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





Mindful Monday no. 85 – Focus: How to Avoid Spreading Yourself too Thin


Feeling overwhelmed is often the result of saying “yes” to too many things. It’s not hard for caregivers to end up with what feels like a never ending to-do list. There is always more that you could be doing, and of course you want to do all you can to support your loved one. Although it’s tempting to do more and more, having healthy boundaries and being mindful about what you agree to take on will help you to focus on what you’re doing and allow you the time to take care of yourself.

How do you avoid spreading yourself too thin? Get really comfortable saying “no.”

Saying no can be hard. You could feel scared about how someone will react if you decline an invitation or you might worry that your loved one won’t get what they need if you can’t do what they need done. Fear can be a huge reason for struggling with saying no, but excitement can be as well. Have you ever accepted invitations to a few too many holiday parties, and then felt burnt out when you realize how many events you’ll need to attend in a short span of time? The impulse to say yes can be driven by yearning, but this too can contribute to caregiver burnout.

Learn the 24 hour rule. 

A supervisor gifted me some sage advice a few years ago and it has helped me to avoid spreading myself too thin quite a few times. When someone asks you to do something, let them know that you’ll respond in 24 hours. Use those 24 hours to really think about the request and whether or not you would be able to commit. If you’re having trouble deciding, ask yourself the following questions:

How much time will the request take me? | You might find that what’s being asked of you will simply take too much time with what you have already committed to. If this is the case, be honest! Let the person know that you have too much else going on to commit.

Do I have the skills needed to do what’s being asked of me? | Sometimes we’re asked to do things that are beyond our skill sets. Though it is possible to expand our abilities, it might not be in another’s best interest, or might take too much time. Ask yourself if you’re comfortable doing what’s asked of you. If not, reach out to someone who is.

Is there someone else that can help? | Delegation is a wonderful thing! For example, if your loved one needs help with shopping, look in to grocery delivery. If there are things are the house that need doing, reach out to a Better at Home program.

Why am I saying yes? | If the answer is that it’s because you’re scared to say no, you will want to explore other options.

How am I doing? | Check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well? Are you finding time to exercise and people who make you smile? When was the last time you had a really good laugh? If you’re not happy with your answers, it could be better to decline a request and spend some time taking care of yourself.

What steps do you take to avoid spreading yourself too thin? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!

Cassandra Van Dyck

Foodie Friday – 2 Seasonal Salads


The summer season is well under way, which means fresh, local fruits and vegetables will be stocked in grocery stores and farmer’s markets! Why not turn all the fresh produce in to delicious salads?

Eating salad is a great way to nutrients to give you the energy you need to manage your caregiving duties and any other tasks you have to complete. Spend 1-2 hours per week chopping vegetables and preparing dressings and you’ll have lunches ready every morning!

Here are two seasonal west coast salad recipes:

Diane’s Westcoaster Salad with Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette


Serves 6

This Westcoaster Salad is totally a winner. When my daughter Jennifer and partners opened the Tomato Fresh Food Café in 1991, this was our “Number One” salad. Now, new owners Christian Gaudreault and his wife Starllie still feature it on their menu, and it’s as popular as ever.


1/2 lb (250 g) peppered and candied smoked salmon strips or regular sliced smoked salmon

6 cups (1.5 L) mixed greens

1/2 red pepper, seeded and cut into thin julienne strips

1/2 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into thin julienne strips

1 cup (250 mL) crumbled chèvre (goat) cheese

Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 cup (250 mL) olive oil

1/4 to 1/3 cup (60 to 75 mL) balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup (60 mL) pure maple syrup

1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard

freshly ground pepper to taste

2 or 3 days before

Prepare the Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, mustard and pepper. Cover and refrigerate.

Just before serving

Peel the skin off the salmon, slice diagonally into 1/4-in (6-mL) thick slices. Set aside.

Divide the greens evenly among 6 salad plates, mounding them high.

Warm the vinaigrette in a frying pan over low heat. Add the slices of salmon and the peppers. Heat briefly a few minutes to warm.

To serve

On each salad plate, divide the salmon mixture equally over the greens, then drizzle over the warm dressing. Top with a good sprinkling of chèvre (goat) cheese. Serve immediately.

Chef’s Secret

Look for this peppered candied smoked salmon in the seafood section of your local food and seafood markets. Candied smoked salmon is usually marinated with a little honey, maple syrup or dark brown sugar and a little salt. Coarsely ground pepper is sometimes added as well. It’s smoked from 8 to 24 hours to give the salmon a sweet, subtle smoky flavor. It’s crusty on the outside, but moist and soft on the inside. Choose nice thick strips. I always keep some on hand in the freezer, take out in the morning and thaw it in the refrigerator.

Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Island Salad


 This salad is composed of ingredients that are cultivated on Vancouver Island and grown or produced within 100 km of your home, so get familiar with this product and all of the rest of the V.I. abundance and make an effort to buy them often.



