Today’s Stigma

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. MDABC has decided focus on stigma– something that several communities of people experience, including individuals who struggle with mental health.
If you would like to contribute to future writing assignments, please contact: devassist@lookoutsociety.ca 

 

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Stigma is defined as a mark of shame. Years ago, those living with mental illness were publicly shamed, persecuted, and punished. Today, society no longer outwardly condemns mental illness, but the sad reality is, people who live with mental health challenges still associate their illnesses with sentiments of shame, embarrassment, and guilt.

Today, misinformed social circles tend to mock the experience of mental illness. To compound matters, the media often demonizes mental illness, and eagerly reports news of violent crimes committed by people living with mental health challenges.  What the media fails to report, however, is that comparably, those who live with mental illness are less likely to commit violent acts than the general population. In fact, those living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, than be violent offenders themselves.

People say stigma has changed, and that mental illness is no longer feared. But, society still recoils at the very mention of psychiatric wards, forensic hospitals, and streets beset with homelessness. The same underlying societal fears exist today, as they did years ago. Albeit, to a lesser degree.

Currently, there is little certainty around the causes of mental illness. The human brain is still a relatively unexplored frontier, and guesswork often mars the credibility of the field of psychiatry. Despite recent breakthroughs, modern medicine has yet to dispel the stigma associated with mental illness. We, as members of society, fear what we do not understand, and only when mental illness and addiction are better understood, will societal and cultural misinformation be overcome.

Stigma has been referred to as, a “social disease.”  Like any disease, stigma can be spread. Cultural mediums, such as film, music, literature, and art, can all propagate stigma. Today’s horror films, for example, often revolve around the theme of mental illness, and frequently, these artforms are inaccurate, exaggerated for effect, and fictionalized.

But, the spread of stigma can also be prevented. Knowledge is powerful, and mental health education has the potential to eliminate stigma.

Mental health issues have gained a lot of attention in recent years. Nowadays, we frequently hear of celebrities coming out of the mental health closet, and revealing their histories of mental illness and addiction. As public figures become increasingly outspoken about mental illness, those of us with lived experience may feel more empowered to make our voices heard. Ultimately, what it will take to finally eliminate stigma are our collective voice, and our willingness to stand up to those who seek to brand us with a mark of shame.

 

-Andrew

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How to Save a Life – Raising Awareness of Suicide

 

MDABC would like to thank this month’s blog contributor– a passionate writer and crusader of mental health awareness, Andrew. By volunteering to share his first-hand experience, Andrew is able to inspire readers and provide insight through his constructive, stigma-free words.


“I would’ve stayed up with you all night

had I known how to save a life.” — The Fray


Nearly 4,000 Canadians die each year by suicide, at an average of 10 suicides per day. For each death by suicide, there are as many as 100 suicide attempts. Today, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in Canada.

This has been a taboo subject, there’s no denying it. In fact, the very act of attempting suicide was once a crime in Canada. It wasn’t until the social change movement of the 60s and 70s that people began to adopt more sympathetic attitudes towards suicide, and understand its driving factors. In the

past decade especially, anti-stigma awareness campaigns have also contributed to public education and a move away from taboo and toward hope. Still, barriers persist.

It’s hard for society to wrap its head around the concept of suicide. Some social groups still view it as a sin – an act deserving of divine punishment. Other groups see suicide as an act of weakness, and selfishness. It is important to note that suicide is not an act attributable to personal faults.

Among the risk factors associated with suicide, are mental illness, and substance misuse disorders. And there is a great deal of stigma associated with mental health challenges.

The topic of stigma is important when discussing suicide because it’s self-stigma, or internalized shame that sometimes prevents people from reaching out for help. Education is an important tool to develop positive changes in attitudes towards suicide. Learn the warning signs associated with suicide, and what preventative measures to take if you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts.

Here are some of the warning signs from HelpGuide.org:

Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm.

Seeking out lethal means

Preoccupation with death

No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped. Belief that things will never get better or change.

Self-loathing, self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden.

Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.

Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.

Withdrawing from others

Self-destructive behavior – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex.

Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.

 

Suicide is preventable. If you are a co-worker, friend or family member noticing these signs in someone close to you, there are several ways YOU CAN HELP:

  • Try to get your loved one help. Call a crisis line or encourage the person to see a mental health professional.
  • Provide support if possible. Spend time with your loved one, doing healthy activities and check in on them regularly.
  • Remove potential means of suicide, and help develop a safety plan. This plan can include identifying any potential triggers that may worsen suicidal thoughts and behaviours, contact information for crisis help lines and professional supports, and a set of steps to take in case of an emergency.
  • Let the person know they are loved, valued, and cared about. Tell them you’re there for them.

Suicidal crises are almost always temporary, and suicidal thinking is usually associated with problems that can be treated by a mental health professional. But, it is important that anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts not keep them bottled in, because they may very well worsen. It’s OK to talk about suicide.


I’d like to end this article with a personal story, because I believe stories of lived experience can inspire hope in people who are struggling.

For a long time, I struggled with suicidal ideation. There’s even been an attempt in my past. Today, I live free of thoughts of suicide, and I’ve been receiving treatment for mental illness for several years now. And, I see that there is, and has always been, hope. But, I wish I’d reached out for help earlier, because I spent a lot of time in pain. It wasn’t long after reaching out for help, that my pain began to ease. I’ve learned along my journey to transform pain into gain: I’ve grown, strengthened, and learned. This has been a process, and although I still struggle from time to time, I’m so very grateful to be in recovery.

–Andrew


Suicide prevention and education services:

For youth in BC and Canada –

For British-Columbians (adults and youth):

For anyone reading online:

🎶 Arts, H’Arts and Awareness 🎶

Having recently merged with the Lookout Society, MDABC is proud to promote the 9th annual H’Arts for Homelessness fundraiser. The upcoming event celebrates diversity in the Arts with nine live artists, musicians, dancers, performers and more. The diversity of entertainment will take place at the beautiful Imperial venue on October 5th– making for a great evening for an even greater cause.

H'Arts for the Homeless

On the topic of diversity in the arts, this post is dedicated to art, artists and their capacity for self-exploration, community building and awareness building initiatives. As per the Canadian Art Therapy Association art and wellness go hand-in-hand, clinically known as Art Therapy and is defined below.

“Art therapy combines the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding. Using imagery, colour and shape as part of this creative therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings can be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.”


Art and Self: For some, verbal self-expression can be a real challenge. The combination of finding the right words to articulate emotions in addition to finding the right person to listen, could be perceived as unattainable for some. Art as a creative outlet has the capacity to remove those verbal obstacles and forge new opportunities for wellness.

As per the CMHA’s piece on Mental Health for Life, “Spiritual well-being means getting to know ourselves, discovering our values, and learning to be at peace with who we are. It also involves finding and connecting to something bigger than ourselves and living with purpose. Spirituality can give us meaning and solace, help us overcome challenges, and help us build connections with others.”

Art and Other Artists: Above and beyond self-exploration, sharing your art with artists can also prove beneficial to mental wellness. Through workshops and classes—such as those provided by Vancouver Recovery Through Art Society (VRTAS)—one can extend beyond the individual into a supportive and encouraging environment. This broader community creates a safe space for dialogue and appreciation of artworks.

The Art Studios is a safe, respectful and acceptinVRTASg community where people with major mental illnesses and addiction engage with rehabilitation staff to recover and grow through art. The Studios offers free classes and workshops on painting, ceramics, printmaking and more. Currently 278 active clients, who have been referred by their medical professionals, enjoy the structure, warmth and hope for the future that The Art Studios provides. Close to 4000 clients have been helped since its beginning in 1994. Well-known Canadian artist Gathie Falk has nothing but praise for VRTAS stating that:

“The Art Studios has helped many people with mental health illness and addictions to learn art skills, become more confident and develop new roles as artists, assistants, instructors, mentors, etc. I am very happy to endorse VRTAS (Vancouver Through Art Society) and The Art Studios it supports.”

Art, H’Arts and Awareness: Broadening an audience beyond yourself and fellow artists is an excellent way to promote awareness and reduce stigma surrounding mental health. Often inspired by personal experiences, artists are capable of providing deep insight into their backgrounds and as a result, raise awareness among individuals and communities.

This year’s H’Arts for the Homeless fundraiser on October 5th is an excellent example of using art to promote awareness. With nine live artists whose pieces will be auctioned to raise money for Lookout Society Foundation, this year’s theme is centered around the current opioid crisis and focusses on supporting and helping individuals in need.

In addition to painting, other art forms include musical performances, culinary delights, dancers and more. Together the performers, in conjunction with Lookout Society, aim to encourage meaningful dialogue, void of stigma and stereotypes, to raise money for a very worthy cause.

If you would like to join MDABC, Lookout Society and an incredible list of performers, purchase your tickets here and we’ll see you the evening of October 5th at the Imperial.


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For additional resources click the links below:

What is Self-Efficacy and How Can It Improve Our Quality of Life?

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Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to successfully manage or cope in a particular situation. When we have a low sense of our own self-efficacy, we may feel a lack of self-confidence and control which can lead to distressing feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.

Since Psychologist Albert Bandura published his 1977 research paper, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” the subject has become one of the most studied topics in psychology. Self-efficacy is an important topic among psychologists and researchers because it can have a profound impact on everything from our psychological states to our behavior and our motivation.

When we want to reach a goal that we have set for ourselves, self-efficacy is essential toself-concept help us move forward towards a positive outcome. This is why people with mood disorders might remind themselves that they have gotten through a depressive episode before and that they have the ability to get through it again. This kind of hope and optimism can help us to see ourselves as capable human beings with the skills to work through tough times.

If we don’t have strong self-efficacy, what can we do? How can we get more of it? Thankfully, there are strategies that we can use to change our efficacy beliefs. The originator of the theory, Albert Bandura describes four sources of efficacy beliefs:

  1. Mastery Experiences

The most powerful source of self-efficacy is having a direct experience of mastering a task or an environment. Having success reaching a goal through effort and perseverance will help us to build our self-efficacy and our belief in ourselves. If we are feeling unsure, we can start with mastering a relatively easy task and then increase the difficulty and complexity as we begin to feel more competent.

  1. Vicarious Experiences

The second source of self-efficacy comes from our observation of people similar to ourselves succeeding while using perseverance and effort to overcome obstacles. Seeing that other people learn and grow can strengthen our beliefs that we too can master the activities needed for success. One great way to increase our vicarious experiences is to read biographies of people who we admire in order to greater understand the paths they took to became “masters” in their field.

  1. Verbal Persuasion

The people who have influenced our development such as our parents, teachers, siblings or coaches may have either strengthened or weakened our belief that we have what it takes to succeed. Having people who persuade us that that we can master the skills needed for life makes it more likely that we will put it the effort and sustain it when we have set-backs.

If we weren’t lucky enough to have people encouraging us to keep trying as we grew up, we can make it a priority as adults to surround ourselves with people who are supportive and who let us know that they believe in our abilities.

  1. Emotional & Physiological States

Our self-efficacy is also impacted by the emotional or physiological state in which we find ourselves. Depression, for example, will decrease our confidence. When we are feeling tired, sad or anxious, we may perceive our self-efficacy as weak. When we are well-rested and happy, we may perceive our self-efficacy as strong. Reflecting on our emotional state before we start a new task will help us to understand that we may be underestimating our abilities. Learning to self-regulate our emotional states and practicing self-compassion can also help us to have more realistic appraisals of our abilities.

Psychologist James Maddux has suggested a fifth route to self-efficacy through “imaginal experiences”, the art of visualizing ourselves behaving effectively or successfully in a given situation. If we can visualize ourselves completing a task successfully or handling a difficult interaction competently, we can increase our optimism about our potential for success.

How do you feel about your level of self-efficacy? Although it is not something that most of think about regularly, we can see that having a belief in our ability to cope and even thrive in life can be a welcome boost to our self-concept and quality of life. Building self-efficacy cannot be done in a day, but each day we can take steps to learn new skills, handle disappointments, and deal with whatever life throws at us.

By Polly Guetta

 

 

What does recovery mean to you?

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I was recently speaking with some people who work in the mental health field just as I do, and someone asked me the question, “what does recovery mean to you?” My first thought was that mental health recovery will look different for everyone because no two people will follow the same path while they work towards positive mental health. I stumbled through an answer touching on my own experiences of depressed mood and anxiety.  I can say that I have recovered from depression and anxiety because I now feel that I have enough self-awareness and self-compassion to recognize when I am struggling, and because the coping skills and support network that I have developed over the years allow me to feel confident that I can face my concerns head-on. That doesn’t mean that I am not susceptible to future periods of depression and anxiety, and so, I have accepted that I will always have to be vigilant and proactive when it comes to my mental health.

The question about recovery got me thinking, and I started wondering about how other people and agencies define recovery. The Mental Health Commission of Canada answers the “what is recovery?” question like this:

” The concept of “recovery” in mental health refers to living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life, even when a person may be experiencing ongoing symptoms of a mental health problem or illness. Recovery journeys build on individual, family, cultural, and community strengths and can be supported by many types of services, supports, and treatments. 

Recovery principles, including hope, dignity, self-determination, and responsibility, can be adapted to the realities of different life stages, and to the full range of mental health problems and illnesses. Recovery is not only possible, it should be expected.”

Because mental illnesses vary greatly in severity, duration, and presentation, recovery cannot be narrowly defined as the absence of any symptoms of the illness. While someone who has experienced an episode of depression may go on to never experience the symptoms of clinical depression again, someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (for example) will most likely live with some symptoms of the illness throughout their life. However, if we look at the way recovery is defined in the quote above, the person living with an illness can still recover because they can become empowered to live a satisfying life. Therefore, a person who is living with a mental illness can also be a person with good mental health.

The recovery model of mental health service recognizes the importance of looking at mental health holistically while supporting people with mental illness to create their own recovery plans, set their own goals, build on their strengths, and engage with the communities in which they live.

Perhaps recovery is best thought of as a process or even a practice. It is a journey rather than a destination. To everyone who is living with ongoing mental health concerns and who is practicing recovery, I hope that you will find the path towards wellness that is just right for you.

By Polly Guetta

 

 

Self-Talk: A Powerful Self-Help Tool

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Each day tens of thousands of thoughts stream through our brain. Some of them deliberate, some automatic, and many completely random. However, many of the thoughts we have act as a running dialogue, which we call self-talk. When this self-talk contains negative of self-deprecating messages, it can have a big impact on how we feel about ourselves. For example, if our self-talk is telling us “I’m not good enough” or “I’m incapable”, it can result in self-doubt and leave us feeling depressed, anxious, and defeated. These messages often can start to play on repeat and get stronger the more that we say them, a process called rumination. Our brain may also seek out information in our current or past experiences that provide evidence to support.

So, what can we do to reduce the impact of negative self-talk?  The good news is there isdont_believe_everything_you_think_1 plenty we can do to intervene with the negative messages we are relaying to ourselves.  One of the most powerful way to do this is to re-shape and replace our self-talk through a process called thought restructuring.

Steps for Shifting Self-Talk:

  • The first step in the process is to recognize our negative self-talk in the first place. Often our negative self-talk happens quite automatically, so it can be helpful to pay attention to the dialogue running through our mind. Journaling our thoughts is a powerful way of doing this.
  • Next, we want to take those thoughts we identified and start to dispute ones that are not fair, balanced or realistic. We often assume our thoughts are facts. However, if we dig a bit into the evidence that is supporting them, we sometimes find that we are basing the thought on limited or skewed evidence.
  • Finally, we want to replace our initial thought with a more positive, self-compassionate, or realistic thought. This can be a completely new thought or a reframe our initial thought. Our initial thoughts that “I’m not good enough” and “I’m incapable” could now look like “I am good enough” and “I have many ways that I am capable”.

These new thoughts may seem strange or have limited buy-in at first. But often the more we practice restructuring our thoughts, the more it allows us to experience shifts in our patterns of thinking and feeling. These shifts can ultimately lead to meaningful changes in our perceptions and experiences over time!

By Rose Record Lemon, Counsellor at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC

http://www.mdabc.net/counselling-and-wellness-centre-mdabc 

Meet Judith Vosko – One of MDABC’s Wonderful Volunteers

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How did you come to be a volunteer at the MDABC?

I heard Dr. Remick interviewed on CBC Radio, and I wanted to contribute to an organization that was working to improve people’s mental health.

What kind of volunteer work have you done at MDABC?

I have been a Greeter at the psychiatric office.

What do you find most rewarding about doing this work?

I enjoy helping new patients, who often arrive with questions and uncertainty about what to expect from their first appointment. I also get positive feedback from answering questions, often over the phone, about how to get help from MDABC.

What kind of programs would you like to see offered in the future?

In the past there were some workshops such as horticulture therapy and making a sanctuary that were popular. It would be great to offer some of them again since we have so many new people.

What are three things that you do to feel happy and well?

I go Nordic Walking, visit local farmer’s markets and read mystery novels.

 

 

Overcoming Negativity Bias

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Negativity bias is the name given by psychologists to the human tendency to be much more likely to focus on and to remember negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences.

Human beings developed a negativity bias—that is, they evolved to notice and respond more forcibly to the negative because this bias helped our our ancestors to stay alive. Thousands of years ago, when we were living in survival mode and real danger was always present, it was more important to escape dangerous (negative) situations than it was to approach opportunity. However, in many ways, this bias no longer serves us in modern-day life.

A strong negativity bias can severely impact our sense of wellbeing and quality of life.  Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the negativity bias. The list below includes some ideas taken from the study of positive psychology and learned optimism which can help you to rewire your brain for increased positivity.

Some strategies to re-wire your brain:

  • Be aware of your bias. Knowing that you have a negativity bias will help you to recognize when and why you’re dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation.
  • When something positive happens to you, try to hold on to the feeling for a few extra moments. Replay it in your mind a few times so that the memory of the positive experience gets stored in your long-term memory.
  • Scatter simple pleasures throughout your day in addition to the bigger ticket events (like vacations) that you are looking forward to. Simply put, make sure that you make time to do more of what you love.
  • Gretchen Rubin—owner of “The Happiness Project”–recommends that you create an “area of refuge” in your brain. Have a list of positive memories, quotes, or lines from poems or favorite books—that you can think of whenever you find your mind wandering into negative territory. You can also make your home into a sanctuary in which you display art, photos, and objects which remind you of the things/people/ideas that you love.
  • Make gratitude a habit. Journal each night about all of the good things that happened to you throughout the day. Be specific! You can also think of three things that you feel grateful for every morning before you get out of bed. By focusing on the good you’ll gradually be rewiring your brain for happiness. If you do this long enough, it will eventually become a habit.
  • Keep a “well done” list. Every time you accomplish something (no matter how small), face your fears, help someone out, or receive a compliment, make a note of it on your well done list. When you are feeling bad about yourself, bring out your list and remind yourself of the good stuff you do.
  • Practice mindful awareness of your emotions. Try to accept yourself for having negative emotions and realize that they are part of the common human experience. Observe your emotions without judging them or acting on them. Do not let them define who you are. So instead of thinking “I am an angry, jealous person”, say “I am experiencing some feelings of anger and jealousy in this moment.”
  • Learn more about how to rewire your brain. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom”.  Martin Seligman has written about positive psychology topics in books such as The Optimistic Child, Child’s Play, Learned Optimism, and Authentic Happiness. His most recent book, Flourish, was published in 2011.

By Polly Guetta

 How to be a Compassionate Friend (to yourself!)

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Do people often tell you that you are too hard on yourself? Do you have a critical inner voice that keeps telling you that you are a failure, a loser, or just not good enough? Are you willing to accept that your inner critic is not really your friend and that a lot of the stuff you are telling yourself is simply not true?

