Treating yourself well when the chips are down

The other day, an unsolicited catalogue arrived in the mail called “Soft Surroundings.”  Before I threw it out, the first page caught my eye.  Its tagline read “My time. My place. Myself.”  The concept of “me-ness” is not something which sits well with me as I was brought up to think about others first.  Shinning the spotlight on what I wanted or needed growing up came with uncomfortable shards of Protestant guilt. 

Today’s society, however, takes a different view on the concept of self.  From the proliferation of selfies to the current social convention of “me and….”, focusing on self first has become part of our modern world.  However, like anything else done in moderation, taking care of oneself is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, it can be both constructive and restorative especially when something difficult happens in your life and you need an emotional “time-out” to get back on an even-keel.

To reground myself, I often turn to beauty. Hearing an inspiring piece of music—classical or contemporary—or gazing at a stunning work of art in a museum, does magic to my intellectual and emotional soul. Being a foodie, treating myself to a new gourmet food item, such as a cheese or exotic spice, also does the trick.  When things are particularly gloomy and I require serious reinforcement, sometimes I turn to caviar, usually the more affordable American wild Hackleback.  Served on buckwheat blinis topped with crème fraîche, nothing makes me happier, especially when served with ice-cold vodka. 

As unique individuals, we all have our preferred methods for recharging our batteries.  Some of my many clever friends shared with me their strategy. Here are a few of my favorites which hopefully will inspire you to explore and add to your normal routine.

No surprise that food, as mentioned above, has restorative powers. Michael Apstein, medical MD and James Beard-award winning wine writer says to recapture his life balance he turns to cooking. “Very easy for me.  Depending on the time of the year, I make a simple meal—grilled filet of fish or sautéed scallops in the summer, or grilled Delmonico steak in the winter—and open a well-aged Grand Cru Burgundy.  Works every time!”

Marguerite Thomas, another wine writer and my favorite bonne vivante, also takes solace in food. “My treats are simple and frequent (let’s not count the six peanut M&Ms I just ate). My routine end-of-the-day treat—which in truth is more apt to come after dinner—is a gin-based cocktail, usually with equal amount of some delicious red vermouth or Amaro (right now I’m using Ramazzotti Amaro), a lot of fresh lime juice and maybe a splash of good tonic, Fever Tree, for example.

Michelle, from my spin class, has a more simplistic view on the power of food. “I don’t care what I make.  It’s the process of cooking itself which brings me joy and makes me feel better.”

Cooking, however, is not everyone’s thing.  Sometimes dining out does the trick. Harvey, a copyright lawyer and another spinning class buddy says, “All it takes is a quiet dinner with my wife, preferably Northern Italian, and a good bottle of red wine, such as an Amarone, and my bad day at the office turns into a good night.”

Michaela Rodeno, former president of Napa Valley’s St. Supéry Winery and superwoman in the wine industry, likes to go to escapist movies as a personal pick-me-up. “Tonight it’s “Crazy Rich Asians” in surround sound at St. Helena’s Cameo cinema. “ 

Michaela is not the only one who finds movies rejuvenating.  Chandni Patel, publicist extraordinaire, adds “Sometimes an old movie with just the right amount of sentimental cheesiness does me good.  Anything from Doris Day to a Bollywood musical—something that shows everything will be okay, regardless of how dire the situation—a song and dance can fix it.”

Martin Sinkoff, Vice President of Education for Frederick Wildman & Sons, says a “great cigar, a good bottle of wine and my ear plugs,” is his formula for treating himself when the going gets rough.  To maximize the experience, Martin added that “It is more important for the cigar to be fresh than where it is made. A poorly stored Cuban cigar is like a poorly stored wine. Of little value.”

Turning to physical activities is another popular approach to rejuvenate the mind, body and soul when you are down.  My friend and former Dutch model, Wilhelmina Wiland, says that “When things get difficult in my life and I need a special treat, I hop on the bus to Chinatown at 107 Mott street for a foot massage with John. He works at Fishion Herb Center, an apothecary and massage parlor.  I plug in my phone and listen to Chopin for one hour or just take a nap.”

Mary Ewing-Mulligan, America’s first Master of Wine, echoes the importance of changing energy through physical exercise to get out of a funk.  Performing ten “sun salutation” position in yoga starts the process for her.  Mary also said that going to a bookstore and vicariously starting to read the books she’s just purchased is another tried-and-true method to regain balance.

Lisa Hoffman, expert knitter and my instructor at String, believes in having quiet time to herself as the best way to revive her spirit.  “I like to sit on my couch alone and binge watch a program I love on TV and sip a glass of my favorite wine.  It is all about solitary quiet time.”

Andre Shearer, Chairman & CEO of Classic Wines, an import company specializing in South African and French wines, says he takes time out to quietly contemplate his life and consider how lucky he is. “It’s all about gratitude.  I can look at a cloud in the sky while flying across the country and feel grateful for what life has given me.  It restores who I am and gives me renewed energy to pursue those things important to me personally, such as my philanthropy, helping to educate children with fetal alcohol syndrome, as well as professionally selling fine wines.

Whatever your solution for diminishing the emotional impact of a difficult situation, don’t wait until the things become critical.  Cut it off at the pass using whatever method works quickest for you. Or, explore something different.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, time-intensive, or involve a glass of wine.  A simple tip is to look at the innocent face of a smiling, young child and you’ll be amazed at how doing so creates a spontaneous burst of joy to lift your spirits. Try it.  It’s guaranteed to do the job plus it’s free!