Red pepper (thin sliced)

Onion (thin sliced)

Tomato (sliced)

Hazelnuts (crushed)

Natural Pastures Brie (sliced)

1/4 cup raspberries (fresh or defrosted)

1/2 cup yogurt

1/4 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons honey

Kosher salt/black pepper to taste


  1.  Combine raspberries, yogurt, buttermilk, honey, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Stir well to combine and mash the raspberries until incorporated.
  2.  Combine desired amount of spinach, peppers, onion and tomato in a mixing bowl and toss to combine. Plate and then top salad with desired amount of dressing, hazelnuts and brie cheese. Now eat!
Strawberries, blackberries and blueberries are all grown on Vancouver Island and all make a great substitute for the raspberries if so desired.
Do you have any salad recipes you love to make? Please share them in our comment section!
Cassandra Van Dyck



Everybody needs somebody

For anyone, including older adults, that sense of connection is crucial. According to the magazine ‘Mind over Matter’ (put out by the Women’s Brain Health Initiative) “loneliness increases the risk of dementia in older adults by as much as 64%”

That said, human beings also require solitude or what is often called: ‘me time’ or ‘alone time’.  The point is to have a balance : some ‘in’ time, some ‘out’ time–and not all one or the other.

You will find that as a caregiver (see ‘Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians’ by Rick Lauber, published by Self-Counsel Press) you must forego some of your social obligations, in favor of precious time alone. Obviously though, not to the point of isolating yourself.

Here are two quotes I’ve gleaned on the subject of loneliness and that need for connection:

“We need other human beings in order to be human” Desmond Tutu

“Oak trees just grow stronger, Rivers grow wilder every day, Old people just grow lonesome, Waiting for someone to say: ‘Hello in there, hello.'”

John Prine in : ‘Lessons from a Caregiver’ by Laurel A. Wicks (book review forthcoming).

Who was it that said: ‘Only connect.’? The name escapes me, if you know it, post a comment.

Here’s a toast to your health and well-being!

Calm Pond

Mindful Monday no. 84 – Mindfulness Based Decision Making

mindfulness based decision making

“Doing what’s right isn’t hard. Knowing what’s right is.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

Have you ever needed to make a decision but felt that you couldn’t get your thoughts straight long enough to do so? Making decisions can be difficult at the best of times. When you are caring for a loved one and juggling other day-to-day responsibilities on top of managing emotional stress, decision making can become even harder. Caregivers have many decisions to make – some small, and some big.

Is it time for my loved one to move to a care home?

Should we get extra help around the house?

Can we afford a meal service?

Which medical options should we consider?

There is often a lot of fear involved with decision making. What if the decision is made and the results aren’t what you wanted? The fear can be paralysing.

Practicing mindfulness can provide the perspective and mental state needed not only to make decisions, but to appropriately respond to the outcomes. Read on for some mindfulness tips to help with decision making.

Get some rest. Try to avoid making decisions at night. It is much, much harder to think clearly when you’re exhausted. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, go through some self-care practices and tuck yourself in to bed. It will be easier to process your thoughts in the morning when you are rested.

Get some perspective. Look at the situation from all angles. Talk to someone you trust, go for a long walk or a drive, write in a journal. Examining the situation from a different perspective can provide clarity.

Use a timer. This suggestion comes from Harvard Business Review writer Peter Bregman, and may not sound very “mindful” at first read. But maybe it is? You can spend a lot of time mulling over the different outcomes of a decision and get no closer to an answer. What if you set a timer for 15 minutes and promised yourself you’d make a decision before the timer went off? If you’ve spent some time researching options and feel that you have some perspective, it might be the time crunch you need to choose a path.

Pretend that you’re helping a friend make a decision. “The reasoning here is really simple: your short-term emotions get in the way of decisions, and that clouds your judgment. It’s hard to break free of your emotions, but it helps to know they affect your choices,” says Thorin Klosowski. Think about the questions you would ask your friend when they say the things that you’re thinking. How would you respond to your friend?

Meditate on it. YouTube is filled with free guided meditations to help users make decisions.

Detach from the outcome. Though this may be the hardest part of making a decision, it might also be the most helpful in reducing stress. “Wanting things to turn out a certain way continues to confuse our view of reality. Make it a point to become less attached to the outcome of your decision once that decision is made. Let life unfold naturally,” says Dr. Marchand. 

How do you make tough decisions? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck


Hawthorn for the Heart


As care givers, we rely on our hearts. Not just as an emotional source of love but also physiologically to endure long hours, carry stress, worry and self sacrifice for those we love and those who need us. Our hearts and cardiovascular systems take on the weight. When self sacrifice means cutting time for our own health and things like diet and exercise fall to the wayside, it’s again the cardiovascular system that is one of the first body systems effected. Also, the natural changes that come about with aging are also straining on the heart organ and vasculature throughout the body, so there is good reason to take special care of this crucial body system!

