Blue January and re-discovering gentleness

Just like some people have the Sunday night and Monday morning blues I get January blues. For me they initially manifest as relationship or career issues, such as blaming my husband and/or finding fault in my work performance. Yet they generally reveal a mini existential crisis where I find myself questioning my reason for being. I get weighed down by expectations and ask myself, “I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing”; or “Life is too hard, why am I here?”

It took me several years to pick up this pattern and I now have coping strategies in place to help me along the way. Now I treat January as a gentle month.


Tools for self-gentleness

  1. One of the most helpful tools I use is to become very aware of the expectations I have of myself. I notice that, like many people I know, I am quite driven and have a lot of goals to guide my busy life. So I choose to make New Year resolutions that will support me to feel more fulfilled rather than adding more potentially stress-producing goals. For example, I might choose the goal to congratulate myself at the end of the day for the things I did well that day, or soak in an inviting bath or allow myself to indulge in whatever makes me feel good.
  2. As well as having these supportive resolutions in place, I also respond gently and with kindness when I am not able to be my best; like I would respond to a friend.  Often when I fall short of my expectations, my initial reaction may be quite harsh, so I use my experiences as a work in progress and allow myself to make mistakes. Then again, I can question whose definition of ‘right’ I am trying to live up to. Best of all, I do this on every Monday throughout the year.

The act of modifying my normal demands of life until I feel like I have firm footing once again is an act of self-love that helps me glide into the year more gently. By the time February comes along I usually have touched into a deeper connection with life that flows through me. This plan works for me. You might like to create a plan with whatever tools work for you, remembering that we are human and we will have times that we don’t stick with our plan. When that happens we have a choice; will we choose to default to being hard on ourselves, or will we choose a lighter response of acceptance and forgiveness?
I find myself tuning back in with the larger picture, and letting go of my petty or not-so big struggles.


-Linda Jane Jervis
Volunteer Caregiver Coach with NSCR’s Caregiver Support Program. Thank you Linda, for bringing your insight and positive energy to the time you spend with our caregivers.


Navigating Vancouver’s Housing Crisis With Your Loved One: Some Resources


If you live in Vancouver or anywhere in the lower mainland, it will be no secret to you that we are experiencing a housing crisis. If you have not managed to find a way to own a home or condo, you could be struggling in the rental market. Rents are rising and housing is becoming increasingly challenging to find.

All of this adds to the stress that caregivers can feel when trying to find a home for their loved one. It used to be far more common for loved ones to live with their younger family members when they could no longer live on their own. Although this of course comes with challenges of its own, the growing concern is that this option is no longer available to huge numbers of families in the lower mainland because they do not have room in their small homes to house their loved ones. If you’re left with no other option but to find your loved one a home to live in that is not your own, you must face the housing and rental crisis all over again! To say that securing safe and comfortable housing for your loved one can be challenging is a gross understatement. 

Although there are common concerns such as cost of housing and availability/location, everyone’s situation differs based on what resources they have access to. You might be lucky enough to have room in your home for your loved one, and the capacity to care for them. Maybe if you don’t, you have a family member who does. Your loved one may have set aside some money earlier in their life to prepare for a time when they would need support with housing, which will help you greatly. They might be open to different housing options – such as independent living or moving further from the city. As you can see, there are many possibilities!

It’s common to feel overwhelmed by the current situation and (lack of) options. However, there are resources to access and it is possible to find solutions. Arguably, the most important tool you need is the knowledge of resources and the ability to navigate and access them. Don’t give up hope!

If you are struggling to find housing in Vancouver or the lower mainland for your loved one, here are some resources and suggestions.

Seniors One Stop | NSCR’s Seniors One Stop Information program can provide help for seniors looking for housing. Staff and volunteers can assist with identifying options, such as subsidized housing and financial benefits.

