Difficult Conversations: Setting Boundaries


“The appropriate uses of the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ make more room for love.” – SARK

As a caregiver, you will be asked to do a lot. Whether explicitly or inadvertently, you will be asked to provide emotional support and help with day-to-day tasks, such as cooking meals, driving your loved one to appointments, or assist with personal care. Knowing your boundaries and affirming them is essential to prevent burnout and to make sure you are caring for yourself with the same love and attention that you give to others.

Your personal boundaries are unique to who you are and what you allow in to your life. Maintaining or creating boundaries is not selfish – it is essential if you wish to take care of yourself. Personal boundaries are not inflexible; they can shift and change and grow. What’s important is that you honour the boundaries you’ve created for yourself when you need to so that you do not burn out or become resentful of what’s been asked of you. People and so many other things in life will test your boundaries over and over again. Without knowing yourself and what your limits are, you might feel that you are often “walked on” or that you feel a general lack of control in what happens to you.

If you struggle with setting boundaries in your own life…

…please remember to be gentle with yourself. People have a hard time setting boundaries for a number of reasons, but it usually stems from the way you are raised and what you learned about what you need to do to be accepted and loved. Learning to set strong personal boundaries can be hard work! Please reach out to a counselor or health care professional if you are realizing you need to do some more work around boundary setting.

If you would like some tips for setting boundaries in your caregiving journey…

…read on for a helpful exercise! Implementing some simple strategies can help you to maintain your boundaries and prevent taking on too many things, or situations that you are not comfortable with.

The Stop-Look-Listen System

From Better Boundaries: Owning and Treasuring Your Life, By Jan Black & Greg Enns

“When you are faced with a choice, you stop before moving ahead, look over the situation, and listen-to yourself, to your intuition, to the wisdom of trusted advisors, or to what your experience has taught you.”

STOP | Stop right before you make a choice. If you are at the store deciding whether or not to overspend, on the phone deciding what date is best for a family reunion, or at work debating an offer to take on a new project even though you haven’t finished the last one, stop long enough to clear your head and review your options.

LOOK | Look at the situation from more than one perspective. Ask the following questions:

  • What is my motive for making this choice?
  • Will it hurt me?
  • Will it hurt others?
  • Would I choose this option for someone I love?
  • Can I change my mind? If not, am I sure I want to make a final decision right now?
  • What would the people I trust suggest I do?

LISTEN | In your mind, try to “hear” these tips from people who have become experts at making choices.

  • Listen to your gut, is it telling you that you’re being pressured in to saying “yes”?
  • If someone is pressuring you, remove yourself from the situation.
  • Don’t make an important decision when you’re desperate.
  • “Let me think about it” are five words to speak often. Things usually look different the next morning – either better or worse.

Cassandra Van Dyck

Mindful Monday no. 53 – Self-Care Within A Busy Life: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)


For a brief overview of MBSR, please see one of our previous posts.

I have much respect for skills that are cultivated over time, such as metalwork, gardening, and pottery. There is something wholesome and nurturing about choosing to build practical knowledge and skill in an area that means something to you. MBSR is a skill that can be learned by most people, and is a way of being present that enhances quality of life. Read on to hear more 🙂

I had the pleasure of doing a phone interview with Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat to learn more about MBSR from a real-life perspective. During our conversation I appreciated Kasim’s warm demeanour and was struck by the authenticity with which he spoke about what MBSR has meant in his own life. Rather than being a “quick fix,” MBSR is a way of approaching life that gets us “Tapping into our deepest inner wisdom.”

What drew you to explore MBSR?

In the midst of a too-busy life, filled with studies and work in the field of psychology, Kasim found himself approaching burnout. He had grieved the loss of several loved ones, and developed a health condition that forced him to slow down; his usual activities coming to a complete stop. “This was my first experience at looking into life.” After Kasim recovered he went back to his overly busy, often stressful life with a newly discovered curiosity about what sorts of coping strategies could be complimentary to medical care and psychology. Related to care of the self, Kasim began questioning “What else is there?” besides common notions such as eating healthy, exercise, and getting enough sleep etc. In his curiosity, Kasim recognized there was a gap in his own practice of self-care.

“How we navigate the tragedies affects the quality of our lives.” Kasim states that while it’s simple, MBSR isn’t easy. “It takes practice to train the mind to be present.” Mindfulness based stress reduction helps one recognize their normal patterns in daily life (that have been developed over time), and to meet challenges in a new way. This kind of mindfulness is experiential in that you will be exploring your life and investigating what patterns and tendencies are there.