Hawthorn is a shrub or tree that has a long history of use and for good reason. This plant in the rose family produces an abundance of “haws” at the end of the summer that contain multiple herbal constituents (particularly flavonoids) that are beneficial to blood vessels and the heart muscle. Some of the indications that this herb helps with are: as a tonic for cardiovascular disease, to improve coronary circulation by dilating coronary arteries, to increase contractility of heart muscle, reduce atherosclerosis by influencing LDL fats and supporting the health and function of the blood vessel walls by stabilizing collagen. Hawthorn also decreases BP, increases blood supply to the heart and offers further benefit not discussed here. *Reminder: with herbal medicine, as with conventional medicine, it is important to speak first with the appropriate health care provider before implementing new routine, as it pertains to herbal medicine, go speak with your Naturopathic Doctor.

Hawthorn can be taken as a tea, tincture or in capsules of dried herb. The tincture offers the most potent form of absorbing the medicinal value from the plant, but tea made from dried haws is valuable although a bit gentler. You can make a tea yourself by picking the haws at the end of the summer, cutting them in half and drying them in a food dehydrator until they are fully dry. Or you can go to any health food or natural supplement store and ask them if they carry Hawthorn tea. Make sure if you are purchasing Hawthorn tea that the tea is indeed the dried haws and not leaves or flowers. Tinctured form of herbal medicine is made by an alcohol extraction that was done on the plant material. It allows some of the constituents that are not water soluble to also come out of the plant into the alcohol so that the end product has a larger array of medicinal components. Tinctures are also available at health food stores and natural supplement stores. Visit a Naturopathic Doctor and they can go through this with you and most NDs will have Hawthorn products available in office. If you would like to learn more about hawthorn herbal uses click here.


Hawthorn packs a hefty herbal punch to support our bodies, but the medicine this plant offers isn’t only available by taking herbal extracts or tinctures. The very presence of hawthorn has healing effect on our bodies. Being in nature has scientifically measurable health benefit, if you research the term Shinrin Yoku and you will find a plethora of research on the subject.

Shinrin Yoku is a Japanese term that means “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest” and was designed to encourage the public to go seek out time spent in natural surroundings. Since the 1980s researchers in Japan and Korea have observed subjects after having spent time in natural settings and compared stress hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure and other health markers to people who have not recently been in nature. They have repeatedly found that being in nature has measureable beneficial health outcomes. Although this might appear obvious to many of us, this has great use to convince everyone that when it comes to our health, our time with nature is indeed doing us good. In the countries where Shinrin Yoku is studied, medical doctors also prescribe certain patients to spend specific amounts of time in nature each week as preventative health care. If you would like to read more of the subject click here.

Spending time with hawthorn is of no exception. In Folklore the hawthorn is one of the most revered plants and has a strong history in England and religious history. The Glastonbury Thorn is a hawthorn tree that is associated with legends of the arrival of Christianity in Britain. Many churches throughout the lower mainland have hundred-year-old hawthorns in their properties and are beautiful and powerful to be around.

Energetically the hawthorn is a very grounding tree, it promotes cleansing, fulfillment, guardianship and fertility. The flower blossoms in May are connected to folklore for fertility and abundance. The heart shaped leaves resonate with what is called a “doctrine of signatures” and give hint to the helpful heart medicine of hawthorn. The plant is not all flowers and dance however. Hawthorn has strong thorns that are demanding of respect, they are there to protect the hawthorn and offer guarding for the plant and those around it. To go and sit with a hawthorn, meditate, say some prayers and ask for healing is a great way to gain some of the subtle healing that this plant offers. If you are familiar with this plant already then offer to gather some of the haws in end of summer and play with making some of your own teas for your health.


Connecting to nature in this way is like an easy meditation without the rigors of committing to daily practice. It helps put things in perspective when stress is running on our minds and allows ourselves to let go and permit healing for our hearts to unfold. Being with plants and allowing their healing is obvious to gardeners and is a big part of why they love getting their hands dirty. If you don’t have a garden of your own, then I encourage you to look and observe the plants around you and start noticing which ones you would like to spend time with. As it pertains to matters of the heart, the hawthorn rules, and going to seek out time with one will do you a world of good.


Christina Weir

Third year Naturopathic Medical Student


Visit her website  www.wildhealthlife.com for more local herbal info and DIY herbal projects




Mindful Monday no. 83 – Summer Solstice Reflection Questions

summer solstice

June 20th marked the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and welcomed in the new season. The solstice marks the half way point of 2017 and the longest day of the year. Although the day could simply be seen as a marker of time, it can hold deep meaning and significance for some people. The solstice is a wonderful time to reflect on how you’re doing and think about any changes you’d like to make. Maybe you’re noticing that your body is sore and you’d like to make time to exercise. You might reflect that you’ve been feeling down a lot lately and need to connect with a network group or a therapist. You could notice that things are going well and you’re adjusting changes in your caregiving role very well! Taking the time to sit down and think about the following questions can give us perspective and clarity, no matter how we’re doing. Remember to be gentle with yourself if what comes up is tough, and to reach out if you need to.

Solstice Reflection Questions

What is bringing me joy right now?

Where am I struggling?

What are my fears?

Who can I talk to about my joys, my struggles, and my fears?

What changes do I want to make over the next six months?


Do you do anything to mark the solstice? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck