Emotional First Aid for Caregivers: SOS Insomnia By Calm Pond

Emotional First aid

Lately I’ve been going through a period of insomnia, but it’s getting better, slowly. Rather than rely on pills, I took an online course on insomnia (cbt-i, see previous post https://northvancaregivers.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/my-summer-with-cbt-i/ ), and learned about something called a ‘sleep window’. A sleep window is the optimal time during which you will fall asleep. For me, this was 2:00 am. But what to do until then?
I began getting creative. A book I read (Jennifer Hallissy ‘The Write Start : A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, From Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories’ 2010) had a recipe for playdough and I thought, why not? Here is the recipe:

No Fail Playdough

1 cup warm water
1 cup salt
2 Tbsp Cream of Tartar (look for it in the baking aisle)
2 Tbsp veg oil
Combine the above ingredients. Wait till mixture cools a bit. Mix in 2-3 cups of white flour (as much as you need to make a firm dough, but don’t add too much at once). You can divide the dough into balls and colour it with food colouring. Stores in a tightly covered container in the fridge for 6 months. Halve the recipe if you do not want such a large quantity of dough. It works just fine.
Bake your creations at 275 degrees F. The time they need to bake varies on size of creation.


I found that as I kneaded the dough, I felt more relaxed. Karyn Davies of NSCR says this is due to the fact that as you knead, the left and right hemispheres of the brain harmonize. This is an intriguing idea. I did find that if I engaged in a creative activity, I felt more relaxed and did, eventually fall asleep.
It’s not the perfect cure but it sure beats staying up all night.
In conclusion, I came up with a little rhyme:
We all need to be needed,
We all need to knead.
May you sleep the sleep of the just tonight,

Calm Pond


3 Ways to Practice Self-Kindness


“You can search the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your kindness than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

What do you say to yourself when you make a mistake? When you forget to pick up your loved one’s medication from the pharmacy, or when you realize you’ve missed an ingredient while making dinner? Practicing self-kindness can help us to meet these challenging moments with ease. When we are kind to ourselves, we are better able to manage stress, and in turn be more present with in our caregiving roles.

Practicing self-kindness comes easier to some than others. You might be reading this and realize that you are seldom kind to yourself when you make mistakes or when you don’t feel you’re doing as well as you could be. When you become accustomed to responding to challenges with negativity towards yourself, it can be a tough habit to break. The good news is that self-kindness is a practice. You can learn ways to interrupt negative thoughts and replace them with kind ones. When you repeat the practice, it becomes habit, and soon you might find that you respond to your struggles with the same kindness you give to others.

As mentioned, practising self-kindness will be easier for some people, and harder from others. If you were raised in a household where you did not feel nurtured, if you are in or have been in any kind of abusive relationship, or if you’re in an emotionally challenging relationship with your loved one, you may experience shame. If the negative thoughts coming up for you feel like too much to handle, remember to reach out to a professional for support.

No matter where you are on your self-kindness journey, you can start implementing tools to practice self-kindness today. Here are three things you can do to treat yourself with self-kindness:

  1. Speak to yourself as you would speak to someone you love. What would you say to your best friend if they told you they’d forgotten to pick up their mother’s prescription from the pharmacy? “Wow, it sounds like you have a lot on your plate! That must feel really stressful.” You would empathise. You might offer some ways to help. We can do this for ourselves, too. Acknowledge the mistake, forgive yourself, and if it needs fixing – find a way to make things better. Accept that your loved one might be disappointed, realize there’s no way to turn back time. You can only move forward and make things better.
  2. When you notice you’re speaking to yourself negatively, switch your tone. Use the tone of voice that a mother would use with her newborn baby. It might feel strange at first, but switching just the internal (or external, if you’re able) sound of your voice can trigger your body to relax instead of tighten.
  3. Nurture your body. Try wrapping your arms around your back and squeezing gently. Rub your feet, your ankles, roll your head from side-to-side. When we are unkind to ourselves, our bodies tense up. Physically nurturing yourself can help to calm your nerves so the kind words can reach you on a deeper level.

PS – Caroline Macgillvray will join our Network Group on November 14th, 10:30AM-12:30PM to teach caregivers the benefits of Qi Gong – a fabulous way to calm your nervous system and practice self-kindness!

Do you practice self-kindness? We’d love to learn from you!


For more information on self-kindess, visit Kristin Neff’s website or read this Psychology Today article.


Cassandra Van Dyck

Dr. Google: Why Not to Use It and What to Do Instead


Google can be a helpful resource for so many things: deciding on where you’d like to eat lunch, finding doctors and other health care providers, or looking up books and blogs that could help guide and support your caregiving journey. Using Google to diagnose an illness or to find reasons for symptoms you or your loved one are experiencing is not the best use of the search engine. It’s tempting – I get it! When you’re alone late at night or you’ve been told it could be days or weeks until your next doctor’s appointment, doing your own research to help you get to the root of your concerns is sometimes hard to resist.

The trouble with Google is that it is not able to take a comprehensive look at the whole person that is presenting the symptoms you’re worried about. Google will take the keywords you’ve plugged in to the search bar and find articles or discussion forums from all over the world that contain those words. This could lead you to articles that are not well-researched or supported, or, worse yet – discussion forums that contain horror stories of one person’s experience with a certain drug or the horrible disease that emerged from their similar symptoms. Finding these sorts of articles and stories can cause you to become incredibly anxious, worried, and stressed.

If you walked in to a doctor’s office and said three words to your physician, such as, “headache nausea fatigue,” they would ask you lots of questions, such as how long you’d been experiencing the symptoms, if you’re on any medications, and pre-existing conditions, etc. Google does not ask these questions, which can lead to answers anywhere from influenza, to heatstroke, cancer, inflammatory arthritis… the list goes on. After asking questions, the doctor would likely order some tests to get to the root of the problem, and then in a few days (hopefully), you’d have an answer and a plan for treatment.

As mentioned, I understand the temptation to search for Google answers. I have brought myself to tears looking up symptoms that always lead me to worst case scenarios. I always feel worse after searching than I did before I opened my browser. If you are feeling the urge to open up Google and start looking for explanations to symptoms, here are three things to do first:

  1. Ground. It will seem like the last thing you want to do, but I can guarantee that it will help you work through your concerns with a clearer head. When you feel the concern start to mount, go for a walk. Meditate, if that’s in your practice. Call a friend who calms you down. After you’re feeling grounded, you can better assess your concerns and make decisions from a balanced place that’s not purely fuelled by worry.
  2. Call your doctor. If you’ve grounded yourself and feel that you need to explore your concerns with a doctor, call and make an appointment. If it’s a question about a medication that’s been prescribed to you or your care partner, you may be able to speak with your doctor on the phone or call the pharmacy for more information.
  3. Call the nurses hotline: 8-11. If you would like help right away, call 8-11. Registered nurses are available 24/7 to answer your questions about symptoms, medication side-effects, and more. They will ask for your care card number, and then will do a quick screening test to make sure you or the person you’re calling about are not in any immediate danger. They may tell you after all your questions to visit a clinic or make an appointment with your doctor, but you will have a better idea of what to do next.

Have you used or avoided Dr. Google? What’s your experience been like?


Cassandra Van Dyck

Portrait of a ‘Sunny’ Man By Calm Pond

In this post, I will write about a man who is a true optimist and somehow, despite serious challenges, manages to stay on ‘the sunny side of the street’. This man is none other than actor, writer and lobbyist Michael J. Fox, whom you may know from the 80’s hit movie ‘Back to the Future’, or the show ‘Family Ties’ (in which Fox plays Alex P. Keaton.)

In 1998, Fox announced his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a degenerative neurological condition. Fox was very young at the time, and the diagnosis came as a shock to him.

Truly, Fox enjoys life and lives it to the fullest. Some of the highlight of his life are: swimming with sea turtles in the Virgin Islands; spending summer break in a villa in Provence; toasting Lance Armstrong at a post-victory Tour de France party in Paris; sitting beside boxer Muhammed Ali who amazed him with magic tricks; getting help from actor Christopher Reeve in the start-up of his Michael J. Fox Foundation; and last but by no means least, bringing up four beautiful, talented children.

In his book ‘Lucky Man’ (Hyperion, 2002), Fox credits his grandmother as a kind of muse to the budding young actor. He writes:

…” Nana, the matriarch and wartime clairvoyant, possessed an essential nature that hinted at the possibility of escape, of transcending life’s limits. She delighted in my accomplishments and eccentricities, always encouraging me to believe in the power of my dreams. When others in the family would express doubts about my direction, she was my staunchest defender and greatest champion. She’d laugh off their concerns with a wink at me, as if we both knew something that was beyond the understanding of others..” (p.40)


Fox also mentions how, at the start of his acting career, he found another mentor. This mentor, for him, was as much of a strength factor as his grandmother had been in childhood. Those of us who are truly fortunate find people like these in our lives who inspire and motivate us to follow our dreams, and never, ever, give up.

In Fox’s book ‘A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned’, (Hyperion, 2010), Fox advises:

”Being in control of your destiny is a myth—and wouldn’t be half as much fun anyway. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. Read the book before you see the movie. Remember though while you, alone, are responsible for your own happiness, it’s still okay to feel responsible for someone’s else’s.”

In a sage-like way, Fox borrows from Confucious to advise people to wait if they aren’t sure about something, that eventually “all will be revealed. This advice has served me well”, he writes.

Fox also mentions Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s ‘On Death and Dying’, and the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

It is truly extraordinary for Fox to assert that: “ the ten years since my diagnosis have been the best ten years of my life, and I consider myself a lucky man.”

What encapsulates this quote especially is when he describes an epiphany he had one morning:

“…at the turn from our bedroom into the hallway, there was an old full-length mirror in a wooden frame. I can’t help but catch a glimpse of myself as I pass. Turning fully towards the glass, I consider what I see. This reflected vision of myself, wet, shaking, rumpled, pinched, and slightly stooped, would be alarming were it not for the self-satisfied expression pasted across my face. I would ask the obvious question: “what are you smiling about?”, but already I already knew the answer:  “ It just gets better from here.”   Learn more about this book here: https://www.amazon.ca/Funny-Thing-Happened-Way-Future/dp/140139518X

In 2000 Fox began lobbying for advances in stem cell research, which consists of: “cells created from the in-vitro process, that are used for research in finding a cure for PD.”

Such is what reading Fox’s books was about for me—an education. Not only learning about this devastating illness, but also about how someone goes about living life well, in spite of everything else. His books would enlighten those with loved ones with PD (as is my experience, my brilliant uncle, a talented surgeon, had PD), or with those involved in advocacy or lobbying. Or, of course, just to get a glimpse of someone with such great courage and optimism, qualities not only valued but essential survival skills in this century, and that serve as an example to us all; is reason enough to read his books.

(Note: Fox is also known for the show ‘Spin City’ (2000), a show he both starred in and produced.)

Calm Pond

How to Work through Anger

This post from April is a great addition to our Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC) series.

If you have ever struggled with anger (and who hasn’t?) this post has some good tips and tools for working through the challenging emotion, which can pop up a lot on your caregiving journey.

North Van Caregivers


When someone is asked to think of a difficult emotion, anger might be the first one to come to mind. Anger doesn’t feel great in our bodies. It might make our throat tighten, our palms sweat, and our hearts race. Unleashing anger might feel good momentarily because you’re letting go of pent-up energy, but it can have extremely damaging effects if not let out in a healthy way. Angry words can hurt people – angry actions even more so.

It’s okay to feel angry. Really – it is. Anger is your body and mind’s way of signalling that something is not right and that you need to pay attention to what’s wrong right now. 

The trick is being able to tap in to your intuition so you can work through the anger and address what’s causing it. Anger is a secondary emotion; it is always caused by something else. When…

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Visualizations: A Tool for Caregivers


Years ago, during a counselling session, I was asked to imagine myself in a place that I felt completely at ease and safe. I pictured myself floating on Kalamalka Lake in the Okanagon, on a hot summer’s day near a beach that was steps away from my dad’s old home. Just thinking about it, I can feel the water on my skin, the hot sun on my face, and I can hear the wind rustling the branches of the willow tree that shaded the shoreline. Returning to this place in my mind is one of the tools I often use when I’m feeling anxious or stressed. I have other visualizations that are useful in different situations, too. When I feel nervous about speaking up about something that I don’t feel is right, I visualize a team of my most supportive friends and family standing behind me. If I’m feeling really stuck in a situation, I picture someone that has been through something similar, and I try to embody their strength, or humour, or candour.

Being able to use visualizations can be helpful on your caregiving journey, when there’s often so much uncertainty, grief, and stress. Visualizations can help caregivers to temporarily escape stress by imagining a more peaceful environment, or they can help you to picture a different way to get through a challenging situation.

