Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC): Self-Care

Over the past few years, “self-care” has become a sort of buzz word that some caregivers may roll their eyes at. Beauty companies and spas use the term regularly in their advertising, in hopes of coaxing tired clients to buy their products of pay for their services. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with treating yourself to a new lipstick or a massage – sometimes it can be just what you need to brighten your day. The problem is that self-care is often associated with spending money or as something that only those lucky enough to “have time” can do. This belief can prevent caregivers from making the time to practice self-care, which really is just that: taking care of yourself.

You’ve heard it before: “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Making sure that you can filling your own cup first will help you to be a better caregiver, parent, partner, or friend. How you fill your cup will be different for everyone, and it’s important to tune in to what makes you feel grounded, healthy and happy.

For myself, I know that I need to practice four different aspects of self-care in order to care for my loved ones with a clear head and heart. If you’re unsure of what you need, this may give you some ideas:

Exercise. I need to sweat, increase my heart rate and use my muscles 2-3 times a week. Currently, I hike, practice yoga, and get to the gym for circuit training. When I’m not exercising regularly, I feel lethargic, unmotivated, and stiff.

Sleep. I need 7-8 hours of quality sleep to feel my best. When I don’t sleep well, I am irritable, unfocused, overly emotional, and tend to consume more sugar and caffeine, which likely doesn’t help my other symptoms!

Connection. I must connect with someone at least once a week who knows me well. This can be a phone conversation, or even an email. The important part is that I’m able to really talk about how I’m doing and feel heard. When I don’t connect with someone on this deeper level, I feel lonely.

Creativity. It’s not a stretch to say that I’m a creative person. I write, play the guitar and sing, and have recently been experimenting with all things textile related (knitting, weaving, sewing, and natural dying). I need time in my week to explore these passions, even if it’s just an hour or two. When I don’t take the time, I feel listless.

As mentioned, these four acts of self-care are what I need to feel good, but they might look quite different for you. It should also be noted that I do not always exercise 2-3 times a week, sleep 7-8 hours a night, connect with someone who knows me well or make time to practice my passions. What I have learned, however, is to ask myself why when I’m feeling lethargic, or irritable, lonely, or listless. The answer is usually that I have not been making the time to practice self-care. I know then to ensure I fit these important things in. Sometimes this means cancelling plans or asking someone else to help out, and that can be hard. If I start beating myself up over not being able to do everything I thought I could, I take a deep breath and practice self-compassion. I remind myself that self-care is not selfish – that it’s quite the opposite. Taking care of ourselves first is what enables us to take care of one another.

How do you practice self-care? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!

Cassandra Van Dyck


Grief during special occasions

When grief surfaces, it is often a powerful force. I liken it to an ocean wave that has an intensity as it rises up, and causes a spray as it comes rolling down.  
This time of year can be unsettling in a certain way. While you may love Christmastime or enjoy celebrating Chanukah, so many emotions surround the holiday season. You may be feeling sad, regretful, or lonely because your parents have memory loss and cannot enter into the festivities as they used to. Your wife or husband may have limited mobility due to Parkinsons or cancer treatments. Many times when loved ones have health challenges and you are their main support person, you will feel a sense of significant loss during Christmastime. Now it is all up to you to organize gifts, meals, and special time together, and it makes sense that loneliness is felt. This is a very real experience.

Other special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, Thanksgiving, and summer vacations can also feel uncomfortable when you are grieving the changes in an important relationship. When your spouse or parent is not able to give as much support and companionship to you, it is like having your anchor removed from under the boat. Losing an anchor is a vulnerable thing to have happen. While you may not be in the habit of sharing the more vulnerable thoughts and feelings with family and friends, I encourage you to try at least one of these ideas.

Honor your memories. Enjoy some apple cider with a trusted friend, and share your memories of Christmastime over the years. Afterwards, write these memories down, and include as many details as you can, engaging the 5 senses of touch, smell, sight, taste, and sound. This can be a good way to honor your special memories, and to capture little pieces of your family history as well.

Create a new ritual. Think of something small that makes you feel inspired, such as making a mulled spice mix to give as gifts; or hanging white lights to make your home extra cozy. This could also include saying yes to a dinner invitation with some lovely people in your life.

Practice kindness.
When feelings of grief come up, let them be there. Tune into what you’re feeling, and give yourself some time to really feel it. When you’re ready, do something kind for yourself- choose something that is relaxing or energizing, depending what you need in the moment.
Relaxing ideas: Take a bath with Epsom salts. Light candles and listen to soothing music. Unwind with some gentle stretches.
Energizing ideas: Go for a 20-minute walk. Call a friend that makes you laugh. Watch a funny movie.

Wishing you times of peacefulness and connection, as you navigate the challenging terrain of living with loss. Know that you are not alone in your journey.


Re-setting your self-care rhythms for the holidays

Today we are sharing a previous post that we love. Our wonderful Calm Pond wrote about re-connecting with self-care during a season that can hold all kinds of expectations about meals, family time, and gift-giving.
Sit for a moment and unwind. Enjoy a tasty drink of eggnog or hot chocolate, and consider which of her ideas you might wish to make part of your holidays. Think of it as your invitation to consciously manage energy levels in a way that honors YOU. This can really help in keeping burnout as far away as possible!

With kindest wishes,


3 Ways to Manage Food Cravings

When you have a food craving, how often is it for salad? Water? Most likely, your cravings are for the foods that you know might not leave you feeling your best after eating them: cookies, pizza, french fries, pop, etc.

You might be wondering why your body would crave foods that do not deeply nourish you. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to crave foods that help us to feel our best? Your food cravings send strong messages to your body that you need something. If you’re feelings stressed or sad, it could be an emotional comfort. Sugary foods increase endorphins and can provide you with a temporary “high.” When you eat sugar regularly, your body knows to expect this high, which is why you might crave it when you’re feeling low. If you did not sleep well the night before or if you’ve gone too long without eating, you may also crave sugary or carbohydrate-heavy foods, since they spike your blood sugar and give you a (temporary) boost of energy. When you eat irregularly or or when you’re tired, these are the first type of foods your body craves because it knows it will get what it needs – and fast!

Many people think that managing food cravings is about practising self-control, but if you keep the above information in mind, you will hopefully realize that self-control has very little to do with giving in to a chocolate craving. When we eat well, get enough sleep, and are able to manage stress effectively, we generally eat healthily. Of course, it is not easy to do all the time, so please remember to be kind to yourself. Nobody is perfect. If you have a day when you eat too much pizza and too many cookies and feel awful after, use it as a reminder to eat more vegetables and drink more water the following day.

If you’re looking for more ways to battle those pesky sugar cravings, take a look at our graphic below! Print it out, keep it in your bag, and share with friends!

Cassandra Van Dyck

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

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.