The study of self-compassion encourages us to accept that the self-critic exists in most of us but some of us just have self-critics that are meaner, nastier, and louder than others. Some researchers in self-compassion assert that we develop that self-critical inner voice to keep us safe and to avoid taking dangerous risks and when we look at it this way, it is possible to have compassion for that negative voice- it is trying to protect us but just going about it the wrong way!

If you feel that your inner critic’s harsh voice is contributing to feelings of depression, anxiety, or inferiority, here are some steps that you can take to minimize that voice:

Step 1 – Begin to develop an understanding of the commonality of human experience. What this means is that when we accept that everyone is flawed and imperfect in their own unique way, it is so much easier to accept our own flaws. We can see that perfection is unattainable, and that we all screw up sometimes, make the wrong choice, or say the wrong thing. We all suffer and feel pain.

When people tell me that they feel that they are weird or that they messed something up, I don’t try to tell them that they aren’t weird or that they haven’t made a mistake. Instead, I usually say, “yeah, you’re weird but so is everyone else” or “you may have made a mistake, it’s probably because you’re a human being and human beings make mistakes.”

Accepting that we aren’t perfect doesn’t mean that we stop growing, learning, and striving for our goals. It just means that we do our best within whatever limitations we are living with and don’t beat ourselves up when things don’t go the way we planned.

Step 2–  Practice mindfulness. It’s amazing how much negative self-talk goes on just under your awareness. Becoming aware of the negative messages that you are telling yourself is essential to the process of getting more control over the emotional impact that the inner critic’s voice is having. Once you are aware of the voice, pay attention to it, and then remember that the thoughts you are having are not facts. Look for evidence that the message is inaccurate and that the voice is exaggerating, magnifying, or even fabricating the truth.

Step 3– Find balance in your life by developing a counter-voice to the inner critic. The counter-voice can be thought of as a compassionate friend who offers soothing, empowering messages while telling the inner critic to quiet down. Think of the way that you would speak to a child who is hurting and apply that voice to yourself.

Step 4– Visualize your compassionate friend. Writing the visualization down can be helpful. Think about what your compassionate friend might look like…. maybe it is a younger/older version of yourself or maybe it is an animal that you find beautiful and inspiring.  Explore what your compassionate friend sounds like, and what tone of voice he or she uses.  Most importantly, try to think of some of the things that your compassionate friend tells you when you are feeling like you need support and love.

An example of a compassionate message would be something like “ I know that you are feeling pain right now and, unfortunately, it’s a part of life to feel pain like this. You are going to get through this because you are strong and full of love and spirit.”

When you feel down or afraid, try to use this visualization and allow your compassionate friend to reassure you, soothe you, and allow you to feel loved and cared for.

Try this free Self-compassion Meditation with Anastasia Amour

By Polly Guetta

Self-Help Book Recommendation

It can be difficult to choose a self-help book when there are so many titles out there. With this in mind, we asked Valentina Chichiniova, one of our Counsellors at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC, to recommend a book which is easy to follow, enjoyable to read, and which offers real tools and strategies that you can use in your journey to mental health and wellbeing.

Book Recommendation: The mindful Way workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself From Depression and Emotional Distress by Teasdale, M. Williams & Z. Segal

the-mindful-wayThis book is an amazing resource for anyone who does not have the time to go to a mindfulness therapy program or has been through the program but wants a clear structure of how to continue with the practice on their own!

The authors walk you through the theory behind the mindfulness practice in a clear, easy to understand language.  The carefully organised chapters guide you step-by-step in you journey to change unhelpful ways of thinking and acting when dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress.  Each chapter clearly explains and describes the specific mindfulness practices for you to try each week.  In addition, to help you with the process, the authors ask you specific questions to reflect on and give you tools of how to keep track of your progress.  Furthermore, they give you examples of plenty of comments by other people who have been through the program so that you do not feel alone in some of the challenges you may be facing.

Finally, you are given the guided meditations on a CD with the option to download them as an MP3 on your phone, tablet, or home computer- perfect for easy access anytime anywhere!

Enjoy!