Balance Emotions Healthy Living Self-care stress management

How Do You See the Stress in Your Life?


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.


Balance Emotions Happiness Letting Go

Mindfully Manage Your Emotions

Nitobe Memorial Garden, UBC (Davidicus Wong)

Do you remember the scene in Disney’s animated movie when Snow White runs screaming through the woods, terrorized by what appear to be evil trees? She awakens in the morning, surrounded by new furry, forest friends.

In real life, we all get lost in the wilderness of our emotions, and those emotions cloud what we are able to see. We may think we know the difference between happiness, sadness, anger and anxiety, but any of us can get caught up and lost in our moods and feelings. We are surprised with where we have wandered.

The conventional approach to life is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. That we believe is the definition of success and the secret to happiness: maximal pleasure and minimal pain.

We preoccupy our thoughts and energy with the pursuit of physical comforts: nice meals, a comfortable home, attractive clothes and a variety of sensual pleasures. We work not only for the necessities of life but to buy the things we crave. We peruse catalogs, search the net and wander through shopping malls to find what we want.

At the same time, we avoid what we don’t like: pain and suffering. When we experience physical pain especially when it becomes chronic, we struggle to fight it – with fear, anger and sadness. This invariably amplifies our suffering.

Likewise, we seek positive emotional experiences: falling in love, happiness and peace, and we react with aversion to negative emotions, such as sadness, grief, anxiety and anger. We might try to suppress or ignore these difficult feelings or struggle to fight them with even greater fear, anger and loathing.

Our conventional approach to life is doomed to fail. That is reality.

There is good and bad in every life, and each of us will experience a daily mixture of pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

If our aspiration is to remain young, active and pain-free forever, we will surely be disappointed; our bodies age and breakdown, we will become ill at some time, and each of us will ultimately die. Accidents can disable us or shorten our lives.

Change – both predictable and unpredictable – is the nature of life and part of being human. It is futile to hold onto all that gives us pleasure. Pain is a part of life, but suffering – to some extent – is optional.

We don’t have to be caught up with the dramatic twists and turns of fortune or get sick on the roller coaster ride of our emotions. With a little wisdom and the application of mindfulness, we can still find peace.

Without mindfulness, we instinctively react to circumstances and get carried away with our emotions. We stab ourselves twice by clinging to negative emotions.

First, we identify with them. We say, “I am depressed”, “I am panicky” or “I am angry” instead of “I am experiencing a feeling of depression, a panic attack or a wave of anger”. By identifying with negative emotions, we add more power to their punch and stay within their reach.

Then we ruminate – repeating and recycling the negative thoughts associated with those emotions. For depression, “Everything is terrible and it’s never going to get better.” For anxiety, “I can’t handle it. I’m overwhelmed.” For anger, “I have a right to be mad, and here are the reasons . . .”

In this way, we linger in the lake of our sorrows or get caught in the quicksand of our own anger.

A mindful approach to difficult emotions is to recognize that it is normal and human to feel a variety of emotions and to notice them change as does everything else in our lives. I use the acronym, ROAR.

Recognize your emotions. What am I feeling? Is it really anger or does something else lie beneath the surface? Fear? Sadness?

Open up and accept your feelings without judgment. Feeling a wave of anger, sadness or fear does not make you a bad person.

Appreciate whatever is arising in your heart. What does it feel like? What does it physically feel like in your body? Think “This is anger or anxiety or sadness” rather than “I am angry, I am anxious, or I am sad.”

Release. Don’t identify, cling to or feed your emotional response. Let it pass through you like a weather system.

Catch and release. Breathe in and breathe out.

That is a key to mindfully managing your emotions.

Nitobe Memorial Garden, UBC (Davidicus Wong)

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in Burnaby Now, Royal City Record, Richmond News and Vancouver Courier. 

Balance Compassion Coping with Loss Empowering Healthcare Forgiveness Friendship Grace Happiness Letting Go Love Parenting Positive Change

Achieve Your Positive Potential at Any Age

Tapestry Foundation, VanDusen Garden September 10th, 2015

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015, I spoke to an enthusiastic audience of over 200 brought together by the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care in this season’s first Dialogue on Aging. 

I talked about how we are co-authors of our own life stories, a new definition of health and the role of love in finding the ultimate meaning in our lives.

Though I don’t actually use notes while public speaking, here are my draft speaking notes:

Achieve Your Positive Potential at Any AgeDavidicus Wong, M.D.

Thank you to each of you who has taken precious time out of this day to be here with me. Thank you, MaryLou Harrigan, who on behalf of the Tapestry Foundation, invited me to share some of what I have learned from my family, friends and patients.

