Fireside Chats – A Celebration of Self-Care

FiresideBlog post by Bernadette Keefe MD

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/emotional healthfulness is to ask, are you and your loved ones ‘flourishing’?

It is well worth mentioning that the mutual trust and love coming from our interactions with healthcare professionals can significantly benefit our emotional health. The following post is a beautiful first person description of this:

A little reassurance goes a long way

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 it as a habit, it would be our nearest and dearest friends and family. Instead of the knee jerk ice cream and chocolate solution, consider the following 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. Brisk walking and dancing, both readily available, are ideal, and 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 delicious drinks, provide countless opportunities for culinary pleasure!  Add in the excitement of being with a larger number of family and friends, and it becomes incredibly easy to indulge. One of the best ways to avoid going ‘overboard’ with our food and drink intake is to be more mindful of our 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 no weight loss to show for it! In a recent radio episode of “The Peoples Pharmacy”, (@PeoplesPharmacy) the globally recognized ‘father’ of integrative medicine, Andrew Weil MD,  flips the message by discussing the joy eating and the joy of home cooking of healthy food. 

Click the image to listen to the excellent interview Andrew Weil and the discussion of his new book. I recommend the entire interview but you can cue it at 25:35 and still get a sense of his message: healthful cooking at home is the most powerful self-care weapon we have, it can be done by anyone, and it’s fun! 

fast food good food

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 Circle of Life

Another important ‘fireside chat’ might address certain aspects of the “Circle of Life” especially the topics of aging, end of life, and the dying process.

No matter how valiant our efforts, we will experience the challenges of aging, end of life, and the process of dying and we will watch our loved ones die.  But just as assured, we will welcome babies into the world! Midwives and doulas attend births, ushering mothers through the birthing process.

We now 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. We can help each other celebrate these processes and make them more peaceful by enlisting the support of palliative care and hospice professionals in a proactive, timely manner.

Additionally religion might play a role in end of life solace. Religions vary in their approach to both life and the afterlife.

Here are two videos (courtesy of the fabulous @BrainPicker of @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.

Liz Crowe in her recent Social media in Critical Care Conference (SMACC) talk spoke to the intersection of religion, medicine and the critical patient, and the role that the healthcare professional might take in affording the most sensitive and loving end of life care.

Religion & Critical Care – Liz Crowe (“resus”=resuscitation). 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 and warm holiday season filled with many ‘fireside chats’ ~ Fondly, Bernadette

Click for your personal fireside: enjoy!

Please join us Tuesday December 22nd, 2015 at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) for our weekly #hcldr tweetchat where we will be discussing the following topics:

  • T1 What health related topics do you wish to address with your close family and friends this holiday?
  • T2 What health related topics do you plan to avoid in your ‘fireside chats’?
  • T3 Regarding self care & care for loved ones, what, for you, is the role (if any) of ‘mindfulness’ in restoring emotional & physical health?
  • T4 Can holiday health conversations be proactive; or does holiday time barely provide enough time for ‘reaction’ (catching up)?

*Please note that this chat is the last one for 2015. We’re taking a 1 week break. There is no chat on Tuesday December 29th. #hcldr returns on Tuesday January 5th 2016. Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!


Healthcare system, wellness, generally

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

Alan Watts on Death

End of Life Video

Grief in Times of Celebration


  1. Jane McLeod · · Reply

    Amazing blog. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom in this season.

  2. How gracious of you~ Thank you for your feedback, caring. Best wishes to you for the holiday season and in 2016 ~ Regards, Bernadette (Keefe MD)

  3. Delightful and rich journey through some themes here, and thank you Bernadette for so many references. I saw another blog, related to science not medicine, in which the blogger made the case that we need to talk to our families about our scientific lives. We may wield more lasting influence in the world there – than at our desks. Here is a link:

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