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


3 Ways to Gain Perspective

there are no facts

Have you ever felt like you’ve thought or talked yourself in to a corner you can’t get out of? When you’re caring for a loved one and you’re struggling, it can be hard to gain perspective.

Part of what makes it hard to gain perspective and think yourself out of your corner is your important role in your loved one’s life. If you are the shoulder your loved one cries on, or the person who helps them out of bed, or the one who drives them to appointments, cooks their meals, and tidies their home, your place in their life may seem irreplaceable. If your loved one is suffering, the emotions you’re experiencing can mound and you might not think that you could feel any other way but sad, angry, or frustrated. When you do not have perspective, you might feel a lack of control over your life or your feelings.

Perspective is important for caregivers. It helps you to take a step back from your caregiving journey and see where you’re thriving, and where you could use some help. Being able to take inventory and make adjustments where necessary is crucial for preventing burnout. It will not only help you, but it will help your loved one.

Whenever I think of the quintessential way to gain perspective, I envision Julia Roberts praying in India in Eat, Pray, Love or Reese Witherspoon’s inadequately prepared hiking journey in Wild. If you’re a caregiver, travelling for months or embarking on a back country hiking trip is not likely not in the cards. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. There are lots of ways to gain perspective in a short period of time without spending money or sacrificing your feet to blisters.

GET SOME SLEEP | The first and possibly the most important tip for anyone who needs or wants to get perspective is to get some rest. Fatigue clouds our judgement and intensifies emotions. There is a reason that you likely feel the most overwhelmed in the evening – your body is sending you signals to lie down and sleep! If you are overwhelmed, ask yourself how you’ve been sleeping lately. Take steps to assure you’re getting the rest you need, and leave any big decisions for after you wake up. If you’re having trouble sleeping, read our tips for practising sleep hygiene. 

TAKE A MINI VACATION | No need to book a plane ticket or hop on a train! Just set aside a few hours to do something that makes you feel relaxed. Look in to short-term respite for your loved one if having care for them is an issue.

TAKE INVENTORY | There are many ways to do this. You might feel comfortable debriefing with a friend or professional, thinking while you’re on a walk, or writing it down in a journal. Whatever way works best for you, make sure to ask yourself the following questions:

What is going well? What is not going well? How is my health – both physical and mental? What am I scared of? Who are my supports? Am I getting the support that I need?

Asking yourself these questions can help you to get perspective on your situation. When you become aware of where you need support, it’s time to take action. This could mean connecting with a local network group to meet with other caregivers so you have some more support, or meeting with a counselor or therapist. It could mean scheduling time to exercise or cook healthy meals. Maybe you’re noticing that you can’t do it all and that it’s time to look to other services to help with driving your loved one to appointments or to assist with personal care.

If you are struggling to gain perspective, remember to reach out for support. Your caregiving journey may take many twists and turns and can feel overwhelming at times. Getting support can help give you the support you need to care for your loved one and for yourself as well.

How do you gain perspective? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck





Mindful Monday no. 55 – The Decompression Routine


As a caregiver, you likely play many roles in your day. You might be providing personal care or assisting your loved one with their errands. You might be caring for your own children in addition to caring for a parent or a spouse. There’s a good possibility that you fill all these roles and more throughout the day.

Have you ever thought about how you transition from one role to the next? What about when you finally find yourself alone at the end of the day… how do you transition from caring for others to caring for yourself?

Your roles may seem to blend together seamlessly. Blurred lines might help you cope with all you have to do, but creating boundaries and a decompression routine can help you to be present and to “turn off” your brain at the end of the day.

I was first introduced to the idea of a decompression routine by a dear friend who worked as a massage therapist. This friend told me that after her clients left, she would carefully and mindfully wash each hand and arm. The routine brought her closure to the session and helped her leave whatever came up in the appointment behind her. This helped her to be present with the following client, or to move on from her work day to her personal time. Another friend would turn off her work cell phone in her drive way and spend a few minutes in her car reflecting on her day before closing the door and entering her home. This conscious choice allowed her to be present with her partner without letting her work day influence her mood once she was home.

Depending on what your life and days look like, your decompression routine could look a number of ways. You might practice the routine multiple times a day or have different rituals depending on what you’ve been doing or what you’re going to be doing. I encourage you to try out different things and see what works for you. Practice whatever you choose to do for a few days and pay attention to your mood. Does the routine make a difference?

If you’re unsure of where to start, here are a few ideas:

Take a warm bath half an hour before bed. A cleansing ritual can relax you and prepare your body and mind for a restful sleep.

Write in a journal first thing in the morning. Note a few things you’re grateful for and reflect on where you’re at. Writing regularly can help you to be more present because you’re allowing yourself time get perspective.

Take a page out of my friend’s book at wash your hands mindfully. Spending a few extra seconds or minutes to really focus on what you’re doing can calm your mind and give yourself a moment to pause in your day.

Spend one or two minutes before each new activity and do a mindfulness or breathing exercise.

Do you have a decompression routine? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!


Cassandra Van Dyck

Foodie Friday – 3 Quick Snack Ideas for Caregivers


You probably know the feeling well. You’ve eaten breakfast, but it’s not quite time for lunch, or you’ve had your mid-day meal, but there’s still a few hours before dinner time. Maybe you’re busy, and you just can’t quite fit in the time to make a full, but you need to eat something to keep you going. You’re hungry, and you need to eat something quick! But what to eat? Read on for a few healthy, quick snack ideas for caregivers!

Nut Butter on Fruit

There are so many possibilities depending on what you have on hand! Here’s some of my favourites:

peanut butter on sliced banana

almond butter on apple slices with cinnamon

almond butter on figs

pumpkin seed butter on strawberries


We’ve shared some wonderful recommendations here, but I’ve got a secret smoothie hack to share with you today! If you’re like me, you may have made smoothies before and felt hungry 30 minutes after finishing it. If you struggle with this too, add fat! A teaspoon of coconut oil or butter, some nut butter, or half an avocado should do the trick.

Yam Toast

Slice yam thinly and pop it in the toaster! You might have to toast it a few times, depending on what sort of consistency you’d like to achieve. Top with avocado and salt and pepper if you’d like something savoury, or (you guessed it) nut butter, if you’d prefer a sweeter snack.

What snacks do you reach for when you’re hungry? We’d love to hear from you in our comments!

Cassandra Van Dyck


‘Lessons from a Caregiver’ Book Review

Every time I read a caregiving or self-care related book I learn something new to add to my caregiver’s toolbox.  It’s a real education,  self-education, self-paced.  ‘Lessons from a Caregiver’ by Laurel A. Wicks (2009), was such a book.

She begins by quoting from Harper Lee’s book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:

‘…you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.. until you climb into his skin and walk around in it..’

I’m happy to share with you what I’ve learned, just as I have these past few years since I started contributing to the blog.  I hope it has been helpful for you, as helpful as it has been for me.

Wicks teaches me how to recognize the signs of a stroke:

First, ask the person to smile.

Ask the person to talk.

Give a simple sentence and ask the person to repeat it.

Ask the person to raise both arms.  If they have any trouble doing these things, call 911.

Still another test is to ask him to stick out his tongue.  If the tongue goes to one side and then the other but not straight out, it is another sign of a stroke.

I also learned about two tests for diagnosing Alzheimer’s.  One is the MMSE (Mini Mental State Exam)  or the more comprehensive MoCA test: (Montreal Cognitive Assessment).  When  I tried to download these tests I found I couldn’t but I did find one short 5-minute assessment test for the non-health professional.  If you’re interested I’ll give you the URL, just leave a comment.

Finally, Wicks recommends two books  by Buddhist author Pema Chodron (excuse me for not putting the dots over the ‘o’s’, I don’t know how to do that.)

These books are:

‘Awakening Love and Kindness (Boston: Shambala Press, 1996)

“Comfortable with Uncertainty : 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion’ (Boston: Shambala Press, 2003)

I hope my brief review has proved helpful. I plan to do more reviews in the next while. Just to give you a heads up, one of my reviews is about the timely topic of resilience, and the other is on loneliness.  If you have any books you’d like to suggest I read and review, just leave a comment. They have to be available at the library, however.

From, blogger and bookworm

Calm Pond

What I Wish I Knew Back Then: George

what I wish I knew back then george jpeg

Our blog writing team gets together each season to discuss what’s working, what’s not, and what we need to post more of. At our most recent gathering, we talked about breathing some life in to the What I Wish I Knew Back Then series. 

In our May/June Family Caregivers’ Grapevine, George shared some insight in to his journey caring for his father before he passed away. George was quoted in Navigating New Terrain: The Male Caregivers’ Journey, but we thought it would be pertinent to publish some more of his thoughts and tips, since they may help some of you on your caregiving journeys. 

