In Our Nature, Part One

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” – Henry David Thoreau


Sometimes, even though it may seem out of reach or lost, what we need most is within our grasp and simpler than we thought. Spending even a small amount of time in nature has shown to have profound effects on our emotional well-being.

The positive effects of spending time outdoors, surrounded by trees, soil, wild animals, birds and critters, has been written about and discussed for generations. “Everything exists in nature without the necessity of outside intervention. It is a system that has existed successfully since the beginning of time, which provides a sense of structure, coherence, and reliability for those wise enough to use nature as a model for life,” says CRC Health. It has been said that even a view of nature through a window can speed recovery from surgery, improve work performance, and increase job satisfaction.


In Vancouver and the lower mainland, we are able to access nature without too much trouble. In Part Two of In Our Nature, I will list some easily accessible trails and viewpoints that may help calm your mind and open your heart.

Words by Cassandra Van Dyck

Photos by Perry Miotto


Tools for practicing affirmation

Tools for practicing Affirmation

 Here you are, in the midst of a caregiving situation of some kind. You may be offering daily support to a partner or parent, which requires a lot of energy and attention.  Roles change, and accompanying emotions such as grief, worry, anger and frustration can put a heavy load on the heart. You may also be trying to arrange home care services for someone who doesn’t understand that supports are necessary in order for them to function safely at home.

Learning to be mindful of your own needs, preferences, and energy levels on this journey can be a work-in-progress.  In our caregiver groups we find that self-affirmations are a powerful tool for keeping the inner light burning, when you find yourself exhausted or discouraged. Anyone can learn to write their own affirmations- you don’t need to be skilled as a writer, philosopher, or even an optimistic thinker.

“Start the daily practice of joyful living.”
Bryant McGill

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

Affirmation helps your heart and mind re-focus itself when times are difficult. Having written affirmations out where you can see them is a great way to remind yourself of the more positive things in your life.

Affirmation notes for yourself are a way of building hope that the current challenges will not overcome you, and that they will not last forever. Hope can be defined however you like, as it is a personal tool to help you cope in the here-and-now.

Affirmations express ideas that you hold as being true or desirable, and they help move you towards positive goals.

Affirmations are most helpful when written and spoken in the present tense. ‘I am living a healthy life and respecting what my body needs’. ‘I am growing wiser and more patient’.

I’ve written a few examples to get you started:

I am happy, I am healthy, I am peaceful.

I am accomplishing great things in my life right now.

My heart and mind support me as I reach my goals.

I am patient with my learning process, and I appreciate myself for that all I am.

I embrace life with a sense of possibility.

I share love with myself and others.

My presence offers comfort, joy and compassion to others.

I encourage you to start with one affirmation per day, and get in the routine of writing it when you get up in the morning, perhaps as you eat breakfast or enjoy a warm coffee. You might want to keep a notebook, or cut out pieces of coloured paper.

“Everybody has to start somewhere. You have your whole future ahead of you. Perfection doesn’t happen right away.”
Haruki Murakami

K Davies




Communication strategies for caregivers

Communication workshop with Deborah Braun

This two-day workshop was packed with useful tips and information. Some of the more salient tips were the techniques for releasing feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, and reducing cortisol (which is associated with stress). For example, if you reflect on something you’ve done well, this releases GABA.  In addition, if we are kind to ourselves, this triggers oxytocin. Both GABA and oxytocin are feel-good brain  chemicals. Deborah mentioned a most inspiring and thought-provoking quote by noted psychotherapist Viktor Frankl: “between the stimulus and the response there’s a space.”  The context for this was based on a discussion of one participant’s experience.

In another real-life scenario, we worked on assertiveness in a systematic, step-by-step way. I left the workshop feeling empowered and energized, although I had not slept well the night before.  I learned from Gail Sheehy’s book on caregiving that sleep problems are endemic in caregivers, see one of my previous posts for a review of her book Passages in Caregiving.

Many times I thought of Deborah’s “no-wondering” technique, in which we foster self-compassion by thinking that it is “no wonder” we feel the way we do and we should be kind to ourselves. Thank you Deborah, for inspiring us on our caregiving journey!

Calm Pond

Gentle Exercise


If you chose to exercise based on the reasons shown on the front cover of fitness magazines, you may think the only reason to get moving is so you can “look good” in a bathing suit. I’m a little ashamed to admit that growing up, I subscribed to this belief. The emotional and physical benefits of regular exercise (and how closely emotional and physical health are connected) has been a hard lesson and something I continue to learn from and experience.

The benefits of regular exercise are endless: exercise helps control weight, improves mood, helps manage anxiety and depression, combats health conditions and diseases, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, increases your chances of living longer and healthier and helps prevent osteoporosis (Mayo Clinic/Harvard School of Public Health). We’ve all been told that incorporating exercise in to our days can help us to reap these benefits, yet that is easier said than done. Just like it can be challenging to cook and consume healthy meals when we’re busy or experiencing stress, it can be just as hard, if not harder, to incorporate exercise in to our days when we’re experiencing similar circumstances or feelings. Busy lives and stress make us tired, and it can feel like exercise requires energy we don’t have.


So, now we might know the benefits of exercise and we definitely understand the the challenges of integrating it in to our lives. Where do we go from here? The good news is that you do not need to spend too much time exercising in order to experience the benefits. Some studies have shown that just 1-2 hours of brisk walking per week can decrease your risk of disease. Listed below are two suggestions for making exercise a part of your life.


