Burnaby doctor giving free talk on emotional wellness during COVID-19

It was called the parallel pandemic.

It was called the parallel pandemic.

The social isolation, insecurities, and financial implications of COVID-19 have all stressed us out, but the most vulnerable – including the elderly, homeless, and addicts – are hardest hit.

Most people don’t realize that up to 30% of a family doctor’s daily job is related to emotional health – they help patients deal with difficult emotions, relationship problems, anxiety, and stress.

But I know this is only the tip of the iceberg because many people are reluctant to address emotional issues and may never seek support.

A stigma remains associated with emotional or mental health problems. In recent years, public health officials have tried to remove the stigma by getting people to talk about it.

But for many, raising awareness that you can and should talk about it with those who can help has not eliminated the prejudice, embarrassment, and myths associated with emotional health.

Rene Descartes, an unfortunate legacy of the 17th century philosopher, is the mind-body dualism, the false separation of mind and body as completely different and independent.

The reality is that there is no such separation. The brain is obviously an inseparable part of the body. In fact, you can tell many emotions by how you physically experience them.

When we’re anxious or stressed, we breathe faster, our hearts beat faster, our muscles tense, our stomachs turn, and we sweat.

When we are angry, not only do our thoughts race, but our heart and breathing rates are racing too. We feel a surge of excited energy throughout our body.

When we are depressed, we slow down both physically and mentally, sleep is disturbed, energy levels drop, and we can gain or lose weight through changes in appetite.

Our thoughts and feelings affect other “non-mental” aspects of our health and can lead to high blood pressure, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, overactive bladder, stomach ulcers, heartburn, chronic pain, and fatigue.

Myths about emotional health are compounded by false beliefs in the separation of mind and body. Because some diseases require medication, some mistakenly conclude that emotional problems are entirely chemical (i.e., neurotransmitter) imbalances. Others mistakenly assume that all emotional health problems are genetic.

Another common misconception among friends and family members of people with severe clinical depression is that it is just like feeling sad about a loss or some other negative event. Depression can be so profound that it interferes with a person’s attitude and ability to think clearly and solve problems. Those who have never experienced clinical depression may not understand why their loved ones simply cannot get over it or break away from it.

Your emotional wellbeing is an important aspect of your overall health. We can do a lot individually and collectively to promote the good of all in our community. If your mood, stress, or anxiety is affecting your function and enjoyment of life, don’t hesitate to seek help.

Each community has organized support for those struggling socially and emotionally. At Burnaby we all work together through the Primary Care Network. Check the resources available at https://www.burnabycoronavirus.com/social-supports

On Thursday, December 10th, I will be giving a free online talk on behalf of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients Program. The topic: emotional well-being. I will share key emotional health skills that we all need to manage the impact of this pandemic and the community’s resources for help. More information: https://divisionsbc.ca/burnaby/for-patients/empowering-patients

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a general practitioner. His Healthwise Column appears regularly in this article. For more information on emotional health and achieving your positive life potential, please visit his blog at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

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