradition.


The Irish have their Catholic wakes, other Christian sects have their post death traditions, and Muslims and Hindus have theirs. Atheists memorialize their loved ones as befitting the wishes of family and friends. Buddhists have the ‘Circle of Life’ and re-incarnation. Traditions, religious and otherwise, are a comfort throughout life.

A recent Social media in Critical Care Conference (SMACC) talk speaks to the intersection of religion, medicine and the critical patient.

Religion & Critical Care – Liz Crowe (“resus”=resuscitation )

Note: Please focus attention after 11:00 video time

Each person touched by a dying loved one has a role to contribute in helping the passage through dying to death. Likewise, each of us celebrates, and keeps celebrating, the births and milestones of our children. We have so much to rejoice about in life. Let’s open our eyes to the entire lifespan, embrace it, discuss it, and flourish!

A personal note:

Note: The term ‘fireside chat’ simply meant to symbolize a quiet, relaxing time people have sitting with loved ones /dearest friends, sharing heartfelt thoughts during the holidays. Although it is my sincerest hope that each of you might have such a circumstance, I do realize that not all can, or do. So, let’s everyone imagine what a ‘fireside chat’ might be for the holidays, and for each of you. Finally, my wish is a most joyous, warm and happy holiday season, filled with many ‘fireside chats’ ~ Fondly, Bernadette



Holistic health and wellness

Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen


The C Word Movie

New Film Asks What If the Answer to Cancer is Hiding in Plain Sight?

Storify: The Global Wellness Summit – 2015

Emotional Health


An Attitude of Gratitude for Positive Mental Health and Happiness 

Physical Exercise

Is there a link between exercise and happiness? 

Food, Food Culture 

Good Food Fast

The Circle of Life  

Covering the annual holiday check in on aging relative

Being Mortal – Medicine and What Matters in the End.  Gawande, Atul MD Henry Holt and Company  2014

Alan Watts on Death

End of Life Video

Grief in Times of Celebration


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