Together we weave the tapestry of our lives. It is our shared story and a work of art. We are the creators and the creation. We are given the raw materials and circumstances of our lives. As we live our lives and relate to one another, we build upon what others have built and experience a life intricately connected with the rest of the world. Together we weave a tapestry of inconceivable complexity and beauty that continues to exist beyond our individual lives. This is the art of living . . . a work of art.

This evening, I’ll talk about change, a cause of much fear, frustration, anger and grief; how it is an inescapable reality of life on earth and being human; and how it is seen as a source of suffering.

I’ll talk about happiness; how popular culture sells us an empty version of it; how our pursuit of it actually leads to greater unhappiness; and I’ll share the secrets of lasting happiness.

I’ll introduce you to a new way of thinking about your health; recognizing the limitations of standard definitions, and leading to a new approach to caring for yourself.

By the end of this evening, you’ll understand the meaning of life (at least my version) and rather than seeing yourself as another hapless and helpless victim of change, you will recognize yourself as an agent of positive change, embracing age – welcoming each and every new day and seizing the positive potential of your life.


I chose the specialty of Family Practice – or it chose me, I simply answered its call – when I fell in love with the stories shared by patients. As medical students, when we take a history, we learn about family relationships, the pivotal points in every life, the triumphs, the tragedies and the disasters; and ultimately, how each person made sense of the unfolding of their lives.

Most people have to rely on reality TV, soap operas and romance novels to be privy to the intimate details of other people’s life stories. With deep listening to these stories, we learn empathy. Understanding the suffering that others endure, we develop compassion.

In an English Literature course, my professor told us that a comedy typically ends with a marriage and a tragedy with a funeral. If this was the case with real life, every one of our lives is ultimately a tragedy, and indeed that’s how a lot of people see their lives: after a certain age – 40, 50 or 60 – it’s a downhill ride to senescence.

I soon recognized that the happiest of my patients told their life stories quite differently. They accepted the same illnesses, accidents and losses in life but also recognized with gratitude the gifts that they had received – aspects of their health that continued to thrive, good fortune that came when most needed, and most importantly, love and kindness shared – particularly from family and friends who had passed on.

If tomorrow you met a friend you had not seen since early childhood, how would you tell your life story? How you reflect upon the past – what you regret and what you appreciate; how you judge others and judge yourself – can impact your happiness in the present and how you continue to see and live your life. Is there another way to tell your story?

My aspiration is that by the end of this evening, you may receive an insight that may inspire you to rewrite your story for the better and empower you to be an agent of positive change in the writing of your life story from this moment forward.


My dad was born on Vancouver Island in Cumberland, near Courtney and Comox. When Cumberland had a coalmine, it was one of the largest Chinatowns on the West Coast. My dad lost his father in early childhood. His mother was left with 6 children to raise on her own. But my grandmother’s life was difficult from the start. She was sold into slavery at age 9 to a wealthy Chinese family. She worked throughout her childhood and was not taught English. She was married and had her first child at age 14. But my dad remembers her as being very good with her hands, a skilled chef and seamstress. She managed to make ends meet and raise each of her children to be independent.

My dad worked throughout his childhood to support his family, finished school, studied automechanics and worked at Vancouver Motors downtown. He saved enough to study science at UBC and Dentistry at McGill. When he talks about his childhood, he never complains about the prejudice he endured or the hardship his family suffered. He talks about wonderful life experiences, his lifelong friends and the kindness of so many people along the way.

My mom was born in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver. When my mom was 9 years old, she and her 7 siblings were orphaned. Her oldest sisters were teenagers and her youngest brother was still in diapers. They received no help from their aunts and uncles in town. To keep the family together, the oldest sisters decided that they would all work to raise the rest of the family until the youngest finished school. My mom always taught me the value of a good family in which each is responsible for one another, and 76 years later, my aunts, uncles and cousins continue to meet at our annual Boxing Day party.

My parents’ stories could have been told with sadness or bitterness but instead, they are stories of courage, resilience, gratitude and love.

My mother’s love for me was unconditional. She saw the best and expected the best of me. At first, I thought I had to be a top student and athlete to earn my parents’ love, but I eventually realized their love came with no conditions. I would always be loved and accepted just as I was.

My mom’s circle of concern continued to expand throughout her life. She had many friends and was involved in helping others in her United Church and community. She would go out of her way to make a positive difference in the lives of other people with not so random everyday acts of kindness.

When she died unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest 12 years ago, I was overwhelmed with grief, but over time I realized that my mother’s greatest gift was still with me. It was her love, compassion and kindness. I could never give back all the love that my mom had given me, but I was already giving it out and giving it forward. I realized that what I feel towards my own children is the same love my mother gave to me, and if I teach them well, that same love will be given to others beyond my own lifetime. My mother’s greatest legacy was of love. This legacy of love belongs to every one of us.


60% of our bodies is made up of water. It’s in each of our cells and in our circulation, but we don’t own that water. We consume it in our food and drink, we lose it through perspiration and elimination.

In school, we studied the Water Cycle. Water evaporates, condenses into clouds, precipitates as snow or rain, freezes, thaws, flows into rivers, lakes and oceans, continuously cycling around the globe. It belongs to no one. It belongs to everyone.

I see our selves as vessels of love and we are part of the Love Cycle. We receive love from many people throughout our lives – friends, family, teachers, coaches – and it comes in many forms including the random kindness of strangers. It doesn’t always come unconditionally – it comes in many imperfect and human forms because we are imperfect and human, but still we receive love from infinite sources.

Love is not a finite resource. It is in us to give, and the giving of love does not diminish us but connects us and makes us stronger.


When we are young, our potentials may seem vast. Choosing a career can be a daunting task for the young. When I’m counseling my own children, my young patients and others at a crossroads in their studies or careers, I draw them the 4 intersecting circles Steven Covey conceived in his book The Eighth Habit: your passions, your talents, your values and the needs of the world. Where these 4 circles intersect is your calling.

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss”; heed the call and do what you were meant to do. When you listen to life and rise up to meet the challenge, you will find meaning and purpose.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “When what you say and what you do aligns with what you believe, there you will find happiness.”

But the call can change throughout our lives. We may receive the calling to a profession or mission in early adulthood or even in mid-life. Your calling at age 26 may be to be the best parent you can be to your child. When your career is established, your calling may be of generativity; What can you give forward to others and to the future?

Each day, there are opportunities to follow-through with an act of kindness, a word of encouragement, a thank you or a helping hand to someone in need. There is a positive potential to be realized in each day. We must see, feel and act.


How do you define health?

Many think of health as the absence of disease; indeed, healthcare is then seen as the treatment of illness or injury. I see that as a negative and reactive approach to wellbeing.

I see health as the dynamic balance of the important areas of your life (your body, your emotions, your environment, your family, your social relationships, your vocation, your mind and your spirit) and the achievement of your positive potential in each of those areas.

What that positive potential is begins with an understanding of your strengths and challenges in each area and guided by your own values, moves towards your own personal goals.

Considering your family relationships, you could ask, “What are my greatest goals and what is my ideal vision for my family?” We have to move beyond what is wrong to what can be great.

When I chaired the Ethical Resources Committee at Burnaby Hospital, I would ask the question, “Given the medical facts and the individual’s values, what is the right course of action? What is the positive potential of this patient’s situation?” What is the best we can do for this individual?

In the presence of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, we can empower the individual with education and professional support so that they remain in control and experience the best quality of life.


The happiness that popular culture promises us is ultimately unsatisfying and in fact leads to emptiness and greater unhappiness. The common belief is that we are happy when we get what we want; happiness comes from the satisfaction of our cravings (for material things, sensual pleasures, wealth, prestige, status, power, the latest fashion or the newest iPhone). But none of these things last and neither does the satisfaction we experience.


The human body at peace with itself is more precious than the rarest gem.

Cherish your body. It is yours this one time only. The human form is won with great difficulty. It is easy to lose.

All worldly things are brief like lightning in the sky. This life you must know as the tiny splash of a raindrop, a thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being.

Therefore set your aspiration and make use of every day and night to achieve it.


 Change is the nature of all things. It is our very nature.

It is therefore futile to pursue and cling to that which does not last. Nothing lasts.

If your desire is to remain youthful for the rest of your life, you will ultimately be unhappy. If you seek to accumulate wealth and hold onto it forever, you will never be satisfied. If your goal is to be free of aging, illness, accident or loss, you will not find happiness. If you expect your relationships to stay the same your whole life, you will be disappointed.

In our youth, change means growth and we welcome adventure. In our early years, we are looking forward.

With age, change can be seen as a decline in our minds, in our bodies and in our relationships. We look back to what we have lost, and we look forward to further loss.

We forget that we are always growing and there remains the potential for positive change even in the face of difficult circumstances and personal loss.

This insight into the reality of change can heighten our appreciation for every moment and all of experience without aversion or clinging. We must appreciate what we have when we have it. Every gift that we hold (including those we love most) is not ours to hold forever. We must love and appreciate others while we can and let go when we need to.


A key psychological principle is the locus of control. If we see life as hostile, unpredictable and beyond our control, we become anxious, demoralized and hopeless. To prevent this spiral down with the stresses of life, we must recognize what we must accept and what we have the power to change. Accept what you cannot change, but accept responsibility to change what you can.

Become an Agent of Positive Change.

Though you, your world and everyone around you is in constant change, you can be dynamically responsive to change and seek out the positive potential of every moment. Our brains are naturally resistant to change, we quickly fall into habits of behaviour (e.g. eating and physical activity) and habits of thought (e.g. conceptualizing and relating). To be efficient frequently repeated thoughts and behaviours become entrenched with reinforced neural pathways.

But the science of neuroplasticity has taught us that our brains can change for the better, we can literally rewire our neural pathways and create new habits of thought and behaviour. This is how we adapt to our changing world.

But it requires effort and practice to reinforce new more positive habits and ways of thinking.

You can retell your life story in a more empowering way, embrace more fully the present moment and create a more positive future.


We discover ourselves and find meaning through the living of our lives. Through intention and action, we define who we are, and like rough stones in a tumbler, we rub against one another and through our relationships discover our truest selves.

A few years ago, my old friend, Steve told me that his little daughter, Vanessa wanted him to play with her when he was busy with yard work. He felt guilty when she asked, “Why did you and mom have me if you’re not going to play with me?”

Behind the sly daughter-father manipulation, there was ironic truth.

Why are we here? What is the point? Where is the meaning?

 To be born; to learn and to forget; to grow and to age; to see, to want, to crave, to pursue, to gain and to lose all we gain; to care, to worry, to suffer, to regret and not to care; to grow ill and to die?

There is one answer for each question. Why are we here? What is the point? Where is the meaning?

To learn to love. To love and be loved.

 But we are confused by love. 

It can be an idea (that consumes our thoughts and preoccupies our minds); an emotion (that carries us away), or a spiritual experience (THE spiritual experience: the experience of the spirit and the discovery of your true self).

Love the idea or thought can be a concept, obsession or preoccupation. Everyone has a different idea of what love is and we forget that others, including those we love, may have vastly different ideas of just what love is, and our ideas about love can change with experience; they can expand or contract.

Love is also an emotion or a variety of emotions. It can be warm and fuzzy; faithful, full and abiding; passionate and possessive; wanting and craving.

But the big L Love is THE spiritual experience – the experience of the spirit; of our deeper, greater self; and of our deepest connection to another. This is the experience of your true self and the true self of another. This is the real thing. This is authentic love: metta, compassion, lovingkindness, agape.

This is why we are here.

This is the point of it all.

This is the meaning of life.

Without Love, we see ourselves as separate and competing in a win-lose world; what benefits others does not benefit you; to give to others takes away from you; to give strength to others diminishes you; we are always incomplete and searching.

Without Love, we pursue counterfeit happiness: the illusion of perfection, having everything we want; the delusion of permanence, the futile search for lasting satisfaction.

Without Love, all is ultimately empty and we remain alone.

With Love, all is clear. Everything makes sense.

We see ourselves clearly. We see others as they are. The world and life start to make sense.

Without judgment, with understanding and compassion, with complete acceptance, with hope but without expectation, we see beauty in another, in our lives and in ourselves.

We see our lives and every relationship as a gift.

Love creates a “new math”. You no longer need to keep track. The more you give, the more you get. The less you keep, the more you are free. You give more than you get and you don’t keep track. You win by giving all you have; the winner gives it all.

Being empty of self, you live fully.

At the end of each day and at the end of this life, you don’t want to regret not giving enough or loving enough. It is like leaving Denmark having spent your last Chrona because it is worth nothing when you leave.

Life is lived fully by loving without limit, by giving all you’ve got and holding nothing back.


To experience Love is to awaken; to express Love is to be fully alive.

We can express love as we serve others: through our intention to do good (and not to harm), to be open to the suffering and the needs of another, and to help where we can; to seize each and every opportunity to make a positive difference; to share our own gifts; to see beauty in another, and bring out the best.

Love lifts us up.

Our families can open us to connecting, letting go of self-interests and learning to love unconditionally. Loving my children has made me a better person. The love of my parents who loved all that I was brought out the best in me.

What I want most for those I love is that they each love themselves the way I love them: that they accept themselves and their lives just as they are, forgive themselves, let go of what they do not need, let go of what holds them back, see the beauty that I see in them, and share their gifts with the world.

Loving your life as it has unfolded is a challenge. There are events and experiences that are unpleasant, regretful and overwhelming: misfortune and trauma, negative situations, difficult relationships, harm we have experienced, harm that we have done, missed opportunities, words left unsaid and acts left undone.

We have all made mistakes, taken wrong turns and experience regret. We have all felt angry, selfish, cold or closed.

We experience aversion with strong emotions – fear, anger, despair – that are hard to accept, acknowledge and release. We may wish to relive happier times, erase negative experiences and correct our mistakes.

But the only way to live life fully is to live fully in the present – to acknowledge and accept all that has happened, all that we’ve done and all that we are – in order to be present to each arising moment.

To turn away, hide or fight against our nature and the reality of our world is to give greater power to the very things we push away. They continue to hold us back from fully loving, fully living and finding our true selves.

We can choose to let go, and we are freed to see more clearly: to see beauty, to love unconditionally our selves, others and our lives.

We are all human and imperfect but still deserving of love, beautiful and able to love.

What I can do in my thoughts, words and actions to benefit another – or to benefit the world – benefits me.

What I can do to nurture my soul nurtures the world.

Davidicus Wong

Balance Compassion Emotions Empathy Empowering Healthcare Friendship Grace Happiness Healthy Living Meditation Physical Activity Positive Change Positive Potential Preventive Health

#36 The ABCs of Health and Happiness

Leftover Happy Face Cookie

The ABCs of Health and Happiness Davidicus Wong

Accept responsibility for your own health. Be active. Create happiness for yourself and others. Don’t drink to excess. Eat a healthy diet. Follow your bliss. Greet each day with gratitude. Help yourself to happiness by helping others. Identify your strengths. Jump at every opportunity to make someone else’s day. Kickstart each day by counting your blessings. Love unconditionally; we are all human and worthy of being loved. Mind your thoughts; they shape your moods. Nurture healthy relationships. Open your heart and mind. Project inner peace. Quit smoking. Respect your body. Smile and see the beauty in your world, in others and in yourself. Transform every problem into a positive goal. Understand that it takes a village to care for a village; everyone matters. Visualize your goals. When feeling rushed, wait for your mind and body to move together. Exude passion. Yield to your better and wiser self. Zestfully embrace this day.

Balance Burnaby Division of Family Practice Empowering Healthcare Exercise Healthy Living

Self-Care is Healthcare

icebergImagine an iceberg. All that we see is the fraction above the surface, but 90% of its bulk lies in the depths of the ocean.

In healthcare, most of our attention is drawn to acute hospital care with less given to the bulk of care within the community: in ambulatory clinics, primary care practices, residential and home care.

But really, who provides over 90% of your healthcare? Hint: It’s not doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Where do actions have the greatest impact on your present and future health?

Your personal medical and family histories are important in identifying particular areas of your health that demand special attention. Yet by far the greatest predictor of your health tomorrow are the habits you practice today.

Some bad habits and their negative effects on our health are obvious. Smoking shortens life and its quality through accelerated atherosclerosis (narrowing and progressive damage to our blood vessels) thereby increasing our risks for premature dementia, strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease. It increases the risk for cancers including the lung, oral cavity, throat and bladder. It progressively damages the lungs, leading to emphysema or chronic lung disease.

Excessive alcohol (more than two or three drinks on any day) contributes to high blood pressure, progressive liver damage (leading to cirrhosis and liver failure), ulcers and impairment in the quality of work, social and family life.

Mood and mind altering street drugs, including marijuana, lead to dependence and addiction. They are a form of chemical coping – similar to the use of short-acting prescription tranquilizers and sedatives. They are ultimately disempowering; they take away one’s sense of control over one’s own life, body and emotions. Drug and alcohol dependence impairs mood, judgment, driving safety, work, school and relationships.

The quality of your daily lifestyle is a powerful predictor of your future health. You really are what you eat. What you consume provides the energy and building blocks for the cells and organs of your body. You wouldn’t build a car with defective parts and fill the tank with contaminated fuel.

For most of us, our bodies thrive on a variety of fruits and vegetables, which provide the vitamins and anti-oxidants we need for healthy cellular function. We need adequate protein to rebuild and repair muscles and other tissues. We also need adequate but not excessive calories and fats (such as fish oils) in our diet. In general, we should avoid excessive animal fat and processed food.

If you haven’t put too much thought into what you eat, take the healthy eating challenge. See how much better you feel with a month of more mindful eating. Over the long term, healthy eating reduces obesity, high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

Three other key areas of self-care are (1) physical activity, (2) emotional management and (3) healthy relationships. These will be the focus of upcoming columns that will include practical tips to achieve your goals in healthier daily living.

Dr. Davidicus Wong will be speaking on self-care at the Bob Prittie (Metrotown) Branch of the Burnaby Public Library on October 20th. Register by phone at (604)436-5400 or online at You can read more about achieving your positive potential in health at

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Doctors Prescribe Exercise: The Benefits of Physical Activity

During the week of May 3rd to 11th, 2014, doctors throughout British Columbia will be promoting physical activity and literally walking the talk with their patients in a variety of community events.

On Saturday, May 3rd, the Doctors of B.C. (formerly the B.C. Medical Association) will kick off the week with a free and fun 2 km walk at Kitsilano Beach Park in Vancouver at 9:30 am. I’ll be there with many of my colleagues along with our patients.

Even if your doctor isn’t there, you’re welcome to attend. All members of the public are invited, but come early to get your free pedometer. For more information about this event, check online at

Throughout this month, doctors across the province will be writing prescriptions for exercise, encouraging patients of every age to be physically active.

To celebrate the World Health Organization’s Move for Health Day on Saturday, May 10th, the City of Burnaby has organized a large number of free events including community walks in many of our neighbourhoods, canoe lessons, boot camp, swimming and the grand opening of the outdoor fitness circuit at Central Park. For more information check the City’s website at

Why the big push for everyone to be more active?

Here are 7 proven benefits of regular physical activity.

1. It decreases your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Exercise also plays an important role in managing and improving chronic health conditions.

2. Physical activity prevents weight gain and can help maintain a healthy weight. It complements healthy nutrition.

3. It improves the fitness of your heart, lungs and muscles. Regular physical activity conditions your body to function better making everyday activities easier.

4. Regular physical activity prevents falls and improves cognition in older adults. When your limbs and brain are accustomed to movement, your balance, agility and ability to react improve. When blood flows better throughout your body, it also provides better circulation to the brain. A healthy body promotes a healthy brain.

5. Weight bearing activity (i.e. walking) helps maintain bone density, reducing your risk for osteoporosis and fractures.

6. Exercise improves sleep. Although vigorous exercise just before hopping into bed may be too stimulating, activity earlier in the day can improve the quality of your sleep.

7. Physical activity improves emotional wellbeing. For a number of years, psychiatrists have been prescribing exercise to their patients suffering from the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Exercise has been shown to reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol, and increase endorphins which are natural painkillers and feel-good chemicals. Exercise also promotes a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. Physical activity can provide social benefits; you can meet regularly with friends to keep you motivated or make new like-minded friends while enjoying your spin class, swim or Zumba sessions.

Our bodies were meant to move. When we don’t, our health suffers; when we do, we thrive.

Over the next week, look for simple ways you can increase your level of physical activity. You could walk or bike to school or work – or simply get off the bus a few blocks further from your destination. You could buy a bright new umbrella, embrace our rainy days and choose to do an extra walk each day. Take the stairs when you can.

At home, walk while you talk on the phone. Spend less time in front of the computer or TV but move around while you watch your favourite shows. Dance with the music you love.

In upcoming columns, I’ll discuss specific exercise recommendations, the risks of exercise and tips on staying motivated and achieving your fitness goals.

Drs. Davidicus Wong, Karime Mitha and Shelley Ross at the BCMA's Walk With Your Doc May 4th, 2013


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September: Time to review our routines

Bonsor Recreation Complex - Davidicus Wong
Bonsor Recreation Complex – Davidicus Wong

As our children settle into the rhythm and routines of a new school year, they begin with fresh notebooks, new pens, empty lockers and clean desks.

The rest of us are adjusting to their new schedules for driving and mealtimes, but even if we aren’t students ourselves, the approaching fall beckons us to renew and reaffirm our daily routines.

We all fall into routines – repeated patterns of behaviour – that may not necessarily be the best for us. We might follow routine because it is easier or expedient. We may continue routines simply out of habit.

Many families call this tradition with generations of children carrying on without question.

As parents of returning students – or as adults responsible only for ourselves, we can take this month to review and challenge our routine. Here are a few questions to get you started.

How are we eating?

Unhealthy eating is fed by habit; healthy eating takes planning.

When a doctor asks patients to count the number of times they bought prepared food in the past week, the answer can surprise everyone. We might take the drive-through and eat on the run because we’re in a rush or because we’re simply hungry.

How many of your meals are unplanned?

When we leave diet to chance, we usually spend more money and consume more calories, salt, fat and processed food. The bathroom scale and your bank balance can give you clues. You could simply attend to how you physically feel when eating well and when you don’t.

Watch out for those late dinners and high calorie snacks.

I tell my patients what I tell my kids: planning for the next day reduces the morning rush and bad choices.

Where do you waste your time?

Students and busy grownups often feel as if there’s not enough time in a day. We can’t add more hours to each day, but we can save time by not wasting it.

Over the course of a typical day and week, keep track of how you spend your time. How many minutes do you spend on a tablet, smart phone or computer?

Television used to be the number one timewaster with shopping (for the sake of shopping) a close second, but we have developed even more sophisticated distractions in the 21st century.

Most people are surprised how time slips away while we are answering e-mails, texting and spending time on twitter and facebook. I predict that social media will ultimately consume so much of our lives that we won’t have time to leave the house and actually meet other people.

If we put a hard daily cap on our time in front of any screen and in shopping malls, we’re sure to find time for what is more important and healthy for us.

You may even find time to exercise.

Where in your daily life can you fit in more physical activity?


Bonsor Recreation Complex, Burnaby - Davidicus Wong
Bonsor Recreation Complex, Burnaby – Davidicus Wong

We can walk and take the stairs when we can. Many of my patients park their vehicles or get off transit a distance from work so that they can have a good walk at the beginning and the end of each day. Others use the community gyms and pools close to home or work.

Depending on your neighbourhood, an after-dinner stroll or cycle is a nice way to spend an evening.

Take a cue from our kids, review your routines, reaffirm healthy habits and make a fresh start this season.


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The Rhythm of Your Life


Patricia Lake, Jasper - Davidicus Wong
Patricia Lake, Jasper – Davidicus Wong

When doctors talk about rhythm, we’re usually referring to the heart. As we check your pulse and listen to your heart, we make note of the rate (Is it fast or slow?) and the rhythm (Is it regular or irregular? Are there pauses or extra beats?).

I frequently pick up arrhythmias (or irregular heart rhythms) when patients come in for a blood pressure measurement. They may be feeling perfectly well if the rate is not fast or slow enough to cause lightheadedness or fainting.

We also make note of other rates and rhythms as each patient breathes, speaks and moves.

A very depressed patient may speak and move more slowly. There may be long pauses between words. Patients who are manic often demonstrate pressure of speech. Their thoughts may fly such that they can hardly get the words out fast enough. A stressed or anxious patient may speak and move so quickly that they make people around them feel anxious themselves.

Of course, an over or underactive thyroid gland can mimic the symptoms of anxiety and depression, respectively.

Just as most of us are not aware of the rates and rhythms of our hearts as we move through our days, we can take for granted the pace with which we live our lives.

Ideally, we simply adjust our rhythms to the demands of the moment. This week as families adjust to a new school year, parents and children attempt to synchronize their clocks and somehow manage to get to school and work on time – give or take a few minutes – without everyone getting stressed out.

I have patients whose work and personal lives are so jammed pack that they have difficulty slowing down even when they’ve arrived at my office. The demands of their lives have forced them into a frenetic rhythm that they recognize is both uncomfortable and unhealthy.

For some young parents, coming to the doctor’s office alone is one of the few breaks they may have during the week. Most of them recognize that this is the rhythm and pace of this stage in their family’s life. At times, they reminisce about life before kids.

Most of my family practice colleagues have frenetic work lives. There is always the pressure of time, punctuated by interruptions, unexpected problems and counselling visits, and the need to be fully present for each individual.

Some doctors have told me that they don’t even have time to go to the washroom. But don’t ask your doctors if they’ve had a break. It might remind them that they really have to go.

We all need to adjust the rhythm and rates with which we live our lives. We need breaks throughout the day when we can pause, take a health break and change gears. We can fall into unhealthy rhythms out of habit or succumbing to the demands of others.

We can be entrained by the rhythms of the people around us – coworkers, friends and family. An overworked mom or dad can stress the entire family. If we don’t attend to and adjust the pace of our lives, it can affect our health, our performance and our relationships.

Today, take a pulse check. How is the rhythm of your life? Are there times you need to slow down or speed up? Is the rhythm of your family life a lullaby, a dance or hard rock?

This Sunday, September 8th, the Burnaby Hospital Foundation’s Rhythm of Life Run, Walk & Fair will be held at Burnaby Lake. I’ll be there with other family doctors showing our support for the health of our community, but after the run, I won’t be checking anyone’s pulse but my own.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre and chair of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice.  For more information about the Rhythm of Life fair, check the Burnaby Hospital Foundation’s website at

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Can you really balance your life? 3 keys.

When you look back on your life when you have retired, on the closing stretch or with your last breaths, will you ask what you have done with your time?

What will be the measure of this life?

Your net worth? The vehicles you drove? The number of good meals and drinks you enjoyed? Your total number of facebook friends? Your twitter followers? Every movie you watched? The TV series you followed? The value of your watches and rings? The clothes you wore? Whatever else you may have collected? All the material things you wanted and needed, finally bought and eventually threw away?

Chances are you will no longer find value in any of these. Your thoughts will turn to that which had deeper and more enduring meaning to you.

Ironically, throughout the greater part of our lives, our thought, energy and time are consumed with many of the items on the dubious list above. We do this at the cost of what we value most.

We recognize this late in the day, when we have worked long hours or spent too much time online, and the kids are asleep . . . or grown up. We see it at times of crisis, when our lives are out of balance and we have neglected our health, our beliefs or our relationships.

How do we make time for what really counts in our lives? Is it possible to live a balanced life?

Here are three keys to balancing your life.

1. Take time to reflect. If we don’t make time to consider our priorities, we drift away from them. The demands of work, our current preoccupations or the crisis of the moment distract us from committing time to the other important areas of our life. Reflecting allows you to check your compass and bearings and redirect your direction.

2. Balance your week. Look at how you allocate time for the important areas of your life. Throughout the week, I think about the most important areas of my life, including my family, work, friends, emotional wellbeing and physical health.

What challenges do you have in each area? How can you best use your time?

There are times in our life when free time is scarce. We may have to work overtime, study for exams or juggle childcare with housekeeping. At any time in our lives, we have to recognize where we have the freedom of choice. Are you choosing to spend time where it is most needed and valued?

We tend to put off ‘til the weekend important things we ultimately fail to do. This might include clearing the clutter, taking out the trash, balancing the budget or spending more time with the people you love.

3. Balance each day. When we’re busy, we may not take the time to exercise, get enough sleep or eat proper meals, but these are crucial to your wellbeing. By scheduling them into your day, you won’t neglect them. These are the habits of health.

Maintaining a healthy balance in life doesn’t come naturally. It is a dynamic process that requires the daily intention to give priority to what matters most. By staying on course, you’ll find greater satisfaction with your journey through life.

At the end of the day, we’ll judge ourselves by how we spent our time.

Cousins hiking in Banff - Davidicus Wong
Cousins hiking in Banff – Davidicus Wong
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Your Positive Potential for Health: The Dynamic Balance

Central Park in early spring by Davidicus Wong
Central Park in early spring by Davidicus Wong

Some parents don’t listen to their children unless they’re misbehaving, but wise parents are proactive and involved; they know what their kids are up to . . . especially when they’re quiet.

This is something we all know, but when we’re putting out fires at work, we may neglect the other important areas of our lives.

Our personal health is one of those areas.

A lot of people don’t think about their health until something goes wrong. Even then, they may neglect the body’s messages: poor sleep, chronic tiredness, nagging aches and changes in the bodily functions they take for granted.

But health isn’t defined as the absence of disease, and good health care is not just the treatment of illness.

I define health as the optimal balance of the important areas of your life and achieving your positive potential in each of those areas.

Just as your organization has mission and vision statements, I believe each of us should have a personal mission statement and a vision that serves as a compass. By looking at our compass as we go about our daily lives – rather than when we’re already lost, we are more likely to stay on track.

My personal mission is to achieve my positive potential in life and to help others achieve theirs. At work, I seek to do more than solve each patient’s list of medical problems. I seek to see the whole person, their challenges in the context of their emotional, physical and social health, and to help them achieve their personal goals.

But few of us will achieve our goals unless we articulate them. This is not unlike how executives will define their organization’s goals and their strategy to achieve them.

Each day, I look at my mandala – a large circle with 10 smaller spheres around its perimeter. Each of the spheres represents an important area of my life: my family, mental well-being, emotional health, rest & play, spiritual health, social health, physical well-being, work, financial well-being and environmental health.

Each weekday, I spend a moment to consider just two of those spheres. For example, on Monday I may think about my family and social life. I have chosen three or four goals for each sphere and I use them as guideposts during the week.

My goals for my family are to spend enough time and attention with my spouse and children, to nurture each relationship and to maintain a loving and supportive home.

On Saturdays, I reflect on an 11th circle that I place at the centre of the mandala. It represents my calling. To borrow from Jim Collins’ From Good to Great, your calling is the intersection of your passions (what you love to do), your talents (what you do better than anyone else) and the needs of the world. It is what you must do to find meaning. It is your gift to the world.

On Sunday, I reflect on how I have balanced the important spheres of my life during the week. What have I been focused on? What have I neglected?

To attend to your health and to find balance in your life, you can’t afford to wait until your next vacation or serious illness. You can’t wait for a quieter time to start eating healthier meals, catching up on sleep, cutting down on alcohol, quitting smoking or starting an exercise program. You have to recognize the priorities in your life and add them to your schedule until healthier living becomes a routine.

I get to bed by 9:30 to wake up each day at 5. I’ll swim 80 lengths at the pool and be back home in time to have breakfast with my family and drive my daughter to school.

During a busy day at work, I’ve scheduled time for a healthy lunch and a shorter rest break during the morning and the afternoon. Although I may have the occasional evening meeting for my nonprofit organization or for community education, my daily goal is to be home for dinner.

A healthy balance in your life doesn’t come naturally. We and our lives are in constant motion and change is inevitable, but to be at our best, we should strive for that dynamic balance.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre. 

He is a regular Tuesday morning guest on Jill Krop’s AM/BC talk show at 9 am weekdays on BC1.