Maybe you need to speak with a doctor about a concern you have, but you’re terrified to bring up the topic for fear of the response. You’re feeling scared and anxious. Those feelings are valid, and should not be pushed aside or dismissed, but if they’re stopping you from speaking with your doctor and getting the answers you need, you might need another way to handle the tough feelings that are coming up for you. Think of a time when you were scared and anxious about doing something, but you found some courage, and did it anyways. Now, take that energy and approach your doctor. If you can’t think of  an example, visualize someone that you know to be calm and resilient, and imagine yourself acting the same way.

There are numerous ways to use visualizations. If you’d like to learn more about how you can use them in your caregiving role, take a look at these resources:

Visualization and Guided Imagery Techniques for Stress Reduction

Take a Break: 3 Minute Visualization

Visualization Of Joy

Creating A Container for Grief  (scroll to the end for a visualization that helps work through grief) 

Cozy soup for Thanksgiving: Curried carrot coconut

Once October comes around, most of us are ready for the heartiness of soups and the pleasure of feeling cozy after being outside in the fresh autumn air.
Caregivers, here is your invitation to PAUSE and UNWIND for a few minutes, to nourish your body and replenish your energies. Perhaps a loving friend or family member will agree to making this recipe for you, if cooking feels like too much of a chore right now.

Curried carrot coconut soup
You won’t have to spend all day slaving over the stove, this soup is ridiculously easy. Add all the ingredients to a pot and let the veggies cook (about 12 min.) let soup cool a few minutes and then puree in a blender. That’s it! Voila…soup’s on! Serve with a dollop of cool Greek yogurt and a piece or two of warm Naan bread (perfect for dipping into soup and using to “mop” up every last drop of soup).

Author: SimpleHealthyKitchen.com

Serves: 4 servings.
Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes

carrot soup

• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• ½ small onion, chopped
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 tsp yellow curry paste *
• ¼ tsp cayenne (optional)
• 1 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped
• 2 cups vegetable broth, reduced sodium
• 1 can (15 oz.) lite coconut milk
• ¼ cup plain yogurt (Greek or regular)
• cilantro, chopped for topping
• croutons for topping (optional)
• 2 pieces naan bread (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook 3-5 min. until onion is translucent. Add curry paste, cayenne and cook an additional minute. Add carrots and chicken broth and continue to cook until carrots are tender (approx. 10-12 min). Turn off heat and let soup cool slightly.
2. Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Add back to saucepan and stir in coconut milk. Heat until hot.
3. Serve soup in bowls and top with a dollop of yogurt, chopped cilantro, and fresh pepper.
4. Top with croutons and serve with ½ piece warm naan bread (optional)
5. * yellow curry paste is available in well stocked grocery stores and in Asian markets

Wishing you a contented Thanksgiving, in the company of good people; or in having some peaceful time to yourself.

An invitation to mindfulness practice

Hello caregivers! We sent out this invitation to mindfulness practice last year, but thought you might be open to receiving it again. Do you practice mindfulness? Does it help you in your caregiving journey?

North Van Caregivers


In our adult lives, it can feel slightly intimidating to learn a new skill. Attempting a new hobby or putting your mind to a task you haven’t done before; or one that you haven’t done in a very long time, takes a measure of courage and chutzpah.

Why might you consider beginning a mindfulness practice?   

If you …
are overwhelmed with caregiving responsibilities and need a break
would appreciate tips for calming down after a stressful event
are looking for ways to respect and honour your own needs

I had the pleasure of speaking with North Shore therapist Catherine Moore, who integrates mindfulness techniques into her counselling work. I asked Catherine, “What are some of the barriers to people trying mindfulness?”, and she said that many people don’t believe in it, and think “what is this?”
People often need proof that mindfulness practice is helpful, and Catherine demonstrates its efficacy by…

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Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC): Frustration

Today we’re introducing a new series on the North Van Caregivers blog: Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC). We created this series in hopes of supporting unpaid family caregivers through the triggering emotions that often come up on the caregiving journey. These posts should help you to identify the difficult emotions you’re experiencing and give you some tools to work through them quickly. You can print off the image or save it to your phone for easy reference.

Please remember to seek support if you’re noticing the same emotions coming up over and over again, either from a network group or a professional counsellor or therapist. Extra support is often needed and helpful when you’re finding yourself stuck or suffering. 


What other emotions would you like us to cover? Please let us know in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck