Listen to the music you love.

That may seem obvious, online but if you’re in a hushed sickroom setting or you think you’re just too busy, illness it’s easy to forget that listening to music these days is as simple as a set of earbuds and a device that slips in your pocket. If you don’t have one or know how to use it, purchase find a young person to help you get started.

This can be particularly helpful if you and your siblings are on opposing musical planets, country-rock versus opera, say, or heavy metal versus bluegrass.

And if it isn’t really possible to listen to what you want in the house, you can crank up the sound system when you’re alone in the car till it blasts through to next Wednesday.


Surveys of caregivers always show large percentages saying that what they miss the most is time to read.

So turn it around. Make the time and let something else slide. Even if it’s only fifteen minutes a day with a magazine, that’s time for you. You may also find that it gets easier to sneak in a bit of reading more often if you’re working on something accessible and portable. This is probably not the best time to get started on the Russian classics.

When I’m under a lot of pressure, I like to reread things I have enjoyed in the past. These comfort reads are my literary equivalent to comfort food. I read a lot of crime fiction and many of my favorite mystery writers have produced long-running series. Over the years when I was most actively involved in my brother’s care and affairs, I would binge-read my way through a favorite series, then start right in on another.

TV and Movies

You can find pretty much anything you have ever seen or wanted to see if you look around online. Movies are often available for free or very inexpensive checkout at local libraries. The big video rental stores are mostly gone now, but vending machines dispense DVDs outside grocery stores. More live streaming options are available all the time. And don’t forget dedicated cable movie channels like TCM.

Figure out something you always wanted to see and watch it. Watch all the Oscar winners through history, or every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, or all the Shock Theater horror flicks you were sometimes allowed to stay up for on childhood weekends.

If the atmosphere has been getting gloomy, comedies are a good bet, particularly ones you know you’ve found funny before. Norman Cousins wrote a book and started a national health movement dedicated to the proposition of laughing oneself back to health from serious illness.

It is also now possible to binge-watch hundreds of television shows from the past and present. You might want to avoid medical shows, which may offer a little too much reality under the circumstances. But whether you want to hang out with Beaver Cleaver, Tony Soprano, or Charlie’s Angels, it has never been easier to bring them home for the weekend.

Computer Games

I often have some kind of game or puzzle going, and I am engaged in a profession practiced at a computer. So playing computer games to chill out has been natural and constant for me.

The term “computer games” covers a lot of territory, everything from counting ducklings for preschoolers to explosions and gruesome mutilations for gentlemen of all ages. The kind of games I like are probably different from the ones you enjoy. I gravitate toward matching games like Bejeweled and Luxor and Candy Crush, and I don’t want to interact with other players.

Maybe your preference is World of Warcraft or Call of Duty. Or maybe you never got past Tetris and the solitaire that came on your computer, and you’re happy that way.

It doesn’t matter. Just go ahead and play it.

If you’re transitioning from (or supplementing) physical playing cards and solitaire, there are programs and online sites galore for any permutation of solitaire ever devised, as well as programs allowing you to play card games that normally require other players. These are available to play either independently or online with other gamers.

Borrow a Dog

It can be wonderfully gratifying to hang out with a reasonably well trained dog who just wants to be your friend and make you happy. Or even with a dog you don’t know very well who likes to take walks or chase sticks at the park. Being able to take that dog back to somebody else’s home when you’re done makes it all the easier.


I’m not going to rub anybody’s nose in dreadful statistics about how much more we all ought to be exercising. You know that already. But this is not a time when you want to let any kind of exercise program fall apart.

If exercise is already an important part of your life, take a bow and keep it up. If your body expects a certain amount of a certain type of behavior and doesn’t get it, it could go all sulky on you. Not worth the trouble of having to fix things up later. Just keep going.

If you’re in somebody else’s town, you may be able to get a short-term gym membership. Or perhaps there’s some exercise equipment at your sister’s house already. Odds are excellent that this equipment is under a pile of boxes in a corner of the basement. But if it’s there, you’re ahead of the game.

If you’re on the sedentary side to begin with, caregiving may make you feel sluggish and inert. Even a walk around the block every day is a good start to ward that feeling off.

Don’t think about it. Don’t talk about it. Just do it.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Gardening can be a really satisfying activity for relieving stress if it’s something you already enjoy. If you aren’t comfortable with it, or perversely pride yourself on your black thumb, you’re done here.

I have been an enthusiastic amateur gardener for all my adult life. During (and since) the years when I was actively involved in my brother’s care, I found a lot of comfort and relief working in my garden, which I am fortunate to be able to do for twelve months of the year in our frost-free zone.

My brother was also an avid and creative gardener before illness overtook him and neglect overtook his yard. In the beginning, our plan to move him to Southern California included a notion on my part that he’d be able to—no, eager to—feed his long-dormant gardening instincts by helping in my own yard. The Disney forest creatures would hand us tools or ties as we needed them and carry away the weeds in ribbon-bedecked baskets. (None of it ever happened, though I do still dream of the Disney creatures.)

I grew a lot of things from seed over those years, something I hadn’t done for a very long time. I planted my first full vegetable garden in twenty years. I start some things from seed that were ridiculously hard to grow and a few of them succeeded. It was a form of soothing busywork with fairly immediate gratification. I was always keeping an eye on something that rewarded me with speedy change and results.

At least that’s what I realize now. Something in the process fed my need for fast and positive growth somewhere in my life.

After my brother moved to Southern Illinois, I began to buy seeds whenever I was back there, usually inexpensive ones packaged for Wal-Mart. Once I found some outdated parsnip seed in an odd little shop on the small town’s dying Main Street, and I actually harvested some parsnips from them.

Another time I planted a pack of cosmos directly into the ground, wondering if maybe it was too early but going ahead anyway, caution be damned. Nothing seemed to come up, and after a while I forgot about it. Some time later, I noticed a sturdy and lacy little plant in the general area where I’d sown the seed. I began to nurture that plant, which I was pretty sure was one of my cosmos, and it thrived under the attention. It grew and grew, but never got around to blooming. By the time it was four feet high and a couple feet wide, I wondered if I’d been nurturing a particularly adaptive rogue weed.

Then my cosmos bloomed. And bloomed and bloomed and bloomed.