Gifts Of the Season

We’ve talked a lot on the blog about the challenges caregivers face during the holiday season: the pressure to meet expectations from family members, the struggles of including your loved one in traditions, and the grief that can wash over you when you realize that the holidays look quite different from what they once were. The beginning of January can be a time of reflection and anticipation for the coming year, and it’s important to recognise all of the beauty in your life as well as the challenges.

This is an invitation to look back on what may have been a challenging holiday season and instead of focusing on what you overcame, acknowledge the moments that made you smile or feel peaceful. Perhaps your family found a creative way of including your spouse or parent in family traditions, or you were able to connect with your loved one by talking about memories from past holidays. Maybe you shared a nourishing meal with friends or had the chance to see the joy experienced by children at the end of December.

Take some time over the next few days to sit down and make a list: what made you smile over the holidays? What nurtured you? After writing your list, reflect on how you feel now, and how you might be able to acknowledge the moments of beauty that inevitably pop up in the coming year.

What were some cherished moments from your holiday season? We’d love to hear from you in our comments.

Cassandra Van Dyck


Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC): Frustration

Today we’re introducing a new series on the North Van Caregivers blog: Emotional First-Aid for Caregivers (EFAC). We created this series in hopes of supporting unpaid family caregivers through the triggering emotions that often come up on the caregiving journey. These posts should help you to identify the difficult emotions you’re experiencing and give you some tools to work through them quickly. You can print off the image or save it to your phone for easy reference.

Please remember to seek support if you’re noticing the same emotions coming up over and over again, either from a network group or a professional counsellor or therapist. Extra support is often needed and helpful when you’re finding yourself stuck or suffering. 


What other emotions would you like us to cover? Please let us know in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck

Fresh Starts


Am I the only one who feels a greater need to hit “reset” in September than in January? The change in seasons seems to come abruptly, as leaves fall and September’s breeze chills. Children go back to school, and it seems like everyone settles in for the colder months, leaving behind the whimsy of summer. For me, this feels like the time to reflect, reset, and get organized. Although this can be a physical task – cleaning and rearranging rooms and purging belongings that no longer serve me, it can also be a deeply emotional one. I find myself reflecting on relationships that nourish me deeply, and others that leave me drained. I look at the ways that I’m treating myself well, and also how I’m not. I ask myself what I can change to ensure I’m taking better care of myself, so in turn I can care for and be present with my loved ones.

Fresh starts, for me, are not about drastically changing my life or setting (often unrealistic) goals. When I feel the need to make changes in my life, I first ask myself the following, very important, question:

Am I being kind to myself?

Goals or changes that are not kind often stem from shame. For example, wanting to lose weight because you feel like you’re unattractive, or hoping to never miss an important event with your care partner because you think you’re unreliable. Ask yourself if the goal feels like a punishment, or a reward, and proceed from there. If the shift feels like a punishment, this reflection might encourage you to get some support for what you’re going through, which can help shift your perspective.

If you need some more ideas for how to get the fresh start you’re craving, read these previous blog posts:

Re-Discovering Gentleness

Setting Intentions

Exploring Hope

Do you find ways to reset in September? How does it impact your caregiving role? We’d love to hear from you in our comments. 

Cassandra Van Dyck

An Invitation to Surrender


“Sweet surrender, is all that I have to give.” – Sarah McLachlan

Have you ever resisted feeling an uncomfortable emotion, like sadness? How did that feel – in your throat, your limbs, your heart?

Have you ever felt sadness, and then just really let yourself cry? How did you feel then?

Surrendering to emotions or situations that you had not anticipated or hoped for can feel impossible at times, but it’s often just what you need. Accepting and allowing yourself to feel all of the uncomfortable feelings that can come with the caregiving journey will enable you to work through your feelings in a much gentler way.

When you first realized you were a caregiver, you might have felt any number of difficult emotions: frustrated, angry, sad, and even resentful. These are common emotions for caregivers to feel when you’re experiencing high levels of stress and a drastic shift in your way of living. It’s important to get support for these feelings and work through them. Surrendering is not meant to flippantly wish away these feelings or an ending. It is a state of being where you admit that you cannot go on the way you are, so you must do things differently.

“Everyone of us, at some point in our lives, encounters a situation that rocks the foundation of who we are and what we think we can bear—is past our limits if you will.  Sometimes it’s a situation we’ve been living with for a long time and sometimes it’s a sudden event that overwhelms us and for which our usual coping strategies are useless. While the content may differ, what these experiences share is the power to bring us to our knees, figuratively and often literally as well. And, the power to change us.” – Nancy Colier

This is not a “how-to” post. It is an invitation to experience what it’s like to relinquish control and sink in to the present moment. It is a mindfulness experiment – not a set of a steps to follow.

Take some time for yourself in the next little while and try this guided meditation. Find a comfortable place to lie down, close your eyes, and listen.

Have you had moments of surrender in your caregiving journey? We’d love to hear from you.


Cassandra Van Dyck

What if…? How to Overcome Anticipatory Anxiety.


“Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom.” – Marilyn Ferguson

On your caregiving journey, you will need to make an incredible amount of decisions, and you will be faced with many questions. There will be decisions about your loved one’s treatment plans, questions about their living situations, and decisions about end-of-life care. You will also be faced with questions about what you can manage, such as accessing respite for your loved one or involving another family member or professional in their care. These decisions and questions, though often hard to make, are manageable with the right support and consideration. The question that is hardest is one that every caregiver will ask themselves at some point, and it is unanswerable. “What if…?”

What if my husband get sick while he’s in staying overnight in a respite facility?

What if the treatment plan doesn’t work?

What if my wife is in pain and I can’t help?

What if my mother is unhappy in assisted living?

What if my father can’t remember my name?

These are the questions that keep us awake at night. They make our palms sweaty and our hearts race and they make tears come to our eyes. It can be terrifying to think of all the tough things that could happen.

“Anticipatory anxiety is the anxiety we experience with the initial thought and anticipation of doing something,” explains Lucinda Bassett.* In other words, we are looking forward, the same way we are when we need to make plans or decisions, but we are anticipating something bad happening. We are scared of what could happen in the future and we are worried about losing control. “The truth is that the actual situation is never as bad or as anxiety-producing as the anticipation,” says Bassett. “Nothing is ever as bad as you expect it will be. The anticipation is most often the worst part.”



The first thing to do when you’re experiencing anticipatory anxiety is to ground yourself in the present moment. “Your fears are all about losing control. If you want to stay in control, stay in the present instead of projecting into the future,” advises Bassett.

Interrupt the “what if” questions with others about the present moment.

Who is here with me?

What am I touching?

What do I smell?

What do I see?

What do I feel?


Worst Case Scenarios

It may seem counter productive, but sometimes when you’re anxious, taking yourself through a worst case scenario can be what helps you to overcome your worry. Let’s use the first “what if” question we talked about as an example.

What if my husband get sick while he’s in staying overnight in a respite facility?

If your husband gets sick while he’s staying overnight in a respite facility, what would happen? 

Would the staff have the skills and resources they need to take care of him?

Would another family member or friend come to be with your husband?

Would you be able to speak to your husband on the phone if he needed someone to talk to?

Asking ourselves these questions helps to break down the worries and figure out what we can prepare for, and what we cannot.


Best Case Scenarios

Once you’re feeling grounded, an exercise that can be helpful to deal with those nagging “what if” scenarios is to flip them around. Ask yourself the same question you did earlier, but finish the question with a positive possibility. For example…

What if my husband discovers an effective therapeutic treatment while in respite care?

What if the treatment plan helps with my friend’s mobility issues?

What if my wife is in pain and I have the tools I need to support her?

What if my mother makes some new friends in assisted living?

What if my father and I develop new ways of connecting?


Try out these three methods for stopping anticipatory anxiety, and remember to connect with a counsellor, therapist, or a trusted friend or family member to work through your concerns and worries. You are not alone on your caregiving journey.



*Linda Bassett is the author of, “From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You In Control of Your Life.”

When It’s Hard to Feel Grateful


When you are in the throes of your caregiving journey and stress is at an all-time high, it can feel impossible to express or feel gratitude. A lack of sleep, nourishing food, and self-care can wreak havoc on your nervous system. You might feel like there’s a dark cloud hanging over your days that’s hard to get out from.

When someone close to your heart is struggling, it can feel very uncomfortable to give yourself permission to feel gratitude. You might think, “How can I be happy when this person I care about so much is not?” Although it’s challenging, being able to tap in to gratitude, even if it is for the smallest joys in your days, is crucial if to maintaining a sense of well-being. Gratitude allows you to be present in whatever moment you’re in. It can give you strength, and even hope.

Remember that you do not have to have a complicated gratitude practice, and that you do not have to be grateful for everything. Life is not perfect, and bad things do happen. It’s okay to be upset about them and to know that you can safely express those feelings. Feeling and expressing gratitude is not about trampling out the not so great emotions, it’s about bringing your attention to the good things that may not be so apparent when you’re struggling.

If you’re struggling to feel gratitude, start with the smallest thing possible that made even the slightest difference to your day. Here are a few ideas:

a warm mug of coffee or tea first thing in the morning

a glass of cool water when you’re on a hot day

stepping in to a hot shower 

the person who held the door for you and your loved one the other day

putting on pyjamas when they’ve just come out of the dryer

spring flowers

They are just small things, but when you start to pay attention to their occurrences, they become powerful.

Try writing down three things you’re grateful for in the morning, and three things at night before going to sleep. Continue this practice for just one week, and see what sort of difference it makes in your mood.

Please remember that if you’re continuing to struggle and feel like you can’t pull yourself out, reach out to a professional for help. The caregiving journey can be a hard one, and support can make all the difference. 


Cassandra Van Dyck



How to Work through Worries


If you are an unpaid family caregiver, you will worry. You will worry about your loved one’s health and your ability to cope with life’s curve balls that will most certainly come your way. You’ll worry about signs and symptoms that don’t yet have names, about doctor’s appointments and surgeries and moves. Worrying is a part of the caregiving journey. Sometimes it can even be helpful! Feeling worry can push you to create game plans for tough situations or to find more resources and information to support yourself and your loved one. The trouble, of course, is when worry dominates your thoughts. You might find that you’re having trouble sleeping, that you’re forgetting things more often than not, or that you’re having a hard time being present because you’re constantly thinking about what is or could go wrong. Worrying will be a part of your caregiving journey, but it does not have to consume you. Read on for some ways to work through this difficult emotion.

GO FOR A WALK | If a wave of worry has washed over you and you can’t shake it, go for a walk. When worry takes over, it can be hard to think clearly. Relaxing your nervous system will help you to regulate your emotions and get some perspective.

PRACTICE PMR | Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is an amazing way to focus your mind on your body instead of your thoughts. Read this post for the how-to!

CONNECT | Have you noticed that this advice is in every post on difficult emotions? Talking about your emotions is one of the fastest ways to work through difficulties. When we’re alone with our thoughts, they can swirl around our heads and leave us feeling stuck. Talking to a therapist or fellow caregiver can help you to get perspective on your worries, and perhaps give you some tools to tackle them.

POSTPONE WORRYING | Realizing that you can control when you feel worried can be incredibly empowering. The next time you start to feel worried about something, tell yourself that you will address the worry in your next “worry time.” The key to making this work is to schedule a time for worrying, and to have a practice in place to help you work through the concerns. Journaling for 20 minutes before you go to bed, talking to a therapist or counsellor at a weekly or monthly appointment, or writing a list after you eat your lunch can help you to designate an appropriate time to work through your concerns, allowing you to be more present with your loved one.

CREATE DISTINCTION: SOLVABLE/UNSOLVABLE WORRIES | If your worry is solvable, you should be able to take action right away. For example, if you are planning a vacation with your family and you’re worried about what will happen to your parent while you’re away, you can take action to find them respite care overnight if they need it, or look in to grocery delivery services, house cleaning, etc. If your worry is unsolvable, there will be no corresponding action. These are worries that you might feel if you’re worried about how your husband’s cancer will progress, or if their forgetful symptoms will result in a dementia diagnosis. “Worrying is often a way we try to predict what the future has in store-a way to prevent unpleasant surprises and control the outcome. The problem is, it doesn’t work. Thinking about all the things that could go wrong doesn’t make life any more predictable,” says Lawrence Robinson. “To stop worrying, tackle your need for certainty and immediate answers.”