SAFER | “The Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program helps make rents affordable for BC seniors with low to moderate incomes. SAFER provides monthly cash payments to subsidize rents for eligible BC residents who are age 60 or over and who pay rent for their homes.” Try out the online calculator for an estimate of how much your loved one could receive. If you believe they are eligible, you can fill out an application online.

BC Housing | BC Housing has a breadth of resources for people struggling to find housing. Their website is structured to allow users to describe their current situation and then lists resources according to their needs.

The Cooperative Housing Association of BC | Wait lists for Vancouver co-operative housing are currently long, but it might not hurt to put your loved one’s name on a list to keep the option of low-cost housing open.

Assisted Living | The above options are helpful for loved ones who can still live independently, but what do you do if you need somewhere for your loved one to live where they can access support with every day tasks, such as hygiene and grocery shopping? Assisted Living facilities can be costly, but there are options if finances are tight.

There are so many facets to this conversation. What concerns you the most? What has helped? We’d love to hear from you, learn from you, and answer your questions.


Cassandra Van Dyck


Be Kind to Your Body


What’s your relationship like with your body?

Our bodies do so much for us, don’t they? They carry us from place to place and help us to care for our loved ones. Most everyone would agree that a having a healthy body deeply impacts our quality of life.

When your body is not feeling great – when you’re sick or achy or injured or weak – it’s hard to feel  your best and be there for the people you love in the ways you’d like to be.

Like everything in life, some things are beyond your control, but many are not, and you always have the possibility of deciding how you respond to adversity.

Generally speaking, our bodies respond well when we treat them kindly.

How are you treating your body? Here are some things to think about.

Eat Well | Nobody’s perfect, and one of my favourite sayings is, “Everything in moderation. Including moderation.” This is an invitation to look at your overall diet and ask yourself how you’re doing. Are you eating enough fruits and vegetables? Protein? Fibre? Are you drinking enough water? Too much sugar? Our bodies send us strong signals when we are not eating properly. You may have irregular bowel movements or feel sluggish. You might also notice that your energy levels throughout the day are imbalanced. Focus on putting foods in your body that nourish you and slow down meal times when you can. Tuning in to how what you’re eating is making you feel can make a big difference.

Get Moving | Are you getting enough exercise? You don’t have to hit the gym every day to reap the benefits of exercise. Park further away from your destination or walk to the next bus stop if you have time. Get coffee to go and wander through a park instead of sitting down. Exercise keeps your muscles working properly and does wonders for your mental state. Do yoga in your chair! 

Get Your ZZZs | You’ve heard it before but we’ll say it again! Getting adequate sleep is one of the best and easiest (or hardest) ways to be kind to your body. Need some tips? Take a look at these posts. 

Speak Kindly | Sometimes I marvel at all the amazing things our bodies can and have done. If you’re unhappy with the way you look or you’re frustrated with your body’s limitations due to injury or illness, it can be easy to say not-so-kind things to yourself. Take some time to practice gratitude, and think or write about all the things your body does and has done for you. It might change the way you look at yourself in the mirror.


Cassandra Van Dyck

The ‘Guest House’ by Rumi


‘The ‘Guest House’ by 13th century Persian poet Rumi

This being human is a guest house

Every morning a new arrival

A joy, a depression, a meanness

Some momentary awareness

Comes as an unexpected visitor


Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re scared of sorrows

Who violently sweep your house

Empty of its furniture

Still treat each guest honorably

He may be cleaning you out

For some new delight!


The dark thought, the shame, the malice

Meet them at the door laughing

And invite them in

Be grateful for whoever comes

Because each has been sent

As a guide from beyond


So ‘Welcome and entertain them all!’ The kaleidoscope of feelings that passes through us every day; the ever-changing weather of emotions: sunshine, rain, windstorms, and even tsunamis.

Watch for upcoming post ‘The People On the Bus’ mindfulness exercise, as follow-up to this poem.

Calm Pond


Blue Monday: How to Prevent Isolation


I was driving to work this morning, sniffling and scrambling for a tissue to dry my running nose, when I heard the radio announcer say that today is “Blue Monday,” supposedly the saddest day of the year. Oh dear.

