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Relieving Back Pain and Preventing Back Injuries

If you suffer from back pain, you’re not alone. According to the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 5 in 10 Canadians suffer from chronic low back pain, while 85% of working Canadians can expect to experience back pain at some point in their lifetime. Back pain is a common problem, with many different causes – some of which are easy to determine, while, in other cases, may be complex in nature.

Our backs play an important role as they help support our body. Things like extra body weight or poor posture can put a hard demand on or spine and joints, ultimately increasing the risk of low back pain and other back-related problems in the future. In addition, living a sedentary lifestyle can also play a role in the health of our spine. For example, when you sit for a prolonged period of time, this can have a negative impact on your muscles and joints and can cause the spine to decondition (resulting in a decline in your ability to physically function) as well as cause the back to feel fatigued and stress. Back pain can also be cause as a result of a muscle or ligament strain which are often caused by things like heavy lifting or sudden and awkward movements, ruptured discs, motor vehicle accidents, or other health conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.

The good news is that there are things you can to do strengthen the back as well as manage back pain that you might be experiencing.

As mentioned, living a sedentary lifestyle is one of the most common reason why someone will develop back pain, therefore one of the most important things to do to prevent that from happening is to ensure that you are partaking in low-impact physical activity on a daily basis, whether it’s by doing regular household activities (i.e. house cleaning, gardening), or other exercises such as low-impact aerobics, biking or stationary cycling. Stretching and resistance exercises, as well as swimming, can also be quite helpful in preventing back problems. If you happen to have a current back injury, you should always first check with your physician before starting any new physical activity, as you could potentially worsen the injury if you’re not careful.

Another important preventive measure when it comes to back injuries is to make sure your diet includes foods that are best for spinal health. These include highly pigmented fruits & vegetables (such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and cherries, kale, broccoli, and spinach), plaint-based proteins (such as beans, lentils, and chia seeds), foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon), a mix of herbs and spices (such as basil, rosemary, ginger and cinnamon), and high-calcium dairy products (such as milk, yogurt and cheese.)

In cases where you’ve just suffered a back injury, one of the first things you should do is to stop whatever it was you were doing and apply ice to the affected area. This can help reduce pain and swelling in the immediate minutes and hours following the injury. After icing it for the next 2 or 3 days, you can then switch to applying heat to the area. As a further measure to relieve pain, you can take over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If after 1 or 2 weeks your back pain does not subside, you should speak with your physician. He or she may have alternative recommendations or treatment options for you to try. If your lower back pain also includes other symptoms, such as weakness in the legs, severe stomach pain, loss of bladder or bowel control, or you have a high fever, then you should seek immediate medical attention as these could be signs of a medical emergency.

Layers of Protection

When it comes to preventing the spread of viruses like the common cold or flu, we know that there are relatively easy measures to take to try to avoid getting sick – such as staying home when we’re unwell, avoiding contact with those who we know are sick, washing our hands, and so on and so forth. With COVID-19, all of these measures still apply in addition to a few others – but what are all the layers of protection we can take and how, exactly, do they protect us?

#1 – KEEPING YOUR DISTANCE
What we know about COVID-19 is that it is easily spread from person to person via respiratory droplets (i.e., by coughing, sneezing, and even talking) – particularly when you are in close contact with an infected individual. What you or the other individual may not know, however, is whether or not you have the virus, as it’s possible to be infected while asymptomatic. For this reason, it’s important that we practice physical distancing from others at all times by staying at least 2 metres (6 feet) apart. While it’s still possible to contract COVID-19 by having contact with others – we know that the further the distance, the lower the risk.

#2 – WASHING YOUR HANDS
Washing your hands is something you should be going regardless of COVID-19. That being said, it’s an extra important measure to take amid the pandemic, and you should be doing so frequently. The method in which you wash your hands is also just as equally important. For example, you should be using warm soap and water, and scrubbing your hands together for at least 20 to 30 seconds. By doing this, you disrupt and inactivate the virus on the skin. If you don’t wash your hands, you could easily contract the virus simply by touching your face.

If, for some reason, soap and water isn’t immediately available to you, then hand sanitizer is an alternative option for you to use – but you need to ensure that the sanitizer you use contains at least 60% alcohol (or higher.) While you don’t need to use an excessive amount of sanitizer in order for it to be effective, you should make sure you use enough so that it envelopes both hands – from the palms, to each finger, as well as the tops of your hands; and always be sure to still wash your hands as soon as you have the chance.

#3 – WEARING A FACE MASK
While one of the best ways to prevent the spread and contraction of the virus is to stay home, not everyone has the ability to do that. We also still need to go out and buy our everyday essentials (i.e., get groceries, pick up medications, etc.) While masks are not mandated in British Columbia, many businesses have implemented their own mask policies where they are a requirement prior to entry for both staff and customers. Furthermore, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has stated that it is the “expectation” that where masks (except in cases where a person may not be able to – i.e., if they have a disability that prevents them from being able to put on or remove a mask, etc.) Face masks are another important layer of protection that can help prevent the spread of droplets, and you can view an example of just how far droplets can spread with and without the use of face masks here.

#4 – DAILY HEALTH CHECKS
As part of the updated Provincial health orders issued by Dr. Henry on November 7th, employers are required to have a COVID-19 safety plan, which also must include having their employees do daily health checks to ensure that they are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. These health checks are mandatory. If an employee is experiencing symptoms such as a cough, fever or chills, loss of sense of smell or taste, sore throat, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or if they have travelled outside of Canada within the last 14 days, have been identified as being a close contact of someone with COVID-19, or were told to isolate by public health, then they should not be entering the workplace. Furthermore, Dr. Henry has also ordered that any employers that have employees who are considered high-risk for COVID-19 should allow them to work from home if feasible (i.e., if they were able to work from home previously.) Further information on how to conduct daily health checks can be found on WorkSafe BC’s website.

#5 – STAYING HOME WHEN SICK
While we used to go places when we had mild forms of illness, that’s not something we should be doing given the COVID-19 pandemic. While you may not have COVID-19, its symptoms can mimic that of the common cold or flu – such as having a cough or fever. As such, if you are sick, and even if your symptoms are extremely mild, you need to stay home and away from others. It’s also recommended that anyone who is experiencing symptoms of illness be tested for COVID-19. You can find a COVID-19 testing centre in your area by clicking here.

COVID-19 Q&A: Part 10

“What’s causing the spike in British Columbia’s daily COVID-19 numbers and who is being most affected?”
As we have seen previously, cases of COVID-19 tend to spike as a result of large gatherings (i.e. parties, wedding receptions, dinners, etc.) – particularly those that are held in private residences, which then results in a tailspin where other individuals become infected. There currently seems to be an increase in positive cases in those who are between the ages of 20-29 and 30-39, however, all age groups are still being impacted by this virus, while 64 is the median age of those being hospitalized as a result of COVID-19. 1 in 10 of those diagnosed with COVID-19 have been identified as health care workers, although our province has also seen a decline in the proportion of health care worker cases.

“What are the new restrictions ordered by Dr. Bonnie Henry?”
If you reside in either the Fraser Health or Vancouver Coastal Health regions, you must limit your interactions with others to your immediate household only – meaning that you are to have no interactions with those whom you do not reside with (for example, you should not be inviting any friends over to your home.) However, if you live alone, you may have up to two other individuals at your home as long as those individuals are people you interact with regularly. While things like weddings and funerals can be held with only immediate households in attendance, you should not be hosting receptions afterwards – as larger gatherings of this kind are where we see the high rates of transmission of COVID-19.

If you need to travel outside of the aforementioned regions, you should only be doing so if it is essential.

Group indoor fitness activities are also currently banned, as are contact sports. If you are a facility that hosts group fitness classes, you are required to submit an updated safety plan which must then be approved.

Employers must review their COVID-19 safety plans to ensure their all measures are being taken to keep both their employees and customers safe (for example, adhering to physical distancing, regular hygiene, and wearing face masks.) While these are lawyers of protection that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s still possible to contract the virus with these measures in place…therefore, where an employer cannot meet all of these protective measures or has employees who are considered high-risk for COVID-19 (for example, if the employee has an underlying condition that puts them at greater risk of contracting the virus, such as a respiratory condition (i.e. asthma, COPD), diabetes, or heart disease), then it is ordered by Dr. Henry that employers should allow those workers to work from home. Employers must also ensure that in-office employees are doing daily health checks for any symptoms of COVID-19, and also ensure that employees who do have symptoms or are sick in any way stay home.

“Do British Columbia’s new restrictions apply to all regions?”
Currently, the enhanced restrictions surrounding COVID-19 only apply to those who reside in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions given the rapid increase in new daily cases in these areas. However, regardless of whether or not you reside in these specific regions, individuals across all parts of British Columbia must continue to adhere to the current orders and recommendations made by our provincial health officials.

“Why were the stricter restrictions implemented only for the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions?”
As mentioned, the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions have seen an alarming increase in the numbers of those who are testing positive for COVID-19, which is why the stricter restrictions have been implemented in these areas.

“How long are the new orders in place?”
The order went into effect on Saturday, November 7th, 2020 at 10:00 PM until Monday, November 23rd, 2020 at 12:00 PM. It is the hope that within this two-week period, there will be a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions. That being said, Dr. Henry has the authority to extend the order and implement further measures if necessary.

Probiotics

In order to be healthy, we need to put healthy things into our bodies – including healthy bacteria – such as probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help promote a healthy digestive tract and immune system, in addition to preventing (and even treating) certain illnesses, including autoimmune diseases, urinary tract infections, and skin ailments. When your body doesn’t have enough healthy bacteria, or if you are suffering from an illness, this can change the balance of bacteria in your system and lead to some of these aforementioned digestive and health-related problems. By introducing probiotics, this changes the composition of the bacteria in the gut and pushes out the bad, preventing it from multiplying and leading to infections or inflammation.

The most common reasons why probiotics are recommended is when you are taking antibiotics. While antibiotics are helpful in getting rid of infections, they not only kill off the bad bacteria, but can also kill off the good bacteria. As a result, a common symptom associated with antibiotic use and a lack of healthy bacteria in the gut is diarrhea. This is why, in order to replenish the healthy bacteria and restore the healthy balance of your gut, you should use probiotics whenever you are on an antibiotic.

There are different strains of probiotics, each of which have a different effect on the body, and they include the following:

• B. animalis
• B. breve
• B. lactis
• B. longum
• L. acidophilus

The best way to increase your probiotic intake is through your diet – specifically from foods that are part of the dairy group, including yogurt and fermented cheeses (i.e. Swiss cheese, gouda, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and cottage cheese.) Fermented vegetable products, such as pickles (pickled cucumbers), sauerkraut (shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria, and is a traditional European food), and miso (fermented soybeans), are also good dietary sources of probiotics. (**As a tip, if you are going to choose yogurt as your main probiotic source, it’s important to note that you should choose yogurt that contains active or live cultures on its list of ingredients.**)

If, for some reason, you cannot eat any of the aforementioned foods or don’t find them appealing, then you can also take a probiotic supplement. When choosing a product, be sure to look for supplements that contain live cultures, in addition to having a combination of different bacteria strains (a probiotic that contains multiple bacteria strains tends to be more effective.)

While most people generally tolerate probiotics well, some individuals can experience unpleasant side-effects such as an increase in gas and bloating – although these particular side-effects are usually only temporary. To reduce the development or severity of these side effects, it’s usually recommended that you first start with a lower dose and then slowly increase the dosage of your probiotic so that your body can better adjust. It’s also possible to develop headaches from certain probiotic-rich foods due to biogenic amines, which form when foods are aged or fermented. In this instance, keeping a good diary can be helpful to determine what foods you’re more sensitive to. If you’re having trouble with a probiotic supplement or certain foods, you can also bring this to the attention of your family physician for further advice.

Rosacea: Types, Triggers and Treatment

Rosacea is a common chronic inflammatory condition that affects the skin. It affects more than 3 million Canadians, and an estimated 45 million people on a global scale. While there is no specific cure for rosacea, it can usually be controlled with various measures such as avoiding certain triggers (which we will delve into further later) as well as certain medications.

There are different types of rosacea that one can be diagnosed with, including:

• Neurovascular rosacea
• Inflammatory rosacea
• Phymatous rosacea
• Ocular rosacea
• Combination rosacea

Neurovascular rosacea: This typically appears as facial redness or flushing on the central areas of the face, and is usually described as burning, stinging, itching, dry, or even swelling. You may also notice the appearance of tiny blood vessels on the face.

Inflammatory rosacea: This is often easily mistaken for adult acne due to the appearance of specific areas of persistent redness in addition to bumps and pimples on central parts of the face (such as cheeks, chin, forehead, around the mouth, eyes or nose.) Similar to neurovascular rosacea, you can also experience symptoms such as burning, stinging, or itching.

Phymatous rosacea: A less common type of rosacea to be diagnosed with, phymatous rosacea appears as thickened, bumpy, red skin in addition to the appearance of small blood vessels. The most common area of the face affected by this particular type of rosacea is the nose, although it can also affect the chin, cheeks, forehead, and even ears, and will have symptoms similar to other types of rosacea as well as general tenderness. Phymatous rosacea also tends to affect more men than women.

Ocular rosacea: Sometimes mistaken for an eye infection, ocular rosacea typically occurs in combination with neurovascular or inflammatory rosacea. Your eyes may be red, sore, develop styes, conjunctivitis, as well as appear to look irritated, bloodshot, watery, or you may notice a grit-like sensation or dryness. You may also find that your eyes are sensitive to light, and you may also have blurred vision.

Combination rosacea: It’s also possible to develop more than one of the aforementioned types of rosacea at once, which is then referred to as “combination rosacea.” This will usually be treated with a combination of therapies.

While the exact cause of rosacea is unknown, there are several things that can trigger a flare-up – including both lifestyle and environmental factors.

Lifestyle triggers, for example, can include alcohol consumption (particularly red wine), spicy foods (such as curries or foods and sauces that contain peppers), vigorous exercise, hot baths/showers/saunas, certain skincare products, some medications (such as long-term use of steroids, or medications used to treat high cholesterol), as well as hot beverages. These are all things you can change on your own, however, by avoiding many of these things or finding alternatives (such as skincare products designed for sensitive skin) to prevent flare-ups from occurring.

Environmental triggers are usually things that you cannot control as easily. The weather, for example, is known to be a common trigger for a flare-up of rosacea symptoms. When you are exposed to cold weather, this dry, cold air can be harsh on the skin. On the flip-side, hot weather or being inside hot indoor spaces can also just as easily trigger a flare-up, so it’s important to find a comfortable balance. If you’re going to be outside in cool temperatures for a prolonged period of time, it’s important that you dress appropriately and keep your face protected either by wearing a jacket with a collar, or a scarf. If you’re in warmer weather or a warm indoor space and feel your face start to flush, try sipping on a cool drink or move to an area that is cooler or air conditioned. It’s also important to wear an SPF 30 or broad-spectrum sunscreen, as this is also crucial if you suffer from rosacea.

If left untreated, rosacea can worsen over time. If you think you have rosacea or notice any skin changes, it’s important to let your physician know. When it comes to treating rosacea, there are several treatment methods that can be used, such as topical drugs to help reduce redness (such as a cream or gel), or oral antibiotics. If your rosacea persists without relief, you may also benefit from being referred to a dermatologist.

COVID-19 Q&A: Part 9

“What region in B.C. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases?”
Currently, the Fraser Health region has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in our province. In a press conference last week alongside Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix, Fraser Health’s CEO, Dr. Victoria Lee, urged residents of this region to avoid gatherings of any kind (outside of their household) given the increase in numbers. The Fraser Health region encircles Burnaby, the Fraser Valley, and the Tri-Cities, and it is considered the largest health authority in British Columbia based on population. As a result, there has been an increased in the spread of COVID-19 compared to other regions.

“What does “safe six” mean?”
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recently put in place an order limiting large gatherings in private homes to no more than your immediate household in addition to your “safe six” – meaning that you would be allowed to invite an additional six people into your home. However, the six people you choose should be the same six every time and not a new six people each day or week. That being said, if you cannot meet proper social distancing measures, or live in a smaller home (such as a university dorm, or small apartment), then even six may be too many. The order also means that you should not be having things like parties, weddings, or any other similar types of large get-togethers in private dwellings. You can find the latest information on all orders, notices and guidance put in place by Dr. Henry by clicking here.

“If provisions such as barriers/hand-washing are in place where I work, am I 100% safe?”
Workplaces are required to have an adequate safety plan in place, and that plan must be posted where both customers and staff can see it. (For more on this, visit WorkSafe BC.) That being said, safety is never 100% guaranteed when it comes to COVID-19. The virus is invisible, and even if we follow precautions to a T there’s still a chance we can contract the virus – especially with case numbers surging, and particularly if you are a vulnerable individual who is considered to be higher-risk (for example, if you are over the age of 60, have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.) In the event that you fall into the high-risk category, remote work is something that employers should seriously consider for those employees. Failure to accommodate an employee who is high-risk could be considered discrimination. (For more on this, visit the B.C. Human Rights Commission.)

“Are masks mandatory in British Columbia?”
There are many businesses that require customers to wear masks before entering, and they are also mandatory on public transit (i.e. SkyTrain and buses.) That being said, while masks have not yet officially been made mandatory in our province, Dr. Bonnie Henry says she expects individuals to wear masks when in public places, including grocery stores and other indoor places. A mask is another level of protection that can help reduce the spread of COVID-19, keeping yourself and those around you safer.

“When should I get tested for COVID-19, and how do I get tested?”
If you experience cold or flu-like symptoms such as a runny or congested nose, fever, or cough, then it is recommended you get tested for COVID-19 – even if your symptoms are mild. If you are a resident of Burnaby, you can book your test online by visiting www.burnabycoronavirus.com. For testing in other regions, visit the online collection centre finder or BC CDC website.

Early Winter Preparation for Your Health, Home and More

Even though winter is still two months away (with the season arriving on December 21st, 2020), it’s never a bad idea to start early preparations for your health, home, and other areas – especially now that the weather has already cooled down quite significantly, as well as the fact that parts of British Columbia (and even other parts of Canada) are already getting a premature taste of winter weather. In fact, snow has already even been forecast for many areas – and this was something we were warned to prepare for as far back as September, with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Centre officially issuing a La Niña advisory. La Niña is when there is the appearance of cooler than normal waters (also known as a “cold event”) in the Eastern and Pacific Ocean, including the waters off our coast right here in British Columbia. While an early blast of winter might come as a shock to many British Columbians, it’s also a good reminder that there are some things we can do to better prepare so we are better equipped to deal with winter when it really does hit.

If you are going to be spending time outdoors – whether you work in a job that requires you to spend a significant amount of time outside (i.e. construction), are traveling both to and from work by foot (for example, going to catch a bus or SkyTrain), or for any other reason, then it’s important to wear weather-appropriate clothing, such as:

• Proper footwear (snow boots with good traction)
• Winter jacket (one that is waterproof/repels wind and water)
• Gloves
• Hat
• Earmuffs
• Scarf
• Layered clothing

If you’re going to be driving in wintery conditions, it’s also a good reminder to winterize your vehicle as soon as possible. This means getting its regular maintenance (oil chance, etc.) – and, of course, getting your winter tires put on so that your car is well-equipped to deal with snowy, icy conditions on the road.

In terms of your health, we see a lot more colds and flus during the fall and winter months. With COVID-19 also occurring at the same time, now is a good idea to get your flu shot in advance. Anyone aged 6 months and above is recommended to get the flu vaccine, and this can be booked through your doctor’s office or pharmacy. If you’re unsure as to where you can get vaccinated or simply want more information on the flu vaccine, simply visit ImmunizeBC.ca. If you do develop a cold or the flu, it’s always important to stat home when you’re sick – especially while COVID-19 is still in your province, as its symptoms can also mimic the common cold and influenza. By staying home when you’re sick, you prevent viruses from spreading to others. If you suspect you have COVID-19, it’s suggested that you be tested for it – even if your symptoms are mild.

It’s also a good idea to prepare your home for winter – inside and out. For example, sidewalk salt can be a good way to melt snow and ice from pathways. In addition to salt, you should also always shovel snow from frequently walked areas such as sidewalks, pathways, and staircases. Because getting snowed in from a blizzard or days-long snowfall is also possible, it’s important to stock up on healthy, non-perishable food items, such as dried cans and beans, nut butters, dried fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and grains; as well as bottled water.

B.C. Now in Second Wave of COVID-19

Cases of COVID-19 are once again on the rise in British Columbia, which means a few things.

Firstly, it means that British Columbia is now into its second wave of COVID-19 – this per Dr. Bonnie Henry. It also means that we’re at a very critical time in terms of the approaching winter season and that we once again need to make major changes in terms of how we’re going about our daily lives – whether it’s socially, at school, or at work. In her latest news briefing, Dr. Henry pointed out that many of the latest transmissions of the virus are happening as a result of large gatherings – such as weddings and funerals – where there will be approximately 30 or 40 people in attendance, in addition to the arrival of extra unexpected guests, as well as trouble limiting the number of attendees and having safe social distancing measure. Events such as these involve interaction, which then leads to transmission of the virus. As a result, Dr. Henry says that there could be further restrictions imposed if things do not change – and, that it is important we stick to our “safe six” social bubble, and that we avoid switching up who is in said bubble.

Furthermore, Dr. Henry also went on to state that employers should be taking all precautions necessary to ensure their employees are safe – such as not having everyone in the office at one time, staggering breaks, ensuring social distancing and other measures are met (i.e. plexiglass dividers and cleaning stations), and, in situations where they have employees who are considered high-risk for COVID-19 (such as having an underlying medical condition that increases their risk of contracting the virus), that accommodations be made to allow those employees to work from home – which is something many offices had to do at the start of the pandemic, and may now need to revert back to temporarily.

Essentially, we all have to go back to basics and doing what we know works in order to keep ourselves and everyone around us as safe as possible, and to prevent the virus from getting out of control. That means not only following the aforementioned guidelines above, but also washing our hands regularly with soap and water (or using hand sanitizer in scenarios where soap and water isn’t readily available), disinfecting all high-touch areas, and only going out for essentials (i.e. groceries and medications.) Now is the time for everyone to work together to continue to eradicate COVID-19.

While no cases of influenza have been reported in British Columbia yet, it’s also important to take that extra precaution to prevent the spread of the flu by getting your flu vaccine, which can be booked with your physician’s office or pharmacy. You can also find out where the flu shot is available, as well as find more information on the benefits of the vaccine, by visiting Immunize BC’s website at www.immunizebc.ca.

To stay up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 data, visit www.bccdc.ca.

Complex Chronic Pain

As of last year, one in five Canadians were said to be living with chronic pain. Chronic pain is characterized as pain that lasts for 3 months or longer, and when the patient does not find any relief with the usual treatment regimens. In many cases, chronic pain can also often be complex in nature and with unknown triggers, making it difficult to treat. As a result, chronic pain that is left untreated can also result in other health problems, such as high blood pressure and insomnia, and can even have an impact on mental health – leading to depression and anxiety.

Among one of the most common types of chronic pain disorders that people are diagnosed with is a condition known as fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a painful condition that is characterized by having pain and tenderness (usually described as generalized soreness, aching, or even burning) throughout various areas of the body – although it is often felt in the muscles and tendons. Its exact cause is unknown, though it’s not uncommon for it to show up following something like a motor vehicle accident or other traumatic injury, or the result of a viral infection.

Patients with fibromyalgia will usually have a certain degree of pain on an almost daily occurrence, although there are also times where it may be more intense than other days. There may also be certain things that trigger a fibromyalgia flare, such as stress, or even changes in the weather. Because fibromyalgia can be debilitating, it can also have an effect on one’s ability to carry out their day to day activities, such as going to work, school, or their ability to socialize with friends and family, can result in memory problems (sometimes referred to as “brain fog.”) Fibromyalgia also often coincides with depression and anxiety by as much as 30% of cases, and those individuals may also have an increased sensitivity to pain.

In order to diagnose fibromyalgia, physicians will try to rule out any other potential causes of the patient’s pain by sending them for complete blood workups, or certain medical imaging tests. In some cases, this process can take several months or years. In cases where testing returns as being normal, then a diagnosis of fibromyalgia will be considered. Once the diagnosis has been rendered, then the treatment plan can begin. As fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain aren’t often relieved with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, other lines of treatment, such as anti-epileptics or anti-depressants are often prescribed. These medications are known to help reduce pain, but also have other benefits such as relieving anxiety and improving sleep. That being said, it may take several weeks before the medication itself kicks in and one notices any improvement.

Headaches and migraines are another type of complex chronic pain, though also very common and frequently diagnosed in people of all ages – children and adults. When one has a complex migraine, it often comes with attacks of prolonged aura (i.e. disturbances such as flashes of light, or blind spots), which can last for many hours or even last several days at a time, in addition to persisting/prolonged pain. Like fibromyalgia, the same types of medications are often used to treat chronic migraines. However, it’s also important to rule out any potential problems that could be contributing to the patient’s headaches and migraines, such as hormonal changes, vision problems, – or even brain tumours.

If you are suffering from chronic pain, it’s recommended that you keep a chronic pain journal so that you can document your level of pain, any known triggers, anything you find beneficial, as well as to help keep track of your medications. This will also help your team of doctors in finding the right treatment plan, or adjusting your treatment plan when necessary.

Coping with COVID-19 and Anxiety

If you’ve noticed an increase in your anxiety levels as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to struggle during times of uncertainty and change, and you, like many others around the world, may be finding it difficult to cope. While life is uncertain in many different aspects, global pandemics and other world events can cause even greater uncertainty, which ultimately causes even greater anxiety in us than what we might normally be used to. The key is finding healthy, positive ways to cope with that anxiety – and, if you yourself aren’t feeling anxious but know someone who is, then it’s also important to be compassionate towards those who may be feeling overwhelmed.

Because we spend more time watching the news (or getting our news from social media), this can also cause an increase in anxiety. While it’s important to stay in the know in terms of what’s going on in the world, including news on COVID-19, you can also fall into something known as information overload – and, when our attention is drawn to something like COVID-19 for so long, we begin to focus on and think about it more, almost in a subconscious way. If you find that the news and/or social media has become too overwhelming for you, you don’t have to cut yourself off from it completely. You can, however, control how much time you spend watching television and on social media by limiting yourself. Many social media platforms also have the option to limit or block certain words or hashtags. So, if you don’t want to get as much information on COVID-19 on your timeline, you may want to temporarily add it to your list of blocked words, or only follow one or two reliable social media accounts for news on COVID-19 as opposed to several at once. On the other hand, because we’ve had to learn to socially distance and may not be able to have in-person get-togethers with friends and family for the time being, social media use has also increased significantly as more and more people are using it as a method of communication during this pandemic. Therefore, simply be mindful as to how much social media exposure you’re getting, and the kind of information you’re being subjected to and the fact that it could potentially be a contributor to your anxiety.

Similarly, even talking about COVID-19 constantly can sometimes be too much for people and cause an increase in anxiety. For example, if you’re on the phone with a friend, family member, or co-worker. To counteract this anxiety, try to avoid long discussions about it and let those you’re talking to know that the subject makes you uncomfortable. For all you know, they could even feel the same way. Instead, turn your conversations to positive topics of discussion.

Many people have also suffered job loss or financial hardships as a result of COVID-19. By March, the unemployment rate in the country jumped to 7.8% (from 2.2%), with more than one million Canadians losing their job as a direct result of the pandemic. Job loss can not only be difficult on you financially, as mentioned, but it can also cause a decline in both your physical and mental health, which can lead to other impacts – such as loss of motivation, loss of social contacts, and increased feelings of sadness and/or anger, and could even lead to depression. While coping with unemployment is hard, it’s important to remember the things you’re still in control of. It can also be helpful to set a budget for yourself and identify areas in which you may need to cut back on your spending. If you’re actively looking for a job and want to keep busy in-between work, this is also a positive thing as it can keep your mind from going to dark places. To stay engaged, you could sign up for volunteer work, look for freelance opportunities, or join free online courses. For help with your job search, you can find a list of available job opportunities via www.workbc.ca or www.jobbank.gc.ca.

While coping with anxiety may also sometimes feel embarrassing, it’s important to remember, as mentioned at the start of this article, that you’re not alone. It’s also important to know that help is out there if you need it, with various mental health resources available across Canada in addition to 24/7 help lines where you can be connected with someone one on one.