What if I feel uncertain about trying MBSR? Will I be any good at it?

While learning the ways of MBSR takes patience, it helps to remember that the nature of the human mind is to be distracted and busy with thoughts. You’re not alone! “You don’t need a calm mind in order to meditate.” That is a very helpful point to have clarity on- thank you Kasim!

Caregivers, as you continue to provide practical care, meals, care and comfort to your loved one(s), this is one way to strengthen your coping abilities, allowing you to deal more calmly with all that is required of you- or as some call it, “to keep your sanity.”

“This is an opportunity to nurture yourself.” Kasim points out that extensive research shows structural changes happen in the brain (over a period of time) when people meditate. We can see through scientific proof that mindfulness and meditation are beneficial for one’s mental, emotional and physical health.

Where you can learn MBSR:

Kasim also holds free MBSR info sessions (1.5 hours) to give people a chance to see if this is for them (dates and locations are on his site). He also holds meditation retreats for those interested. You don’t need to have any experience with mindfulness in order to join these sessions. For more information, click here. 

Finally, remember that it’s YOUR choice of whether a particular approach will work for you. After being open-minded and giving the practice a wee try, asking “Does this appeal to me?” is helpful in deciding which stress relief methods you prefer to focus on.
The main thing is that you have SOMETHING positive which helps you to cope, and maybe even to see the beauties of life within the many challenges.


Foodie Friday – 4 Ways to Eat Oatmeal


Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day, and not because it’s supposed to be the most important one. I love the ritual of waking up in the morning, filling the kettle, and grinding beans while waiting for the water to boil. I make my coffee in a Chemex and prepare breakfast in between pours of hot water. To me, that first hour of the day feels sacred. Taking the time to appreciate and savour that first cup of coffee and a simple meal an set the mood for the whole day.

I save weekends for the big breakfasts – pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup or savoury eggs on toast. Monday to Friday, I make oatmeal. It wasn’t always that way. I grew up knowing oatmeal as the mushy option at a breakfast buffet, only made slightly better with milk, brown sugar, and raisins. It wasn’t until my adult years that I discovered the versatility of oatmeal. Did you know it doesn’t have to be so mushy? Steelcut oats take longer to cook, but they are deliciously chewy. Rolled oats can be cooked with more or less water to appeal to your palate. What makes oatmeal really interesting is the different options for toppings. Oatmeal is not just for those with a sweet tooth! Add eggs or vegetables and skip the milk, and you have yourself a hardy breakfast. Oatmeal is inexpensive, quick to prepare, and fabulous fuel for a busy day.

Though the base stays the same, I prefer to change my toppings with the seasons. Because of my distaste for mushy oatmeal, I stick with steelcut oats. As mentioned, they take a little longer to prepare, but a few minutes of evening preparation can save you time in the morning. Read on for 4 oatmeal recipes for all seasons!


The ratio for steelcut oats is 3-1 (3 cups of water to 1 cup of oats). You could choose to make more at the beginning of the week and reheat it in the morning, but I prepare to make it fresh every day.

To prepare the oats the night before, bring 3 cups of water to a boil on the stove.

Carefully pour in 1 cup of steel cut oats and boil for 1 minute.

Remove oats from the heat and allow to cool. Place the pot in your fridge overnight.

In the morning, put the pot on the stove and turn the element to a low-medium heat setting. The oats should be ready in approximately 15-20 minutes.



Is there anything more comforting than eating a warm bowl of oatmeal with freshly harvested, baked fruit on a cold autumn morning while the leaves fall outside your window? Likely not.

Bake fruit for a short time in the oven, Toss it in cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or all three! Roast some nuts and add them in the mix. Warm nut or dairy milk on the stove and add that in your bowl as well.



Oatmeal will warm your bones on cold winter mornings, but finding appealing toppings may be more challenging. This is the time of year to spice your oats and crack open jars of preserves. Hopefully you’ve stocked up on canned peaches! Experiment with adding proteins if you start to bore of your daily oats.



If it was tricky to top your oats in the winter, you might find spring even harder. It’s such a hopeful, strange time of year, isn’t it?! You know the hot days and fresh fruits are right around the corner, but they’re not there yet! Rhubarb to the rescue! Try boiling or baking a large batch once a week and storing it in your fridge. Add it to your oats with dairy or almond milk and savour the first fresh fruits of the year.



Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries… the possibilities are endless! They add a freshness and coolness to your oatmeal that may be welcomed on summer days. Try letting your oatmeal cool on the stove for a little longer than usual or add cold milk if you don’t feel like a hot meal first thing in the morning.


What’s your favourite quick, easy breakfast? We’d love to hear from you!


Cassandra Van Dyck



Seniors and driving issues

Recently I’ve had to think about my Dad’s driving.  It is a very delicate issue, as you can imagine, because in North America we value mobility and independence.  Also, in North America (unlike Europe) the distances are longer so accessing convenient transportation is more of a challenge.

If you are also facing this issue, I highly recommend one website, which I will provide below.  Basically, you have to watch for warning signs, such as : close calls, or getting lost on familiar routes.  One thing I’ve implemented with my parents is to suggest not driving on the freeway and avoiding driving late at night or in very bad weather.  I have had some success in this regard.

But undoubtedly, the time will come when my Dad will have to give up driving altogether.  So alternate forms of transportation, such as the HandiDart, taxis, and the Senior’s Hub (more on those in future posts) will have to be explored.


Stay safe!

Calm Pond


Mindful Monday no. 52: A Nightly Review Meditation

A beautiful Mindful Monday post from the archives! Happy BC Day, everyone!


There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.”

-Bernard Williams

A new day is a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and begin again. A nightly review meditation can be a helpful tool to regroup and let go of ruminating thoughts and negative self-talk, particularly after a challenging day. It is an opportunity to set an intention for the day, taking into account all the things that matter to you.

A nightly review meditation is not supposed to be about what was done wrong, focusing on missed opportunities or wasted energy, but about how trying to learn how to be more mindful and present in our lives.

At the end of the day, take some moments for this nightly review meditation. Get comfortable, dim the lights, and sit in quiet contemplation. You can do this in bed as part of a sleep ritual or you can sit upright.

As you see yourself ease into the meditation, call to mind the events of the day. Remember:

  • How were you feeling?
  • How present was I in the moments of the day?
  • What are you struggling with today?
  • What are you stuck on, repeating in your mind?
  • How could you have handled a situation better?
  • What made you feel content?
  • What did you do to practice self-care today?
  • What are you grateful for today?

Instead of ruminating on these answers, notice any negative thoughts, such as: why did I do that, say that, react in that way? Once the thoughts are noticed, let them go by recalling another situation-a more pleasant event-that can help to restore some balance.

The challenging emotions can be gently worked out by setting an intention for the following day. Even if these challenges are unavoidable, ask yourself: in what ways, can I show up for myself tomorrow? Make sure to set goals for your own well-being and not solely for your caregiving responsibilities.

Once you have completed your nightly review meditation, recite an affirmation to close. Personally, I like this one:

The day is over and I am letting go. I release the struggles and successes of the day to make room for tomorrow. I am grateful for the present moment, for my ability to rest and restore. 

Have a great rest tonight!





2 Aromatherapy Blends for Emotional Distress

spring beauty

My mum used to take my sister and I to Lonsdale Quay when we were little. I remember the smells of the market and the feeling of jumping in to the ball pit clearly, even though it was years ago. We would weave in and out of stores and sample fudge from the candy store. We’d feed the birds and make wishes before throwing pennies in to the fountain. One of our stops was always at Saje. My mum would smell the oils and we’d never leave without a spritz of fairy mist. I remember closing my eyes, hearing the pump click, and feeling of a light mist on my cheeks. The smell was sweet, but not too sweet. It was one of the first times I can recall really paying attention to what it felt like to consciously breathe.

Aromatherapy can be a powerful tool for combating emotional distress. Scents can trigger memories, calm nerves and increase energy. You can harness the scents by soaking in a bath, applying a cream, massaging with oils, using an inhaler or a mist spray, or by self-application. Through exploration and trial and error, you will discover which methods work best for you, and when. 

If you are trying to soothe emotional upset, massaging with essential oils can be a wonderful way to calm your mind. No partner, no problem! Some say that self-massage (or Abhyanga) works just as well, if not better.

“When having an emotional upset of dealing with an upsetting situation, these formulas can help. Massage one of these formulas into the abdominal area, back of the neck, shoulders, back, and upper chest for at least 30 minutes and until the oil is fully absorbed into the skin. After the massage, dab on cornstarch to dry off any remaining oil.” – D. Schiller and C. Schiller

emotional upset blend no. 1

aromatherapy blend no. 2

We’ve written about aromatherapy several times on the blog, and for good reason! There’s a lot to cover, and many people find that aromatherapy can help them to manage emotions that come up in their caregiving journeys.

If you’re looking for a comprehensive look in to the world of aromatherapy, pick up a copy of Aromatherapy for Life Empowerment: Using Essential Oils to Enhance Body, Mind, Spirit Well-Being. Recipes in this post were taken from this book.


Cassandra Van Dyck

Mindful Monday no. 86 – How to Take a Social Media Holiday

social media holiday

Social media can be a wonderful tool for caregivers. It can connect you with other people caring for loved ones and provide you with support in your journey. It can introduce you to new research and teach you about local resources where you can meet in-person with experts and other caregivers. Social media can connect you with family and friends that you may not see often in your day-to-day life.

Use of social media can also cause stress and feelings of overwhelm. When you spend a lot of time reading and searching through different social media sites, you are bombarded with information. It can feel like you need to see and interact with everything that’s being posted. While it can be a wonderful tool for finding comradery, people tend to post their “highlight reels.” Comparing your life to another’s, especially when you’re struggling, can be detrimental. 

What practices can you put in place to ensure you are taking care of yourself first while using social media? How can you practice mindfulness while navigating such a stimulating medium?

Here are a few ideas:

Quit Social Media Every Other Day |The writers of this article advocate for intermittent social media fasting. At the end of the day, log out of every one of your social media accounts, and do not log back in for 24 hours. 

Track your time online | It can be easy to follow link after link for hours. To avoid falling in to a worm hole, set a timer for 10, 20, or 30 minutes before logging on. When the timer goes off, disengage! 

Set limits | When you subscribe to a site, you are agreeing to spend time using it. Make a list of the sites you use regularly and think about the value you get out of them. How does the information you receive or the conversations you have on those sites make you feel? If the answer is not so great, it may be worth it to unsubscribe.

How do you feel about social media? Do you have ways of limiting your use? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck

Introduction to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Last June I attended an information session for an 8-week course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).  Briefly, MBSR is a course in self-healing and self-care for individuals who experience chronic stress or physical ailments.

MBSR began in 1979 with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world-renowned mindfulness expert ( and also a molecular biologist.)  According to the research on mindfulness, the brain’s inherent neuroplasticity means that when you sit down to meditate, you actually change your brain, particularly the areas called the limbic system (the seat of emotions) and the pre-frontal cortex.  When you strengthen the connection to the PFC, you will end up much less reactive and much less stressed.

Mindfulness meditation in based on thousands of years of wisdom traditions, though the MBSR program does not require any religious affiliation.

I  highly recommend this program for those individuals who are searching for healthy ways to manage stress.


Calm Pond

3 ways to get a peaceful sleep

Care manager. Wife extraordinaire. Cook. Social coordinator. Housecleaner. Warrior husband. Any of these might describe what your caring role looks and feels like.

When you’ve been running around for most of the day, managing appointments, mealtimes, and making sure things go smoothly- by the time it’s evening, you might be tempted to just crash …. falling into bed without any wind-down time. While this is alright to do on occasion, it’s really important to create a routine that allows you to relax before going to bed. A wind-down routine signals to your mind and body that it’s time to stop doing and going- and to simply rest. And now that summer is on full blast, it can be inspiring to stay up late and watch the stars, or to get one more thing done during the long evening.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Nighttime routines help you:
Let go of the day, and release any physical tension caused by stressful events.

Acknowledge what was difficult today, and appreciate the small successes.

Prepare your nervous system for a restful sleep.

3 things to try:

Soak Soak your feet in warm water, and then use your favourite lotion to give yourself a foot massage. The warm water will ease tension and help your system unwind, while the fragrance will be soothing. I enjoy using pink Himalayan salt or Epsom salts in my foot soak.

Cozy up Make your bedroom cozy. Switch on your favourite lamp or light a candle on your bedside table.

Thankful time Spend 1 minute reflecting on what made you sad or mad today. After acknowledging how you felt, visualize those events floating away from your body- send the negative thoughts away! Then for 3 minutes, think about what made you smile or feel uplifted. Hold the feeling of joy and thankfulness with you as you close your eyes.


Wishing you the restful sleep you truly deserve!
Please go ahead and comment on what YOU do at nighttime for self-care.


Depression and Seniors, Part 2: Difficult Conversations


In our last Depression and Seniors post, we discussed some of the signs and symptoms of depression and included some tips for getting help. In this post, we’ll be talking more about how to have a difficult conversation with your loved one about getting support for depression.

Introduce the topic mindfully.

When you’re nervous about having a difficult conversation with someone, you might go over the many ways you think the talk might go before having it. Preparing for a conversation can help you anticipate questions and prepare answers, but it can also cause a lot of fear if you think the person you’re talking to might react poorly. Try to be open to their reactions to prevent defensiveness. Although you’ll never find a perfect moment to bring up something that’s hard to talk about, aim for a good one. You might
know that your loved one is the calmest after eating or shortly after they’ve woken up. Make sure you leave enough time for a lengthy conversation and avoid bringing up tough topics if you have to go somewhere else quickly or if someone else will be visiting.

Be calm and direct.

Though it doesn’t have to be perfect, and there’s a good chance that it won’t be, try to broach the topic calmly and directly. One of the most common mistakes people make when starting a tough conversation is to avoid the topic. This can be confusing for the other person and may cause them to be more upset.

“The past few weeks your mood has seemed very low. I know it can be hard to open up to a new person, but talking to a counsellor might be helpful. I’d be happy to go with you to meet someone. How do you feel about it?”

“I’ve noticed that lately you have not been returning my phone calls or going out for walks like you usually do. I’m worried about you. How are you doing?”

Practice Active Listening.
Now that you’ve started the conversation, you’ll want to be remain open to your loved one’s reaction. This is probably the part of the conversation that you’ve been dreading, since you might think they’ll react negatively. Although this is the scary part, it’s also the time when you have the most control over how the rest of the discussion will go. If your loved one says “no” to your suggestion or acts hurt or offended that you’d suggest bringing another professional in to their circle of care, your instinct might be to react strongly. You might be worried that their refusal to accept assistance will increase the pressure on you or make their situation worse. This might make you angry or want to shut down, but those reactions will not help. Practicing active listening increases mutual understanding. You can practice active listening by using open body language, giving your loved one the time to fully express themselves, and by using empathy to reflect their feelings back to them. This will help you to understand where they’re coming from and alleviate some of their fears, and it will help your loved one know that you care about how they feel.

Here’s an example:

Sadaf has told her mother that she’s noticed her mood has been low lately and has suggested talking to their family doctor about connecting her with a counsellor for some extra support. She has asked how her mother would feel about it. Sadaf’s mother responds, “I’m fine and I don’t need to talk to anyone. I won’t bother you with my problems anymore.” Sadaf feels frustrated by this response and wants to walk away, but remembers to use active listening.

“It sounds like you’re really hesitant about talking to someone else about how you’ve been feeling. I know you’re not fine because of what you’ve been telling me. What about talking to someone else worries you?” This question and reflection opens up the conversation for Sadaf’s mother to talk about her concerns and for Sadaf to respond with empathy and answer any questions she might have.

Do Your Research.

If you spend time researching options for your loved one before talking to them, you will have more knowledge to answer their questions which may help them adjust to the idea of talking to someone new. Do remember that you don’t have to have all the answers! If your loved one asks a question you don’t have the answer to, offer to look in to it with them. You can say, “I don’t have the answers yet, but I’d love to sit down with you and explore the options together.”

The Kelty Dennehy Mental Health Resource Centre in North Vancouver is a wonderful resource. You can also call the Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 or the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for confidential, non-judgmental and free support available 24/7. You do not have to be the person in need to make this call.

Let them know they’re not alone.

Sometimes one of the scariest things about accepting help is the possibility that existing supports will disappear. You can help to ease your care partner’s fears by reassuring them that you are not going anywhere. You could try saying, “It can be scary to accept help from new people. Please know that I care about you and want to be able to help you in the best way I can. I think involving this person could help me to be the best support person possible.”

Go with them to meet the new care provider. Debrief afterwards. 

Having you with them when they meet their new care provider might help ease some of the stress of involving a new person in their care. You might be able to support your care partner by asking questions and reflecting back what you’re hearing from the care provider in a way that your loved one will understand. After the appointment, check in with your loved one to see how they’re feeling. “How was that for you? What did you think?” Practice active listening to explore where they’re at.

3 Tips for Caregivers:

Debrief with a trusted friend or therapist.

Look at what support you need.

Appreciate your best efforts.

*This post was adapted from Difficult Converstaions: When it’s Time to Ask for Help

Cassandra Van Dyck