If you’re not currently active, start by taking a stroll for 20-25 minutes, three times per week. Getting out your door can be the hardest part! If you’re looking for motivation, think of a place that makes you feel happy or calm and choose to walk there. Try parking further away from your destination or getting off the bus a few stops early. If you are looking for company, ask a loved one to join you! Walking and talking is good for your heart in more ways than one. If you’re trying to increase your pace, use the “talk test.” If you can put together a five to six word sentence, you’re in the aerobic zone. If this feels too hard, slow down a little!


Lifting weights (or strength training) can seem overwhelming. One might think immediately of muscly, young men in front of a gym mirror and decide it’s not for them. If you feel like this, I invite you to put those thoughts to the side for a moment. Strength training has profound benefits including reducing the signs and symptoms of arthritis, chronic disease and osteoporosis.

If reading this has sparked an interest in weight lifting, consult your doctor first to make sure you are creating a routine that is safe for you. After that, book an appointment at a local community centre weight room! Most community centres offer free consultations and will help you get started with a routine either at the gym or at home.

What are some ways that you incorporate regular exercise in to your life? We’d love to hear from you!

Words by Cassandra Van Dyck

Eating Well, Part One.

FullSizeRender (1)You wake up at 6:30AM to a buzzing alarm clock after a restless sleep. You hit the snooze button and accidentally rest for 30 minutes too long. You get out of bed and realize there’s not enough time to make breakfast. After brushing your teeth and getting changed, you head out the door and hop on the bus or get in to your car. You stop at a coffee shop to get a coffee and a muffin. The morning is busy and you’re feeling tense and rushed. Lunch time arrives and you’re very hungry. There’s a shop near by, so you buy a sandwich, a cookie and a coffee for the afternoon. You hastily move through the rest of your day and run errands before getting home a little too late to cook a proper dinner. You pop a pizza in the oven and eat it while watching the evening news.

Does this scenario sound familiar? With all the demands of daily life, making time to cook and eat nutritious foods can quickly slip to the bottom of our to-do lists. Meeting the needs of our loved ones and our responsibilities at work can feel more important and urgent than consuming healthy foods. While it’s understandable that eating well falls off our radar when life gets hectic, it could what helps us cope and stay calm in the midst of it all.


Eating well can help you to boost energy, calm your mind, fight disease, improve brain function and maintain a healthy weight. All of these benefits help us to be present for our loved ones and kinder to ourselves.

So, what does it mean to eat well? In an age when we’re constantly being introduced to new diets that promise so much, it’s can be challenging to figure out what’s best for our bodies and minds. Daily Medical News tells us, “The crucial part of healthy eating is a balanced diet. A balanced diet – or a good diet – means consuming from all the different food groups in the right quantities. Nutritionists say there are five main food groups – whole grains, fruit and vegetables, protein, diary, and fat & sugar.” When we don’t take the time to think about and make the foods we’re eating, we often miss foods from these different food groups. Most restaurants focus on making a profit and choose to leave out high-quality, healthy foods to ensure they do. If we are getting most of our meals from restaurants, we could be missing some nutrients from the five food groups that could contribute to our well-being. Another aspect of eating well is being mindful of the ways we’re cooking and eating. This will be discussed further in a later blog post!


This is a complicated issue and it’s important to be kind to yourself if you feel like the opening scenario is very familiar to you. Below are a few links to websites that offer quick, healthy recipes for meals that don’t require a lot of preparation.


What should I eat for breakfast today?


Lunch Bowls


Pinch of Yum

Have you struggled with eating well while trying to maintain a busy life? Have you found ways to ensure you regularly eat from the five food groups? What are some resources/websites you’ve used to help you plan your meals? We’d love to hear from you!

Words and photos by Cassandra Van Dyck

Revive your energy

Revive your Energy
February often feels like a month of murkiness. Muddy ground after the rains, few holiday celebrations in near sight, and many grey days amidst the perks of sunshine. We are reaching the end of winter, at least the most intense part of it here on the coast.  As the days start to become noticeably longer, there seems to be fewer stretches of mega-rain and cold, and colourful blossoms are poking their way through the earth.

Now March has arrived, and I am enjoying the bright yellow crocuses alongside their purple counterparts, and the delicate spray of snowdrops that caress the gardens. It feels like spring is near, which brings a renewed sense of hopefulness to our spirits.  Yet there is no denying that the body, mind and soul could use some real nourishment!

 A few ideas for lifting your mid-February energy: Self-kindness is not optional here 🙂

Try attending Quiet Hearts on a Wednesday afternoon at 4.30. Settle into the cozy atmosphere of a heritage church downtown, where you can relax to soothing music and let your mind unwind. Quiet Hearts listeners are transported, moved and inspired by enchanting flavours of music embracing classical, new age, jazz, folk and world styles.

Make a walking date every week with a friend, and try out a different café each time.  Treating yourself to a warm drink is a simple way to practice self-kindness!

Sign up for a therapeutic touch session through Family Services’ Companioning Care program. Therapeutic touch is a way to release stress or negative energy in the body, bringing more balance to the systems.

Keep a gratitude book where you write down something you’re grateful for every day. When you’re having a hard day, pull it out for some inspirational reminders.

Try eating a high protein breakfast. Fueling your body with good nutrients will help your energy sustain itself through any difficult moments in the day.

Learn some basic hand reflexology to practice on yourself. Giving yourself 10 minutes of reflexology in the morning or midday can really help your body and mind feel calm.

Know that your dedication in the caregiving role is valued- we  at North Shore Caregiver Support are aware of the amazing work you do, even if your loving efforts are not always appreciated by family members.