Thank you so much for sharing your story, George!

Who did you care for?
My father
For how long?
2 years
What kinds of things did you do to help?
Daily check-ins to see how he was doing as he had a progressive disease of dementia. I also took him to doctors appointments, specialist appointments and eye appointments and frequent trips to emergency. Getting his medication and making sure he was taking it was also on the list. I visited him and my mother frequently to ensure everyone was safe and secure. I also had to monitor my Mother who was having a very difficult time with his health physically and emotionally. I took him to the Emergency room several times as his illness progressed and had to help to try and make an informed decision on whether to go ahead with two surgeries.
What impact did caring for your parents have on you emotionally?
It’s emotionally devastating and depressing to see a loved one slowly disintegrate physically and mentally before your eyes. It also alters your relationships with other family members. It was very difficult. The biggest challenge was not having a plan and not having the training to develop a plan. Once we understood what we were dealing with it was much better. Complicating the progressive nature of my fathers dementia was that he developed a potentially fatal aortic aneurysm and if not treated he could die at any moment when the aneurysm burst. We were lucky in that I had taken Dad to emergency and while we were there he asked why his chest was bumping up and down. The Dr did a cat scan and found the aneurysm. Luckily, the ER doctor had a mentor who was just starting an experimental procedure that may provide a relief for the aneurysm. We signed up for this and so now we were working on two life altering problems. There was a good possibility that the pins from the stent might cause the aneurysm to break while they were doing the surgery so this was very stressful. When Dad had his operation with this new experimental procedure unfortunately he had a heart attack but they were able to bring him back. Once that was under control we went back to the dementia problems. As dementia progresses the thought processes get more dysfunctional. In my father’s case he was not connecting with reality any more. I remember getting a call from my Mom at 3 am saying she couldn’t cope any more as my father was trying to climb out his bedroom window. When I got there, he refused to go to the hospital. People with dementia can be very suspicious and I had to talk him into going in to get his back looked at as he said it was hurting. On the way to the ER he was hallucinating and seeing people on the road in front of the car and he grabbed the wheel a few times to avoid hitting these imaginary people. So seeing your father who was totally in control all his life acting in this odd fashion was extremely stressful and I was in survivor mode as I didn’t know what was coming up and he was going to do minute to minute. The 30 minute drive to the hospital ER was the longest drive of my life. Dementia is a challenging disease as the patient will frequently stay up all night and sleep during the day. Also, they may decide to go for a long walk at 3 am thinking they are in some other part of the word.  With a disease like progressive dementia, there is another challenge. Basically when your parent gets a progressive dementia, the parent you knew and loved is gone. It is replaced by a new person who looks just like your old parent but comes with a brand new set of perspective, values and memories. So on top of caregiving you must go through a grieving process just like they had died already while at the same time providing the care that everyone needs.