Dr. Cliff Arnall coined the term and marked the third Monday of January Blue Monday based on the following “scientific” formula: [W+(D-d)]xTQ/MxNA – where W is weather, D is debt, d monthly salary, T time since Christmas, Q time since failure of attempt to give something up, M low motivational level and NA the need to take action.

Whether you buy in to the formula or not, it is hard to dispute that a lot of people feel down at this time of year. The reasons for low mood are different for everyone, but a common thread is isolation.

When people think about isolation, they often think of it physically. If you are a caregiver and rarely have time to yourself, you might not be aware that you are suffering from isolation. It is very common for people to feel isolated even when they are around people every day. Caregivers give so much to the people they care for, and while there is so much benefit to doing so for caregivers and their care partners, it can also be an isolating pursuit.

The antithesis to isolation is connection. Not sure how to change your situation? Read on and follow these three steps to de-isolate and get connected.

STEP ONE: TAKE INVENTORY | How are you doing? Take some time to write in a journal, to go for a walk by yourself, or to just sit with your thoughts. Really take the time to think about how you’re feeling. When was the last time you laughed with a friend? When was the last time you cried with someone else and felt that you were supported? When was the last time you felt that you were really understood and heard?

STEP TWO: FIND YOUR RESOURCES| If you have a person or people in your life that lift you up, reach out to them, even if you haven’t in awhile. Pick up the phone or send them an email, and let them know that you’d love to set a time to get together. Consider meeting with a local network group to connect with other caregivers. You might find that talking with other people who are experiencing similar emotions and situations to be incredibly comforting.

STEP THREE: MAKE A PLAN | Are you worried about taking time away from your loved one? This fear can leave a lot of caregivers feeling stuck. If you have never sought respite, it can feel overwhelming and scary. Taking a break is essential for your well-being. If you are concerned or unsure of how to take seek respite for your care partner, read this post.

Coping with sadness

When you’re on duty all of the time, making sure your spouse’s or aging parent’s needs are looked after, the reality may be that you’re often feeling exhausted and over-stretched. Being in a state of constant responsibility and vigilance can leave little room to acknowledge the sadness that is likely there beneath the surface.
Sadness. This can be an uncomfortable emotion to name and acknowledge, even with close friends and family; and a hard one to simply be with- yet feelings of sadness and sorrow are commonly felt by caregivers.

red stone heart

Why sadness can be present:
Shifting closeness.
You likely don’t feel connected with your loved one in exactly the same way as before. You probably miss the closeness of having honest conversations, relying on eachother for back-up, and enjoying simple activities together.

Feeling alone.
When you’re the main person in charge of a spouse or parent’s care, you’re at the helm of the ship, and that can feel downright lonely. Siblings, friends and family members may not fully understand what you’re going through, and won’t be able to offer kindness and support in the specific ways you need.

Loss of dreams.
When a loved one has a significant health issue, it becomes difficult or impossible to enliven the dreams and plans you shared. If you were looking forward to retirement together, it feels sad when instead you’re adjusting to this new reality after your husband or wife’s stroke or cancer diagnosis. If your career was in full swing, you may now be required to scale back the hours you’re working, or to give up a position you were excited about.

In the sadness, remember:

Let it be there. Allow yourself a portion of time every day or every week to simply feel your sadness, and to express it. You might write in a journal, sit and reflect, cry along with a heartfelt song, or watch a movie that you resonate with. Allow the melting away of any resistance you may have towards feelings of sadness.

Connect with your strength.  Feeling sad or sorrowful doesn’t make you a weak person. In fact, those who can acknowledge and express sadness demonstrate an inner strength through their willingness to take a closer look at their situation.  There is an authenticity in feeling as you feel, and not pushing yourself to pretend that everything is smooth and easy when in fact the journey is disheartening, brutally hard, and filled with grief.