How do you cope with worry? We’d love to learn from you in our comments. 


Cassandra Van Dyck

A Mindful Path to Resilience


“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back quickly from hardships. You might know some people who seem to be more resilient than others. When their loved one fell ill, they brainstormed ways to get them support. They stayed positive and found ways to laugh with their spouse. Other people in your life might come to mind that seem to have less resilience. Their care partner’s diagnosis made them anxious or depressed, and they disconnected from social activities. Maybe you’ve noticed that these people have a demonstrated a pattern of how they respond to adversity. Although a person’s ability to respond with resilience may be predictable, it is not something that someone simply “has” or “does not have.” Resilience can be developed, and it can falter.

One of the best ways to build resilience or to recover from adversity it to practice mindfulness. “A recent study highlighting the link between mindfulness and resilience found that: “Mindful people … can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally).” Pausing and observing the mind may (help us) resist getting stuck in our story and as a result empower us to move forward,” says Carly Hauck. “Most of life’s stressors are subjective and with mindfulness (seeing things as they are in this present moment), we have the ability to respond with wisdom vs. react in a harmful way.”

If you already have a mindfulness practice…

 …you might find that it goes out the window when you’re faced with difficult occurrences in life. Your mind might feel flooded with fear and sadness and you could feel lost. Responding to hardship with resilience does not have to be a simultaneous occurrence. If you have recently been given some hard-to-handle news, give yourself some time to grieve and process. When you feel that enough time has passed, return to your mindfulness practice. Set a time in stone for meditation or a walk. Put distractions away while you’re walking to your car or the bus stop so you can connect with your surroundings. Reach out to a mindfulness or meditation group and attend weekly or monthly meetings. You have the tools available to you, so now it’s time to use them.

If you have never practiced mindfulness…

…it’s okay! The amazing thing about mindfulness is that you do not have to study for months or years to access its benefits. You can start right now, where you are, with what you have. Are you ready to try? Carly Hauck shares a meditation for tapping in to mindfulness to build resilience.

Come into a comfortable and supported seated posture. Begin to bring your awareness inside and slow down the rhythm of your breathing. Acknowledge any event that happened today or this week that was difficult. Select a moderately difficult experience. It is important that we practice with something moderately challenging vs. the most challenging. Bring your awareness to what happened, thoughts, feelings, and let your heart begin to open as you breathe in and out. Turn towards the moderate difficulty with compassion and acceptance.

Repeat these phrases in whatever order or frequency that feels comfortable to you.

May I be kind to myself.
May I find peace and healing.
I am doing the best that I can in this moment.
May I accept and find ease with things just as they are.

Often, when life is difficult, we can be overly critical and hard on ourselves, but compassion, not criticism, facilitates greater resiliency at home and work. […]

With compassion, we can turn toward the difficult thoughts and emotions and then get back on track with our next wise move.

Remember our three ways to build resilience that we wrote about in October: cry, connect, and practice self-care. That second tip is especially important. Call a trusted friend or family member, a counsellor or therapist, or come to a caregiver Network Group.

What have you done to build resilience? We’d love to hear and learn from you. 


Cassandra Van Dyck


How to Work through Shame

fear-299679_640We recently talked about the ways that guilt can either provoke you to make changes in your life, or manifest as stress if not addressed. Guilt, while challenging to process, can be a motivating tool. Shame, on the other hand, is a different monster.

I used to think of shame and guilt as interchangeable terms, but they’re really quite different. The easiest way the difference has been explained to me is as follows:

Guilt is when you think you’ve done something bad.

Shame is when you think you are bad.

When an emotion is separate from our identity, it can be easier to experience and work through. For example, when we feel sad over the loss of someone we love, though the pain may be immense, we don’t often think that we are a “sad person” because of the grief we’re experiencing. Shame is different. It can wash over us, putting a shadow on everything we do or say. Shame can make it hard to enjoy the things we used to enjoy and make us doubt our every action. Making decisions from this place can feel impossible because shame can make us feel like we’re doing everything wrong. Shame traps us in what can feel like an endless loop of self-loathing. Shame can feel like an endless loop of self-loathing because the pressure of it on our being prevents us from doing what we really need to do to feel better: it stops us from reaching out.

“Empathy is the antidote to shame. Vulnerability is going to be that path.” – Brene Brown

Consider this your invitation to get a little vulnerable. I know, it’s scary. It’s really scary. Remember to practice self-compassion. If you’re experiencing shame, know that you are not alone. It is not who you are. It is time to reach out and get some support for what you’re going through, so it does not manifest in to other issues, such as depression or anxiety. Maybe there’s someone in your life that you feel entirely safe with that would be a good person to speak with. If not, or if you would click to speak with someone entirely unbiased, reach out to a counsellor or therapist. Speaking with someone about what you’re experiencing, though it can be hard, will help you to work through what you’re holding on to so you can start tapping in to your self-compassion.

If finances are a barrier for you to get support, there are options available. Caregiver support programs are a great place to start, but there are also groups and counsellors covered by the medical services plan available. If you live on the North Shore, try The Hope Centre or Family Services North Shore.


Cassandra Van Dyck

How to Deal With Guilt


We’ve all experienced guilt at one time or another; when we’ve said something we wish we hadn’t, when we’ve neglected a person or task that needed our attention, or maybe even when we let forgotten food go bad in the fridge. Guilt is an emotion often felt when there is a negative, or perceived to be negative, consequence for an action. Caregivers often feel guilt for a lot of reasons, but in great part the feeling stems from not being able to do everything they feel they should, or not help their loved one in ways they want to be able to. Psychology Today describes five causes for guilt: guilt for something you did, guilt for something you didn’t do, but want to, guilt for something you think you did, guilt that you didn’t do enough to help someone, and guilt that you’re doing better than someone else. As you can imagine, caregivers will be effected by lots of these causes! If guilt is used to change behaviours or situations, then it can be a useful motivator. If, however, you find yourself feeling guilty every day, or for things that you have no control over, it can become a very unhealthy emotion, often leading to frustration, anger, shame, and burnout.

So, how do you tackle guilt? The key is getting to the source of the emotion, and addressing that situation. This can be tricky to do when you’re experiencing guilt often, or if you’re particularly busy and overworked (which, let’s face it, you likely are if you’re a caregiver!). The first thing to do then, is to slow down. It doesn’t have to be permanently, and it doesn’t even have to be for day, but it’s important that you carve out some time to reflect on why you’re feeling the way that you are. Some people will be able to connect with themselves by writing in a journal, for others it will be a long walk or talking to a close friend or therapist. You might find it useful to tap in to your mindfulness or meditation practice to get as grounded as possible before taking a look at where you’re at.

When you’re feeling grounded, ask yourself the following questions:

Why am I feeling guilty? | Really look at why, and get to the root of it. Can you identify which of the following five causes of guilt you’re feeling? Doing so will allow you to answer the. next question.

Is there anything I can do to change this situation? |If, for example, you’re not able to spend as much time with your loved one as you’d like and it’s causing you to feel guilty, maybe it’s time to look in to getting some extra support. Sometimes, however, things are out of our control and we might find that our guilt is not prompting a need to change anything practical. If this is the case, it’s time to let that guilt go!

Am I getting the support and rest that I need? | When we’re always on the go, guilt can take over. It sounds counter intuitive, but sometimes doing more can cause more guilt than doing less. Consider this: when you’re constantly lacking in sleep and spending most of your days running from one place to the next, do you forget things? The answer is likely yes. The more you practice self-care, the more you’ll be able to be present with your loved one, and help yourself to avoid that pesky feeling of guilt.

Remember to reach out if you’re struggling with guilt and having a hard time shaking it, and be kind to yourself. It is a hard emotion to deal with, but there are ways to tackle it with the right support.

Can you sense a theme emerging on the blog? In the coming months, we’re going to be taking a close look at challenging emotions caregivers commonly experience. Are you struggling with a feeling you’d like some support for? Please let us know! 


Cassandra Van Dyck