Another impact was when we left after a visit at the care home, he would always ask “Can I come home today?” It was heartbreaking on a daily basis. I also had to aggregate information in order to make some extremely difficult decisions on whether he should have surgeries or not at his advanced age. These were both terrible decisions to make as in both cases the alternative to not having surgery could be fatal or the surgery itself
could be fatal. What a horrible decision to have to make.
What kinds of support did you have in your caregiving journey?
Support was very limited really. The doctor shortage doesn’t help anybody. Being confronted with a disease without training is kind of like the ridiculousness of having a
baby without any training. Babies don’t come with a manual. Why not? The biggest challenge which drains you emotionally is first not knowing what to do and then wondering if you’re doing the right thing. Not knowing where to go for help is a problem. Also, when there is a problem at 2 am where can you get the help you need? The challenge of caring for someone with severe health challenges also means it’s a 24×7 responsibility and something can go wrong at any time. And if someone is prone to running away there are other challenges. Without the internet, our family would have been totally lost as there are so many factions that require examination and execution.
Complex care is challenging as you don’t know what to do and you often have to help treat the patient as well as the loved ones around him. In my case this meant not only helping my father but providing emotional support with my mother and sister. Often times, other family members have completely diametrically opposed ideas on what the care should be and this makes a bad situation even worse. In addition some family members tend to downplay how sick. Once diagnosed, there can be a problem with wait times to get into a care home and then there is the financial hit that the family takes of 80% of their income going to the government. Also the amount of paperwork involved with all of this is overwhelming. Once he was admitted to a hospital he tried to escape several times so had to have a security guard on the floor to keep him in. He was in a room with 3 other men with dementia. When we went back 6 months later at least one of the men was still in the room. The fear of the unknown is huge for these situations. At hospital a social worker gets involved and then you’re told that there is a lottery for where the person ends up. In our case, my father may have been placed in a home over 30 miles away which would have made it impossible for my Mom to visit regularly. All of a sudden a very normal life is turned upside down for both my Mother and Father.
What helped most?
What helped most was getting educated in order to build an effective care plan which was overwhelming at first. When a loved one is struck with a disease it is extremely challenging to know what to do as the disease is complex and needs care and attention from many sectors. In my case, I had to navigate the physical disease as well as the mental disease and I was trained in neither. There is also the emotion of knowing that your father is alive but is gone so another patient added to the list is yourself. Grieving his death while he is still alive is a very strange experience. In order to get help you have to navigate the health care system which is extremely difficult when it comes to intangible problems like mental health. Extensive research online provided us with several practical educational aids to get educated. In the beginning you don’t even know what questions to ask. Then, drilling deeper I found practical guides on how to deal with dementia patients and specifically how to answer many of the hard questions that they will ask you. This was a great help. But often the patient just won’t cooperate and it really rips at your soul. The mental health system is even more complex to navigate. I can understand how difficult this is for practitioners as the patient appears normal but isn’t.
What hurt?
Nobody including yourself understanding the scope of the illness and how to care for it
effectively and practically. The lack of mental health resources was also a problem. The other challenge is family members blaming you for the wrong care, lack of care or other reasons. Often the other family members are suffering and just need to focus the blame on someone and the person leading the care is often the target of this.
What kind of positive things did you get from caregiving?
Knowing that you were taking care of someone in their darkest hours and that they had taken care of you all your life. It was nice to be able to give back even though the sorrow was often overwhelming. Once I realized that I had to grieve that my father had gone even though he was still alive, things got better. It was like there was a new chapter of the book and I could work on that in a positive way.
What were some of the challenges?
The scope of illness was huge and not knowing where to go for help and once knowing where to go how you could manipulate the system to get what you needed out of it.
Things like wait times were challenging. Psychiatric drugs are also incredibly challenging to the non-healthcare person. Many drugs are used and it is not known at the time if they will make the patient better or worse. Adding to this is that many of the drugs take 3 to 6 weeks to become effective. Side effects can be very dangerous to both the patient and the caregiver.
What sorts of things did you do for yourself to help cope? 
I kept researching looking for the tools and the answers so that I had an idea of what it was I was trying to manage.
Is there anything you needed that could have helped that you didn’t get?
It seems to me that a package of education would be very effective. In my case, there was the emergency, the hospital stay, the ongoing treatment, the acquisition of the care home and then having to help my Mom emotionally and financially. This involved lots of people, lots of forms and lots of worry on how to pay for it all.
As a male, do you feel that you faced any particular challenges or obstacles?
As a male providing care to another male I don’t believe I encountered any major obstacles. That being said, I think that anybody who is a Mom has years of valuable training and experience that many men don’t have as they lack that experience of caring for someone. However, if I rewrote this paper about the care we gave a female member of the family then it would be entirely different as often the health issues can involve personal, physical and hygiene issues that a male would not be able to effectively deliver.
Do you have any advice for men starting out on their caregiving journey?
My only advice would be to try and gather all the practical information about the care of the specific disease as you can and build an effective plan. Getting the right documents from an experienced source is gold. However, one of the problems is that you don’t know what questions to ask if you’re starting from scratch.
I think that finding a caring social worker or care worker will save everyone a lot of headache and heartache.
Anything else you’d like to add? 
I think a good package (education) would be very helpful:
1. A description of the disease
2. Symptoms
a. Memory
b. Thinking and Reasoning
c. Making Judgments and Decisions
d. Planning and Performing Familiar Tasks
e. Changes in Personality and Behaviour
3. Causes
4. Diagnosis
5. Treatment
a. Drugs and Expectations
b. Complications of Drugs
6. Creating a Safe and Supportive Environment
7. Complications
The above covers the patient, but what about the family members impacted by the disease. This can also be very complicated and gut wrenching. A practical guide tailored to the disease would be very useful which might include things like the hourly routines and log books of medicines administered, etc. Also, emergency numbers that can help 24 hours a day. How to get in touch with a social worker for guidance and to find out what assistance might be available would be very valuable as the healthcare world is huge and unknown to someone like myself. Also a practical package of what to do when something happens in the day of the patient or how to conduct a conversation with the patient so you don’t cause extreme stress to him ie. Don’t ask them what day or time it is or what they did today, instead talk about the weather as it is now. I think having access to a flight plan is the most important thing that can be offered in a case like this.
Any other comments? 
This comment is related to when I helped my Mom. If the disease is terminal and the patient wants to stay at home, explore the Hospice options that can provide excellent care at home (my Mom used this – she suffered congestive heart failure) and the nurse and doctor resources were wonderful.