Show kindness to yourself. Find one thing you can do every day that makes you feel grounded, loved, or glad in some way.  This act of kindness can be small, such as drinking your favourite tea from a mug that you like; playing a song every morning to get your energy going; or saying no to a friend’s request for extra help when you feel tired. Find your one thing. You are worthy of kindness!

For a guided meditation to surround you with loving presence, try listening to Tara Brach:

A photo by Gaetano Cessati.

Here’s to gentleness for self, in all of your experiences.

5 Symptoms of Burnout and How to Prevent It

A photo by Volkan Olmez. IS BURNOUT?

You might have said or heard someone say that they feel “burnt out” after a long hike or several task-filled days. Chances are that there is some self-awareness in this personal observation. The person knows that they’re tired and that they will now have to rest to get back to feeling their best.

Unfortunately, experiencing burnout is much more serious. It often creeps up on caregivers who have not been practising self-care and the mindfulness needed to know that they need to slow down and get support.

According to, “burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.”


CHRONIC FATIGUE | “In the early stages, you may feel a lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted, and you may feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead on any given day.”

FORGETFULNESS/IMPAIRED CONCENTRATION AND MEMORY | “Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can’t get your work done and everything begins to pile up.”

INCREASED ILLNESS | “Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.”

ANXIETY | “Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes in your ability to work productively and may cause problems in your personal life.”

ANGER | “At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace.”

If you are reading this and feel that you are already experiencing burnout, you must get help immediately. Visit your family doctor or see a counsellor of therapist to get support and create a path to wellness.


We regularly encourage caregivers to learn and practice the skills needed to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their loved ones. Practicing self-care is a journey, and it is common to at times feel that you are taking care of yourself as well as you could be, and at other times to be struggling. That said, there are lots of things that you can regularly do to prevent burnout. Here are a few tips:

PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE | Drink calming teas, turn off screens an hour before sleeping, and avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.

EXERCISE | Just half an hour of gentle exercise a day can ease stress, promote sleep, and aid digestion. Park further away from your destinations, or go for a short walk after your morning coffee. Find creative ways to fit activity in to your day.

DELEGATE | You can not do it all alone. If you are lucky, you have friends and family that help care for your loved one. Talk to them and let them know that you could use some more support. Be specific, and delegate tasks and chores. If you do not feel that you have friends and family to ask for support from, you still have options. Look in to low-cost home care services or respite.

What do you do to practice self-care and prevent burnout? We’d love for you to share your perspective with our caregiving community!


Cassandra Van Dyck

*From Psychology Today.

In Praise of Hygge

candle light

Hygge, pronounced ‘hooga’, could be defined in a number of ways, such as:

  • ‘the art of creating intimacy’
  • cosiness
  • creating a soothing atmosphere
  • ‘cocoa by candlelight’

In Canada, we have our own concept of hygge. We call it: ‘hominess’. Other cultures have similar concepts.

Actually, the idea of hygge goes back a long way, to Denmark in the early 1800s, but the word is originally Norwegian.

Here are 10 aspects of hygge:

  1. Atmosphere
  2. Presence (switch off your phone)
  3. Pleasure (coffee, chocolate etc.)
  4. Equality (‘we over me’)
  5. Gratitude (this is as good as it gets)
  6. Harmony (‘no need to brag about your accomplishments’)
  7. Comfort (warm blankets, sheepskin rugs)
  8. Truce (‘let’s discuss politics another day’)
  9. Togetherness (build relationships, connection)
  10. Shelter (bask in the comfort of your home, however humble)

Hopefully, you enjoyed  a little ‘hyggeness’ during the holidays.  But you can enjoy hygge anytime, though winter is especially ‘hygge-like’. (Think cups of cocoa sipped in front of the fireplace.)

Let us all bring a little more hygge into our lives,

Calm Pond

PS If you really want to get into hygge, see Meik Wiking’s book ‘The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well’ (Penguin, 2016).