Living Well Counselling Blog - Calgary Counselling Services
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Have you ever felt that you feel “too much,” or that you feel things “too deeply”? Or, have you ever noticed that you are acutely attuned to bright lights, itchy clothing, strong scents and loud noises? There’s a chance that you could be a highly sensitive person, or, a HSP for short. Recent research has found that roughly 20% of people are born HSPs, indicating that HSPs have a hypersensitive nervous system at a genetic level. This means that your sensitivity is not something you are able to just “turn off.”
If this sounds like you, don’t panic! Being highly sensitive can have many uniquely positive aspects, such as a greater capacity for empathy, a rich sensory life (i.e., a deeper appreciation of food, music, nature and the arts), a greater awareness of nuances and subtleties in meaning, a greater emotional awareness or attunement, and a higher degree of creativity.
Of course, if you are a HSP and you’re reading this, you likely already know that being highly sensitive can also bring its own set of challenges; the biggest of which is an increased vulnerability to emotional overwhelm. The sheer amount of sensory information HSPs are constantly taking in can sometimes be “too much,” which can result in fatigue, stress, anxiety, or pain. HSPs can also be more highly affected by other people’s emotions. For example, being near someone who is very upset could be more distressing for someone who is highly sensitive. Some research has found that high sensitivity can also be associated with unhealthy perfectionism. HSPs may also need more alone time to retreat and “recharge,” although it is a misconception that all HSPs are introverts. A more general challenge that some HSPs face is simply feeling abnormal or damaged in a culture that seems to devalue sensitivity and introversion.
To reap the benefits of your sensitivity while shielding yourself from these pitfalls, consider trying these 9 life hacks:
Avoid multitasking with too many tasks.
Reduce the number of intense stimuli around you.
Write down your thoughts or deep emotions to declutter your brain.
Practice mindfulness meditation.
Combat burnout by noticing early warning signs.
Be comfortable with and accepting of your sensitivity. Own it shamelessly.
Use your empathy and emotional intelligence to strengthen your relationships—to become a better partner, friend, coworker, parent, and to assure your own self-worth.
Take advantage of your creativity and get involved in whatever art form you are most drawn to.
Be honest with yourself about your sensitive nature. But, be sure to acknowledge the positive aspects: more empathy, deep thinker, able to see things from a different perspective, appreciation of arts and music, and others’ positive qualities.
Disappointment is the experience you feel when you consider ‘what might have been,’ in contrast to your present circumstances. It is the recognition that you don’t have, didn’t get, or will not achieve what you wanted, as well as a way in which sadness is experienced. It is the psychological reaction to an outcome that does not meet your expectations.
Everyone faces disappointment in life, and we should not learn ways to avoid it but, rather, how to process it when it takes place. Here are four suggestions for processing disappointment:
Accepting reality – It is easy to try to blame people or circumstances for your disappointment, yet it rarely helps us to move forward. It is more important to spend time reflecting on what led you to this point. What exactly triggered your emotions? What does the disappointment really mean to you? Are you partially agreeing with the person who disappointed you? What would you or the world be like if you let go of your negative feelings? Do you think that holding on to your negative feelings helps anyone? This takes a different amount of time for each person, so give yourself the necessary time and space to ask yourself these questions. Admit that you did not get what you wished for, or are not where you expected to be, and allow your emotions to arise. Often anger and protest are present first.
Embracing sadness – Since anger allows you to continue thinking about what could have been, it is valuable to come to a place of sadness. Often, this is not our first response to disappointment, but getting here is vital, as it offers a release of the emotions that keep you from moving forward. Sadness is the recognition that your feelings are valid, but remaining in sadness, or wishing things could have gone differently, will not serve you well. You have lost something, so cry the tears, and feel the sadness as it comes.
Reframe your experience to gain perspective – We may get caught up with one idea, person, or experience, much like focusing on one part of a puzzle so much so that we lose sight of the rest. Instead of doing this, try asking for another persons’ outlook or viewing your experience from a different perspective. Disappointment took place, but it only makes up a part of your story, so take the time to look at the wider narrative, and place your disappointment within it. In the entirety of this process, do not beat yourself up; claim your experience without judgment.
Choose to Hope – Disappointment happens, but it does not have to keep you from dreaming, making plans, trusting again, and hoping. Hope is made up of excitement, and anticipation about the future. It can be a vulnerable feeling as you acknowledge the potential for disappointment, failure, or loss. We should not allow disappointment to keep us from choosing to hope.
Although it is hard, I have decided to not let disappointment rob me of experiencing the beauty of life. I have decided to hope, and cling to hope, because of its beauty, and sheer rawness. Our hope can be stronger than the possibility of disappointment. I want to live a life of hope, one in which I have dreams and expectations because I live a life in hopes of a better future. A place where every child has a home, where there isn’t abuse and addiction, a place where people flourish and live in partnership with other humans. I hope that together we can move past our disappointments and hold on to hope as we walk through the experiences of life.
Mental illness can be debilitating. Many who struggle with mental illness feel pressure to carry on with life and uphold responsibilities while in agony inside. It’s no surprise then that many who struggle with mental illness want to numb the pain so that they are able to get up and face the world. Substance abuse hardly ever exists alone. There is often an underlying factor that contributes to the need to want to use a substance. For instance, you may be suffering from depression that slows you down at work, and in an attempt to feel energized, you may want to consume alcohol. Or maybe you struggle with social anxiety. In this case you may want to smoke weed to loosen up and enjoy a house party. Whatever the underlying factor is, it is often strong enough that it draws you to your substance of choice even when you know it is harmful for you.
But you may not be ready to give it up entirely just yet. That’s ok. It is important to take steps that align with what feels right for you in order to increase the chances of you meeting your goals. If you believe you’re now at a point where you are ready to make some changes, but maybe not stop entirely, you may benefit from reading the following recommendations. For the purpose of this discussion, I will use the word “substance” in reference to any harmful behaviour that is used to cope with a stressor. Common examples are drugs, alcohol, food, social media, Netflix, sex, etc.
I want to clarify that there is a difference between substance use and addiction. An addiction often involves several accompanying symptoms such as tolerance, dependency, associated health issues, etc., while substance use is simply using a substance to cope with a particular stressor. Heavy use of a substance can eventually lead to an addiction, which is all the more reason to find healthier ways to cope.
Identify the stressors in your life that may be facilitating your need for the substance. Ask: What kinds of situations make me want to use this substance? Some common examples I have heard in the past are a. I want to smoke whenever I feel defeated b. I want to get high when I’m bored c. I want to drink when I have arguments with my partner d. I want to eat when I worry about my children e. I browse Instagram when I am unhappy with my life. Identifying your stressors may help you understand what triggers you to use your substance of choice. Your stressors may also be all-encompassing emotional experiences, the most common of which are fear/worry, sadness/depression, and anger. Or they may be contributed by unhealthy situations in your life such as a dissatisfying job, an unhappy marriage, conflictual relationships, etc.
Avoid these stressors. After identifying your stressors, a helpful first step is to avoid these stressors whenever possible. One way to do so is by taking preventative steps.
Ask: What can I do to prevent experiencing the stressor in the first place? For instance, if you want to drink when you have arguments with your partner, it may be helpful to learn healthy conflict resolution strategies so that when you do argue, it doesn’t feel like a stressful situation. If you want to smoke because your work life is stressful, you may want to carve out time for relaxation during your work day so that you are less likely to feel overwhelmed.
Identify how else to manage those stressors without using the substance. Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid all stressors, so it will helpful to learn healthy ways to cope when you do experience them.
Ask: If I didn’t have this substance, what would I do instead to cope? Another question you may ask is: What else has helped me in the past to cope with stressors? Here you are trying to identify healthy ways to regulate your emotions. Some examples can be talking to a friend, going for a run, taking a bath, practicing relaxation, or using a similar but less harmful substance e.g. a vape, non-alcoholic beer, healthier food items, etc. If you find that the source of your stress is an unhealthy situation such a dissatisfying job, you want to consider a job change. If you believe there a bigger concern at hand such as anxiety, depression or a trauma, you may want to consult with a therapist.
In the event the above strategies don’t work, it may be worthwhile to look into these free community resources. Although these sound like addictions centres, they are able to work with any individual struggling with substance use.
Adult Addiction Services
Speak to a General Practitioner or your family doctor
There are various types of attachments patterns that are taught to Psychology students, usually very early on in their programs. I recall learning about them way back in my first year Introduction to Psychology class. However, it is not until very recently that I have truly recognized how crucial our attachment patterns are in understanding both are strengths and vulnerabilities in relationships, in seeking to understand how we select our relationships and in how our relationships progress.
Typically, adult attachment patterns are grouped into one of three types: (a) secure, (b) anxious, and (c) avoidant.
These are individuals that are typically characterized as having high self-esteem. They seek out social relationships, are capable of expressing their needs and emotions with others, and enjoy being in intimate relationships.
Avoidant attachment is associated with having issues with intimacy, a lack of investment in relationships and an inability to express one’s emotions with others.
Anxious attachment adults are usually fearful of rejection and abandonment, and typically tend to need constant assurance and validation from others.
Our attachment patterns and of those whom with which we are in relationships greatly influences the quality of that relationship. For instance, an adult with an anxious attachment style will typically continually require certain needs to be met by their partner; when these needs go unmet, they can become clingy and possessive over their partner. Unfortunately, this can ultimately work against them, pushing their partner further away, particularly if the partner’s attachment style is of the avoidant type.
Where relationships are concerned, an ordinary goal of therapy – whether individual or couple’s therapy – is to assist in developing insight into one’s own attachment patterns. When one is more aware of their own attachment patterns, it becomes easier to develop an understanding of how influential it is in a relationship and the interplay of one’s own attachment pattern with others’ in their relationships. Finally, this same insight can help serve as a catalyst for change; where the goal of therapy shifts to helping change your attachment pattern toward one that is healthier and more secure.
Change that happens out of our control can leave us feeling vulnerable and helpless. Change may cause us to resist and deny what is happening. This is natural, however, getting stuck or dwelling on what has happened won’t allow us to move through the change. An essential component that can help get through change is to accept what has happened. For example, a partner breaks up with you and you are forced to learn how to be single again, or a health scare happens, and you must change your diet, or you have to learn new job responsibilities. Change is difficult because often it requires us to get out of our comfort zone and face uncertainty. Even though change is constant and inevitable, it disrupts us as habitual beings and requires more energy.
If you want to be able to learn how to be adaptable and feel empowered to get through change, then here are 9 strategies to get you started:
Change is a way to learn and grow. This can make us uncomfortable and take us to vulnerable places that we don’t want to go. Is there something that needs to be developed inside us in order to adjust to the change? For example, learning how to regulate emotions or learning how to reach out for help. This can turn into an empowering place because it gives you control over how to work through the difficult times.
Allow little burst intervals: Change can be shocking and overwhelming to our system. The body and brain can adjust with experiencing feelings of discomfort for brief periods rather than feeling all of it at once. Again, change does require more of our energy and effort.
Refrain from being self -critical instead embrace self-compassion: This can be a challenge if we feel responsible for the unwanted change. It’s important to acknowledge some self responsibility on what has happened. Self criticism is when we ruminate and beat ourselves up on the core of who we are rather than noticing and naming the behavior. For example, not getting a job that you wanted. Self criticism is concluding, “I am not enough”. On the other hand, embracing a self compassionate response could be “I wasn’t a good match for what they were looking for” When we have self compassion for ourselves its a lot easier on our hearts to move through it and heal.
Find the meaning of change: We have a choice on giving an explanation to ourselves for the reason why an unwanted change has happened. Again, we can connect this meaning to negative perspective or a positive perspective. For example, a negative perspective might reinforce a lack of self worth. Whereas, a positive perspective can be an opportunity to learn how to love ourselves more.
In the book by M.J. Ryan, How To Survive Change…. You Didn’t’ Ask For, Bounce Back, Finding Calm In Chaos, and Reinvent Yourself describes a few more amazing tips on how to handle change:
Fear and other emotions are a normal part of the process. When you acknowledge that fear and other negative emotions (blame, judgement, regret, anxiety, sadness, disappointment, helplessness) are a normal part of the process. This allows us to soothe our system because we know that this is a part of change. In fact, these emotions may get even more intense.
Being open to seeing the positive aspects of what is happening. At first, there maybe a feeling of disbelief that you can’t see anything positive when experiencing these changes. However, this does require a willingness to see there could be positive things that come from these changes, for example, after a break up, having more time to concentrate on self healing and self growing or a chance to learn a new skill at work or after a health scare saving money by cooking meals at home.
Recognize the mistakes but see the positive part too: It can be easy to ruminate and stay in a negative place. Still, try to acknowledge both seemingly conflicting thoughts “ Yes ,my partner left me, but I am still a lovable person” “ Yes, I neglected my physical body and I am learning about healthier food choices” This will help us to cope better with changes.
Avoid the trap of blame and regret: There might be a tendency to jump to blame another person or the self. We can regret making the choices but this can also take us in a direction of a vicious cycle of self criticism and self blame. However, it just slows down the ability to accept the circumstances and focus on how to get through it. Blame doesn’t allow us to work through the feelings and adjust to the new changes. Furthermore, regret doesn’t allow solutions to come in or the opportunity to feel empowered by what has happened.
Find supports: Be sure to connect to people that are going to be supportive and encouraging. Reach out and connect to professionals (therapists, spiritual or religious leaders, doctors, holistic workers) or family and friends. Sometimes we may underestimate how powerful it is to surround ourselves with people that care about our well being. It makes the process of change feel more bearable.
Change can be tough and distressing. Integrating some or all these 9 tips will help you to be well through the process. In my experience working as a therapist, seeking out support is another great way to get more tools on how to adapt and feel empowered during inevitable changes in life.
Guilt and Shame are powerful emotions but have some very distinct characteristics. Guilt can be derived from feelings of remorse of some sort of wrong doing and surrounds a person behaviour. When someone feels guilt, they can also feel sad, angry and defensive. Guilt can be helpful at times to help us reflect on what we have done and we can ask for forgiveness, change behaviour and make amends. The feeling of guilt can be contained and after taking certain steps, we can move past it. Our inner voice can tell us that we have done something wrong and encourages us acknowledge it and do something about it.
Shame, on the other hand, is related to feeling unworthy, defective, unloved and can make someone feel hopeless and withdrawn. Shame can also perpetuate feelings of self-loathing and viewing oneself as not good enough. This can be dangerous because individuals that feel shame, feel that there is something wrong with them, that there is something innately bad about them – it no longer is about a specific undesired behaviour but they feel that they are not enough or not okay. Feelings of shame do not allow for an outcome and can often lead to a person feeling helpless, worthless and stuck.
Recovery from shame is a difficult task but one that is necessary to begin healing. Without this recovery, individuals operating from a shame perspective are more prone to depression, addiction, suicide, perfectionism and rage. Recovery from shame is a process that requires time and reflection. The process can allow individuals to confront their feelings and challenge them to move towards a place of healing. There are certain ways to begin to challenge yourself. The first is to reflect on your past hurt and losses and recognize where some of your internal beliefs came from. Allow yourself to identify what needs were not met and what hurts you experienced. Secondly, it is important create a link to the present. How have your past experiences affected the way you feel about yourself today? Next, try to recognize some of the distortions that exist in your brain as a result of your past experiences. As a child, what messages did you receive about who you were and did these impact how you viewed yourself as you grew up and became an adult? Try Lastly, it is important to think of new ways to define yourself that aren’t influenced by your past. Decide what you want for your life and set realistic goals. Practice self-care and self-compassion. Reach out to others for support and objectively acknowledge what your strengths are and what things about yourself you really love. A therapist can also be really helpful in this process to provide a pathway to healing and recovery.
Aziza Giga-Hirji MSW, RSW specializes in the areas of stress management and communication, as well as many others. For more information on Aziza, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.
Depression is biopsychosocial phenomenon that affects 7% of population every year and the rate is higher among younger adults around age of 18 to 29 including older adults over the age of 60. Depression is genetically inherited by about 40% and it is more common among female gender. The difference between feeling sad and clinically depressed is the duration as the later lasts at least for two weeks most of the day and nearly every day. Five of the following symptoms which are observed by the person and friends and family indicate depression:
Feeling sad and depressed most of the day and every day. For example, someone who feels sad and hopeless regardless of what situation they are in including situations in which the person used to find joy.
Losing interest in pleasurable activities. For instance, someone who liked watching Games of Thrones but they no longer find it interesting or enjoyable.
Significant weight gain or loss while not dieting or trying to actively gain weight can be a sign of depression. The significant difference would be around 5% change in usual body weight.
Oversleeping or undersleeping more than usual nearly every day. For example, someone who could get a refreshing sleep after 7 hours now sleeps for 10 hours and yet feels tired and exhausted.
Chronic fatigue is another symptom especially if it is not related to any other illness such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
Feeling that they are not good enough and experiencing inappropriate guilt for no reason can be another indication for depression. It is an excessive and abnormal guilt and feelings of worthless that no matter what the evidence suggest still the person strongly believes it.
Difficulty concentrating on tasks that were easy or effortless to perform and now it is ten times harder to pay attention to what needs to be done which also leads to difficulty for making a decision.
Having thoughts about death and dying sometimes in form of “I wish I was dead,” or “ I want to die now but I can’t do it,” “or I am going to overdose on these pills right now.”
The best way to know if someone is depressed is that it causes significant impairment in personal, social, and career areas of life. In other words, you are not the same person as you used to be and friends and family have noticed that too. If you have lost someone recently, then it is normal for you to feel the loss and be sad about it, but if you have realized that you no longer live the life you had and other areas are affected as well then you might be suffering from depression; therefore, book your appointment with your therapist today.
Khobi Attai, MA, specializes the areas of abuse and domestic violence, as well as a variety of other subjects. For more information on Khobi and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.
We have all been asked this question at least once in our life time. Your answer most likely changed with age. When I was 8 I wanted to be an astronomer; at 13 an actor; and at 18 a psychologist. But not everyone knows how to answer this question. Many of us may continue to search for the answer well into our adult years. I want to start by telling you that it is ok not to know.
Human beings are complex. We are who we are based on a combination of biology and social experiences. And the more experiences you have, the more complex you are. As these experiences change, what brings you meaning and purpose can change too, and, with that, your career interests.
If you feel stuck and unsure of what of career path to pursue, your first step may be to reflect on the following questions:
What are my values?
Several researchers have found that living in accordance with your values can lead to positive emotions such as joy, contentment and satisfaction. Therefore, in order to feel satisfied in your profession it is important that what you do be congruent with your values. If you’re unsure of what your values might be, perhaps start by following this link: http://www.philau.edu/careerservices/inc/documents/selfAssessmentWorkValuesInventory.pdf
What are my strengths?
Strengths can be divided into tasks and characters. Task strengths are those activities that you seem to be really good at or that you have mastered. Although there is always room for growth, your strengths can give you insight into what you may enjoy practicing in your career.
Character strengths represent aspects of your personality that you are good at. For instance, if one of your character strengths is Curiosity, you may enjoy a profession that involves exploration and discovery. To explore what your characters strengths are, you may consider completing the following assessment called the VIA Survey of Character Strengths: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter
What are my interests and hobbies?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could earn a living doing what you typically do for fun? Although it might be challenging to find a career that involves building models out of Legos, there may be elements from your hobby that could guide you towards a profession that can be fun and fulfilling for you. Let’s consider Legos as an example. If you love building Legos you might enjoy the process of building something, the creativity that goes into imagining a structure and building it from imagination, or working with your hands. These elements are essential in certain professions like Architecture, Engineering, and Mechanics.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” Professor Brene Brown, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.
We seem to have an innate need to connect with others. Research shows that social connections enhance our health, happiness and our sense of purpose, in part, because the support of our friends and family reduces the impact of stress on our bodies and brains. Social connections strengthen our immune system and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression. Relationships provide the opportunity to share positive experiences and provide emotional support making us feel loved and understood. Connections with other people form our ‘social network’ these include causal, personal and professional relationships. Casual relationships may consist of friends we know from shared activities such as art class, cooking class or the gym but only know on a first name basis. Personal relationships are the ones we care about the most and invest the most significant time. Our close circle of people may include family, friends and significant others. The final category of others in our lives is our professional relationships. These include bosses, coworkers and colleagues. Social relationships provide us with new information, entertainment, support, love and affection. Our network of social connection can open up countless new opportunities ranging from online chats to small visits over lunch to finding a new travelling partner.
Feel like you might be low on social connection? Here are a few ideas that may help you build your connections.
Say “yes” more often. Start with things that make you feel relatively safe remembering that at the same time trying new things will require you to be brave. If you are asked to a social event or to pursue something that interests you such as a hobby, volunteer group, or a sports team-do your best to attend, get involved with activities that invigorate you and will allow you to meet others who have similar interests.
Challenge yourself to try something new. Be open to new experiences. Getting out of your comfort zone can be tough at first, but facing unfamiliar challenges can give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your self-esteem. A great thing about having friends is that they introduce us to a myriad of new experiences.
Building connections takes time, effort and sacrifice. Instead of expecting others to reach out to you and then feeling rejected when they don’t, reach out to them. Make time for friends and family. Research, suggests that lending a hand to others may be more important than receiving it. If you are there for others, they will most likely be there for you in your time of need. If you need specific support such as caring for a family member or coping with an illness you may consider joining a support group to meet others who are dealing with similar challenges.
When you need extra support and do not have anyone to rely on, counsellors can help. Talking about your thoughts and feelings with a supportive therapist can help you find healing as you voice your worries or talk about things that are weighing you down. Counselling therapy can help you develop strategies to manage stress and improve your social connections.
Uchino, B.N. Understanding the links between social support and physical health. (2009). Perspectives on Psychological Science 4(3), 236-255.
Brown, S.L., Nesse, R.M. Vinokur, A.D., and Smith, D.M. (2003). Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: Results from a prospective study of mortality. Psychological Science 14(4), 320-327.
“To be motivated” is a common goal that many clients have in therapy. Whether one is deep in the trenches of anxiety or depression, grieving a loved one, or dealing with a painful heartbreak, the feeling of motivation is usually one of the first to vacate the scene of crisis or difficulty. As if it weren’t difficult enough to be stuck in a metaphorical hole, we have now seemingly lost all will and desire to put one foot in front of the other and climb our way out. This can lead to us feeling stagnant, hopeless, and maybe a bit panicked as we search for ways to spark the motivation to heal. So, what do we do about this? How do we find the all elusive feeling of motivation when it feels out of reach but we believe we need it the most?
Well, what if we first accepted that it’s okay to feel unmotivated. That, perhaps, we don’t actually need to feel motivated in order to act motivated. The two can exist in separate realms. Sure, it’s definitely nice when the two match up… but this isn’t always a choice we have or the case. The feeling of motivation can’t necessarily be willed or chosen in an instant and is therefore often outside of our control. And, in reality, it is often subsequent to the act of doing. So, rather than searching for motivation to act, it can be more helpful to focus on action as a means of potentially shifting our emotional experience and sparking motivation. We are likely to stay unmotivated without action, but there is a chance we become motivated with action. Essentially, we can spend a lot of time in the metaphorical hole waiting for motivation that may or may not come… or we can figure out how to take action and climb out of the hole, in hopes there may be some lurking behind a ledge along the way. The latter option always gets us out of the hole faster.
It can be empowering to know that this behavioural aspect is something that we do have control over, even when the task at hand feels really hard and daunting. Despite what our lack of motivation tells us, we don’t have to listen to it or give it power by acting on it. We can choose differently and still give ourselves permission to do all of the things that make our lives meaningful, valuable, and full. This choice moment is something to be mindful of. In every decision we make, there is a fleeting moment of choice. This moment can become clearer and we can utilize it in more authentically valuable ways if we realize that it is a moment separate from our emotional feeling. One can feel drastically unmotivated in a moment. But it is the noticing of this and consciously acting from the choice moment rather than automatically from the feeling, that allows one to take back their power and do what’s important.
When it comes to being unmotivated, starting is always the hardest part. So, I challenge you to accept feeling unmotivated, recognize your choice moment, and shift focus towards embracing the action that will add to your life and perhaps serve to spark some motivation.
Kaylee Garside, MA, has extensive experience in the areas of mindfulness and acceptance practices, plus many more. For more information on Kaylee and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.