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



Mindful Monday no. 54 – A Writing Exercise to Encourage Self-Kindness

a writing exercise to encourage self-kindness

Set aside half an hour and find an inspiring place in your home, outside in a park, or in your favourite coffee shop and get out a pen and paper. Read the instructions, then set a timer for 10 minutes and write without stopping.

Think of someone you love dearly and picture them in the same situation you are in. What would you say to them if they said they were struggling to do everything as well as they wanted to? Would you encourage them to work harder, or would you tell them to be easier on themselves and remind them of all the good they’re doing? Write a letter to a friend who is going through exactly the same thing you are. What would you tell them?

How did that feel? Treating ourselves with the same love and care we’d treat someone else with is a helpful way to get some perspective. Our expectations of self are usually far greater than what we expect from others.


For the full article, click here. 

Cassandra Van Dyck

Foodie Friday – 3 Bars to Fuel Your Day


When you’re a caregiver, you may spend a lot of time outside of your home. If you’re not working, you might be dashing around to different appointments, picking up prescriptions, grocery shopping, or running other errands. If you’re at home, it’s a lot easier to access food when you’re hungry. You can toast a piece of bread or heat up a bowl of soup. When you’re out, it can be more challenging. Fast food restaurants are convenient but offer few economical and healthy options.

Preparing some snacks to take with you on your journeys may require a bit more work when you’re home, but it will save you time and money in the long run. Eating nutritious snacks when you’re hungry will give you fuel and prevent energy crashes. 

Eating a bar is a great way to quickly get some nutrition when you’re out and about. Read on for three tasty recipes!

PUMPKIN OATMEAL ANYTIME SQUARES | These are wonderful if you have a sugar craving and you’d like to avoid your local pastry shop! Get the full recipe here.

DIY FRUIT, NUT AND FLOWER CHOCOLATE BARS | Chocolate? You read that correctly! Look for chocolate that’s low in sugar and add in lots of nuts and dried fruits and you’ll have yourself a beautiful afternoon snack! Click here for the details.

BREAKFAST BARS | Do you need to rush out the door in the morning? Take one (or two) of these with you to make sure you don’t skip the most important meal of the day!


Cassandra Van Dyck


Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR blog graphic

You may have tried Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) in a yoga or meditation class without even realizing you were trying it. PMR is an anxiety-relief exercise that repeats two steps over and over:

tense your muscles

 release your muscles

When you are experiencing chronic stress and anxiety, you might forget what it feels like to be relaxed. By tensing your muscles and releasing them, you are reminding your body and mind that it’s possible to release tension in your body – both physical and mental. “This exercise will help you to lower your overall tension and
stress levels, and help you relax when you are feeling anxious. It can also help reduce
physical problems such as stomachaches and headaches, as well as improve your
sleep,” says Anxiety BC. 

Are you ready to give it a try?

WHAT YOU NEED | 15 minutes, a comfortable chair, loose clothing and bare feet. Avoid lying down if you don’t want to fall asleep!

STEP ONE: TENSION | Take a few deep breaths and settle in to your seat. Choose a muscle group or a part of your body to focus on first, such as your left foot or your right thigh. Take a deep and slow breath and tense the body part as hard as you can for five seconds.

STEP TWO: RELEASE | With a swift exhale, release the muscles you were tensing. You should notice a drastic difference in how that muscle group or body part is feeling.

Take a few breaths, in and out, and luxuriate in the relaxed feeling for ten seconds or so. Repeat steps one and two with different parts of your body for as long as you wish. 


*Anxiety BC has a wonderful, thorough handout if you wish to further explore PMR


Cassandra Van Dyck