Moving from isolation to connection: Give when it hurts

When we talk to teenagers about giving back to the community through volunteerism, we run through all the obvious benefits: building a resume, learning employable skills, getting a letter of reference for future work and scholarship opportunities. But why should older adults volunteer? When I chat with seniors in our community, some latch onto the idea that volunteering is best left to the kids; after all they are energetic and have lots of time. While this may or may not be the case, I am always quick to remind them that seniors who volunteer in the community may not need to ensure they have a job reference anymore, but they probably do want ensure a more connected and less lonely future.


When I think of the seniors I know who are also caregivers in the community, those who give unconditionally often at the expense of their own health, I wonder where they fit into this discussion. Family caregivers suffer an especially acute form of isolation and loneliness after years of caring for a loved one, one that is often coupled with fatigue and burnout. They are tired. The idea of doing more is ill-making. It is true, that when we’re in the midst of the crisis, adding to our workload isn’t wise.  That said, for some caregivers, an opportunity to connect in a different context is also an opportunity to break out of the isolation and might just help to establish their own social safety net.

Volunteering might just be the best inoculation against isolation we have

The seniors who volunteer with us don’t come because they are passionate about making coffee litres at a time. They don’t arrive because washing dishes is their favourite pastime or reading to a child is their long- lost calling. They come because when they are here, they are known and appreciated. They connect with friends and neighbours for an hour or two and they get caught up on one another’s lives. When they take this small action they are breaking out of that vacuum of isolation. For caregivers, this type of volunteering might be thought of as respite in motion.

Give an hour to stave off loneliness

 Some of our volunteers come to us newly widowed looking for a way to move on, often paralyzed with grief. Some move into the community to be closer to family and don’t know a soul, while others have children and grandchildren and friends who have moved away and are less reachable. Whatever the reason, all of them are living with the growing awareness that with aging comes a new kind of loneliness they may not have anticipated just a few years earlier when life felt busy and over-full. However, for seniors who give even a few hours once a month, new friendships with people having similar experiences is a welcome gift. So often we see how these connections become a network of support:  our volunteers notice each other’s absences and changes in health and are quick to check in on each other’s well-being. Bonds are forged through service and coffee cups that sustain these friends and neighbours through the ups and downs that life brings.


The hardest part is showing up

Many of us count ourselves out of volunteering because we are certain that we have no skill or ability that could possibly be of help. Maybe we are new to the country and English is not our first language. Some of us are afraid of the unknown, afraid of not fitting in, of not having fun or not getting it right. I promise you there is something for everyone in all sorts of community organizations across the North Shore. If you haven’t volunteered before, or you haven’t in a while, consider this your invitation to try.

-Erin Smith

Erin is the Manager of Seniors’ Services at Parkgate Community Services Society in North Vancouver. The thoughts and opinions in this article come from her own experience and hope while working in community.

You can contact Erin or learn more about programs at the vibrant Parkgate Centre here:


7 Tips for dealing with change

mindful mountain

Here are 7 helpful steps to dealing with change, brought to you by an Australian mental health website:

  1. Ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that can happen?
  2. Ask yourself how much you can control (when a big change occurs, it’s important to consider how much control over the situation you really have)
  3. Accept and reframe: accept that there are things beyond your control, being comfortable with that fact will bring greater peace and comfort.
  4. Celebrate the positives. The positive aspects of the situation may not seem obvious, but you can seek them out.
  5. If the unwanted change is within your control, take an active approach to dealing with it.  Develop action plans.
  6. Manage your stress. Practice mindfulness or meditation, or engage in other relaxation techniques.
  7. Seek support: it is perfectly normal to seek support if the change you’re facing is really big. There are always others in similar situations and professionals available to help.

Finally, my own little piece of wisdom: “the only constant is change.”

It also helps to conjure up the image of a mountain: though many storms may fall on the mountain it endures, it always  endures.

Be well,

Calm Pond

Review of: ‘They can’t find anything wrong!’

What do you do when you feel ill, and go to the doctor, but all the tests come out normal?  In his book ‘They can’t find anything wrong! : 7 Keys to understanding, treating, and healing illness’, Dr. David D. Clarke (Sentient, 2007) addresses just that issue.

Here are some things you need to know if you find yourself in that situation:

  1. The 5 Types of Stress:
  • childhood stress
  • stress occurring now
  • stress from a traumatic event
  • depression
  • anxiety disorders

2. Next here are the 7 keys:

  • understand that your symptoms can be diagnosed and treated
  • search for the sources of stress
  • care for yourself
  • get better by writing
  • employ appropriate therapies
  • overcome resistance
  • become the person you were always meant to be

Here is something you might like to try:

Make a Hero Award for Yourself:

Before you make the Hero Award, it is sometimes useful to list every difficulty you’ve endured. Put the card where you will see it every day. Keep the card until you no longer need it as a reminder.  Keep it for years or as long as you need it. (I made my Hero Card on an ordinary index card using coloured pencils.)

It may be helpful to write a letter to a parent that caused you stress.  You can write it to an imaginary child that could have gone through the same stress as you did, and comfort that child.

Here’s more advice from Dr Clarke:

Take 5 hours per week for personal self-care.  Many people find it helps to leave the house during this time so you don’t get distracted by unfinished work.

For more info, consult Dr. Clarke’s website

Take good care,

Calm Pond

3 Ways to Build Resilience

resilience plant picture

“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and and belonging.” – Brene Brown

How do you react when times get tough?

Your loved one’s health is declining. You have a growing to-do list and feel that you have no support. Money is tight. You’re having trouble finding respite. You’re having a hard time getting enough sleep. 

There are so many stressful situations and obstacles that come with your caregiving role that are not within your control. Although you can’t always prevent tough situations from occurring, you can decide how to respond to them.

The ability to recover and respond to a challenging situation is called resilience. Some people seem to have it in spades, while others struggle to bounce back from setbacks. Your ability to be resilient is based on lots of things – the way you were raised, your unique disposition, and your current challenges. Some days you might feel very resilient, and others you think you can’t handle one more thing. You might be going through a particularly hard time because of recent changes or challenges. There are a lot variables.

No matter where you’re at, there are things that you can do to boost your resiliency. Read on for 3 suggestions.

CRY | No, really. Remember that resiliency does not mean that you are not effected by the tough things that are happening in your life. You do not need to shut out emotions or pretend that everything is okay when you  feel underneath that it is not. In fact, doing so can make things worse. It is important to be able to express emotions and to be able to reach out for help when you need it. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back; it is not the denial of emotions. Resiliency requires vulnerability. The better you are able to experience and feel tough emotions, the easier you will be able to move on from them and reach out for support.

CONNECT | Who do you call when you need to talk? If they’re not available, who’s your back up? Try creating a plan for yourself to refer to when you feel that you’ve reached the end of your rope. Write a list or create a map of your support network. Add family, friends, professionals, and network groups. Resiliency does not mean going it alone. Having support when you need it will help you to work through hardships so you can move forward.

PRACTICE SELF-CARE | We talk about self-care a lot, and for good reason! You cannot expect to respond to challenging situations with resiliency if you are not taking care of yourself. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Make time do the things that you love.

Cassandra Van Dyck

Pain, inevitable; Suffering, optional

The other day I was reading Anais Nin’s diaries and came across this quote:

” The secret of joy lies in the mastery of pain.”

Of course, as the saying goes: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

It is not the pain, but the aversion to pain, that causes suffering.

It works out too this simple equation: Pain + aversion=suffering.

In the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths, individuals are prompted to acknowledge the simple inevitability of suffering.  That said, in the Western world, we have access to treatments for both physical and emotional pain, and we have every right to seek them.  For me, I take an over-the-counter medication called ‘Antistax’ for achy legs.

And oddly, in my experience at least, it is not my own pain and suffering that is so unbearable, but the pain and suffering of the loved ones in my life.  Is this true for you also?

Wishing you well,

Calm Pond



Things I do to decompress


Whenever I get home from work or volunteering I take the time to change into comfortable clothing.  In the process, I shed my work/volunteer self and re-enter my home/family self.

Also, sometimes cooking a dish from scratch can help create a pause between the workday and the evening family time.  Why not try the following recipe for Carrot and Garlic Soup (copied from ‘Good Times’ magazine)?  If you feel like it, add a teaspoon of curry powder for Curried Carrot and Garlic Soup, which tastes delicious!

You’ll need:

2 heads garlic, 1 tbsp. olive oil, 1 chopped onion, salt and pepper, 5 cups vegetable stock (but you can use cubes), 3 cups chopped carrots (I used a bag of baby carrots), 1 potato peeled and chopped, 1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt, minced chives if you have them.

Fry onion, garlic, salt and pepper, stirring until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add stock, carrots, potato and one cup water, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.  Using immersion blender or batches in blender, blend until smooth (I like to leave some chunky bits for that rustic feel.)  Serve, top with chopped chives, and sour cream or yogurt dollop.

(Makes 6 servings)

Bon Appetit!

Calm Pond

An invitation to mindfulness practice


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 testing the person’s pulse before and after, to show  how mindful breathing calms the body down. Many people have a hard time quieting their minds and slowing down, and in today’s busy world, there can be a lot of fear and anxiety in their thoughts. Catherine encouragingly says, “Going to a professional, even for one session, is helpful”.


“I tell people that the mind works 7 times faster than the body, and help them to navigate the distance between something that feels unfamiliar and trying the practice- using simple practices”.

“Anything is mindful practice- washing the dishes can be mindful; or getting out of bed”.

Experiment with different practices, and make it a higher priority in the day. Even 1 minute is helpful- Use a physical prompt- a favourite pet, a stone etc. Connecting to external cues, anything that is deeply meaningful Press your feet into the ground.

Here are some ways to make mindfulness part of everyday life:

-Choose a cell phone App that leads you through simple mindfulness exercises. Some examples are: Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, and Stop Breathe & Think.

-Try a meditation group, such as one of these options:
Thank you for sharing your insights with us Catherine. If you would like to contact Catherine, her website is



Be Your Own Best Friend with Self-Compassion

My personal struggles have gifted me with more compassion towards others, and, ultimately, more compassion towards my own lived experience.

One website I can recommend for those wishing to learn more about the art of self-compassion is Kristin Neff’s Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. The word compassion means to ‘suffer with’.  You realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the human experience.  Writes Neff:

“Self-compassion involves responding in the same supportive and understanding way you would with a good friend when you have a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself.”

Self-compassion is not self-pity, which tends to reinforce egocentric feelings.  Self-pitying individuals get wrapped up in their own emotional drama. Therefore, people need a more balanced and objective perspective.

I also recommend Neff’s Self-Compassion Test (follow the links).  You get your score instantly and it can be very illuminating.

In addition for some recommended reading:

Neff’s ‘Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself.’

Christopher Germer’s ‘The Mindful Path to self-compassion.’


Calm Pond

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

Finding the humour no matter what

When was the last time you had a really good belly laugh? At any age, it feels liberating to laugh without holding back. Whether a humorous joke tickles your funny bone or you recall a silly moment you shared with a friend, finding a reason to laugh is so important. You might be feeling stressed to the max about a loved one’s health decline, or overwhelmed with your to-do list. On other days, anxiety and feelings of insecurity might loom large, making it seem impossible to find life’s brighter side.
Think of laughter as medicine for your spirits- freely received and abundantly powerful. Even when life feels uninspiring or downright gruelling, finding the humour somewhere has an impact on your health.

Laughter is healthy because it:
Gets the oxygen moving through your system. Hello energy!
Helps unstick your mind from its worries for a few minutes.
Pushes the reset button and introduces new possibilities.
Gives you the chance to share a joyful moment with someone.


You have permission.
Having a chuckle doesn’t mean you’re disregarding the importance or weightiness of whatever situation you’re in, yet it allows you the chance to breathe a little in the midst of the challenges- to rise above the hardships for a moment and gain some energy for the long road. Many caregivers find that sharing a bit of dark humour with good friends helps them find perspective, and deal with stress. For example, seeing the lighter side of an unusual or surprising interaction with your loved one can boost your comfort level in seeing the humour within an otherwise hard scenario.

This looks like a fun little book, filled with quips that range from classic to modern day humour.

What made you laugh recently? Please share.