Your emotional wellbeing is an essential part of your health, but many patients only see their doctors when something is wrong with their bodies.
In the daily reality of my family practice, I assist patients coping with overwhelming emotions, troublesome thoughts and anxiety. Many initially present a physical problem, such as abdominal pain or insomnia as the reason for the visit.
Physical problems themselves are a cause of distress and can have a significant impact on our lives. Yet emotional distress can result in even greater negative effects.
Our emotional states can narrow our thoughts and influence our behaviour, affecting our enjoyment of life, our performance at work or in school, and how we relate to others. This can create vicious cycles of distressing emotional states, negative or anxious thinking, and worsening of our circumstances that in turn leads to increasingly negative feelings.
Our feelings shape our thoughts. When anxious, we may see a more threatening, overwhelming and unpredictable world. We underestimate our ability to cope. We overestimate what we must deal with.
When we become depressed, we may see our selves, others and our circumstances in a negative light. We have more difficulty seeing our own good qualities and abilities, the good in our relationships and the positive aspects of our circumstances.
Many people suffering from emotional symptoms hesitate to get help because they think they should be able to manage on their own. Although normal emotional reactions are part of life – it’s human to feel sad if we lose a loved one and anxious when we’re threatened, we need help when our emotions are of an intensity and duration such that they negatively impact the important areas of our lives, including our relationships and our performance at school or work.
Family members and friends sometimes don’t know what to do when someone they care about is suffering emotionally. Some mistake depression for a minor case of the blues that we all suffer when things don’t go our way, but people with depression can’t just snap out of it.
They need more information on how to recognize serious emotional problems and how to get help.
The Doctors of BC (British Columbia Medical Association) has just launched a new website, OpenMindBC.ca as part of its Council on Health Promotion Youth Mental Health Project. It contains valuable links to resources for youth and young adult patients and families, teachers and health care providers.
You’ll find information about common emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and psychosis. On the site, you can find online tools for self-assessment, practical self-help information, tips for managing stress and information to access professional help.
Even if you’re neither a youth nor a young adult, check out this invaluable website anyway. You’ll find helpful suggestions that anyone can use to manage stress and maintain emotional health.
And if you need some help with your emotional health, talk to your family doctor. It’s part of what we do to care for you as a whole person.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician.