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Emotions Empowering Healthcare Growth Happiness Healthy Living Positive Change Positive Potential Purpose Self-care Your Calling Your Goals

Your Happiness and the Value of Goals

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The stage of the musical, Frozen at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, California.

It’s the time of the year when I’ll be expecting patients coming in with new goals to improve their health. Many will be keen on starting a new exercise routine, eating a healthier diet, reducing alcohol or quitting smoking.

But for the rest of us, it will be business as usual. Most of the patients I care for will present one or more problems to be diagnosed, investigated or treated. These could be physical symptoms, relationship difficulties or challenges in their life circumstances.

Our brains are attuned to identifying problems. We see more of what’s wrong than what’s right. This negativity bias is part of our evolution. Our ancestors survived because they were able to detect problems and dangers early.

For most people today, our negativity bias is not such an advantage. In fact, it can lead to dissatisfaction and conflict in our relationships. Who wants to live with someone who can’t get anything right, and who can live with one who always finds fault?

Whereas appreciation and gratitude bring greater satisfaction and happiness, seeing the cup half full brings misery.

All of us want to be happy, but most of us look for it in the wrong places.

If your happiness depends on getting everything you want you may never find it or you won’t be able to keep it. The trick is to be happy with what you have and engaging with the world to achieve your positive potential.

In part, it is a way of being and seeing – being present and seeing with appreciation even that which does not last.

Consider the quick passage of the past year; life and all that we experience are fast and fleeting. Opportunities arise and pass away, and so do people, including our selves and those we love.

I love the work I do, helping my patients solve their problems, but my patients and I are most engaged when we turn those problems into goals. Problems can make us feel like helpless victims of life. When we transform them into our personal goals, instead of running from or struggling against what we don’t want, we move towards what we envision.

When a patient is struggling with anxiety, I may ask, “What is your goal? What does happiness look like to you?” “Is it seeing yourself managing and mastering the challenges of each day?” “Is it experiencing a sense of abiding peace and calm?”

When one is depressed, the goal may be to see one’s self and life with acceptance and gratitude, and to be engaged in meaningful activity.

Consider your values and your greatest virtues, and set your goals. Visualize with all your senses what success and happiness look like. Create a plan of action to get from here to there, and take at least one firm step each day in the direction of happiness.

As part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients I’ll be presenting a free talk on “Emotional Wellbeing” at 7 pm on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017 at the Confederation Community Centre in North Burnaby. Everyone of any age is welcome to attend. Please preregister by calling Leona Cullen at (604) 807-2372 or e-mail lcullen@divisionsbc.ca.

 

 

Categories
Balance Emotions Healthy Living Self-care stress management

How Do You See the Stress in Your Life?

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Stress is part of every human life, but it’s not necessarily bad.

Positive stress motivates us to change, get things done, learn and grow.

Without the gentle wake up calls from Mom and Dad, my kids may not have made it to school on time. Without their homework and exams, they wouldn’t be motivated to study. Without ambition, we wouldn’t push our limits and achieve our personal potentials. Without discomfort with the status quo, we wouldn’t be motivated to change the world.

Yet stress unrecognized or not managed is negative. It can take its toll on our bodies and our minds.

Consider how you experience stress. It can take the form of physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, palpitations, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation or insomnia. It can affect your thinking, making you more irritable, negative, distracted or forgetful. It can impact the quality of your work and your relationships.

The amount of stress in your life can tip the balance from positive to negative. For example, if a course or a job is too easy for you, you’ll be bored. If the demands of your job match your ability to meet them, you’ll be in a happy state of flow. But when the demands exceed your time or ability, you’ll feel stressed. I see this often in my patients whose workloads increase as companies downsize.

How we think about stress can influence how we experience it. The key is the locus of control. If we feel that we have no control over our situation, we begin to feel helpless, and helplessness begets anxiety. If we feel our situation will never improve, we may feel hopeless, and hopelessness begets depression.

Both anxiety and depression shade thinking and narrow perspective. When anxious, we overestimate our challenges and underestimate our ability to manage them. When depressed, we see the worst in our selves, the situation and the future.

We may fail to see the way out.

So how does this apply to you and the stress in your life today? How can you get out of the negative spiral from stress to anxiety and depression?

Start with your perspective. Take a step back and assess your situation. Consider the locus of control. What aspects of your situation are within your control? Accept what you cannot change, but accept your responsibility to change what you can.

In every situation, we have three potential choices: leave it, change it or reframe it. It may not always be possible or easy to leave a job or a relationship. Even if we cannot change a situation, we can change our perspective on it.

Part of our emotional reaction to a situation is due to the facts of the situation, but a large part of our reaction is due to what we bring into it. That baggage includes our memories of the past and our preconceptions.

In almost every situation, we can be agents of positive change. In big or small ways, we effect positive change in our world and in our selves.

 

Categories
Empowering Healthcare Healthy Living Preventive Health Self-care

5 Myths About Blood Pressure

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On Thursday, December 8th at 7 pm, I’m presenting “What You Need to Know About High Blood Pressure” at the McGill Library 4595 Albert Street in North Burnaby. This free presentation is sponsored by the Burnaby Division of Family Practice and the Burnaby Public Library. Because seating is limited, please register by phone at 604-299-8955, in person or online at http://www.bpl.bc.ca/events/mcgill

Do you know your numbers?

You know by heart your birthdate and age, home and cell numbers, your address and maybe even your social insurance number.

But there’s one number that every adult should know: your blood pressure.

To understand why this measurement is so important, let’s explore five myths about blood pressure.

Myth #1: “It’s just a number.”

It’s more than a number. It’s one of your vital signs (e.g. heart rate and temperature, not your astrological sign).

Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure of blood inside your blood vessels, specifically, the brachial artery of the upper arm. A normal blood pressure of 120/80 (“120 over 80”) represents a systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg (when the heart contracts) and a diastolic pressure of 80 (when the heart relaxes).

Of course, we need a normal amount of pressure to deliver blood to all your vital organs, but chronically high blood pressure (hypertension) damages those organs and arteries themselves.

Myth #2: “I don’t need to worry about it.”

High blood pressure damages the walls of arteries throughout the body, including the kidneys, brain, heart, eyes and extremities. Over time, it contributes to atherosclerosis (narrowing of arteries), manifested as progressive kidney failure, loss of circulation to your feet and legs, dementia, loss of vision, erectile dysfunction, heart failure (weakness in the pumping of the heart) and angina (chest pain due to impaired circulation to the heart muscle).

The catastrophic end results are premature heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure requiring dialysis, amputations of toes and feet, aneurysms (the expansion and rupture of blood vessels in the chest, abdomen or brain) and end stage heart failure.

Myth #3: “If I feel good, it can’t be bad.”

A lot of us might assume that if we feel good, we must be healthy and our blood pressure couldn’t be a problem. There’s a common misconception that individuals with high blood pressure are stressed out or angry like Donald Duck. Mickey Mouse is just as likely to be hypertensive.

High blood pressure may be caused by medical conditions such as kidney disease or an overactive thyroid, by medications including ibuprofen or an unhealthy lifestyle; however, 95% of people with high blood pressure have essential hypertension that is often genetic. Blood pressure also increases with age.

In fact, one in five adults has high blood pressure, and your lifetime risk for developing hypertension is 90%. Your risk may be even higher if you have a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney failure or strokes.

Myth #4: “It’s only high at the doctor’s office.”

White coat syndrome is a genuine condition wherein the patient’s blood pressure is much higher when taken by a doctor or nurse than at home. I ask my patients to measure and record their home blood pressures with a reliable machine (that we compare to our office equipment).

If blood pressure is only elevated at the clinic but never at home or work, we don’t prescribe medications. However, some people have a significant rise in their blood pressure with any stressful situation, including their work. If the blood pressure is high at least 8 hours/day (i.e. at work) in addition to the medical clinic, it should be treated.

Myth #5: “If I start a medication, I’m stuck on it for life.”

As a physician, I want my patients to maintain safe blood pressure levels and avoid the long-term complications. Medications have a potent effect in lowering blood pressure but they are not addictive and don’t make the body dependent any more than before they are started.

I have many patients who have been able to reduce the doses and numbers of medications they take through major lifestyle changes. Some now have normal blood pressures without any drugs.

These potent lifestyle changes include quitting smoking, limiting or stopping alcohol, increased physical activity, weight loss (if overweight), eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat, and limiting sodium (salt) in the diet.

So get to know your numbers – especially your blood pressure. Most adults should check their blood pressure at least once a year and more frequently if they have a personal or family history of high blood pressure.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. To learn more about upcoming health education events, see the BDFP website at divisionsbc.ca/burnaby. For more on achieving your positive potential in health: davidicuswong.wordpress.com.