I do it almost every day. Someone doesn’t feel well. They come to see me as a doctor and talk about their symptoms. I ask questions, do an exam, order tests, and prescribe treatment. For some “simple” medical problems, that is enough.
But more often than not there are so many more issues beyond just the physical symptoms. If I ignore these other factors, the patient may or may not get better. And I have done the patient poor service.
It has been estimated that perhaps 75% of the time a patient goes to see a primary care physician the primary problem is not physical. Instead, the problem is primarily psychological. That doesn’t mean symptoms are “all in your head.” It means problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress are extremely common, and they have strong effects on our physical bodies.
Research has continued to document the interaction between our psychological health and our physical health. Much of that is just common sense when you think about it. And all the other parts of our lives are connected as well. Our relationships affect our physical and emotional health, as does our spiritual life.
Think of some common examples:
- A young woman struggling with depression feels she has no reason to eat healthy or exercise, and as a result becomes even more depressed
- A husband and father ends up in the emergency room with chest pain from the anxiety after losing his job
- A betrayed spouse can’t sleep and develops severe headaches and stomach pains
- A pregnant woman obsesses over normal pregnancy symptoms while struggling with guilt over a previous abortion
- A lonely senior loses much physical and mental function after so many months of neglecting basic personal self-care
And we could go on and on. The areas of our lives are all connected – physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual. We do much better when we acknowledge these connections and “use” them to both diagnose what needs to be addressed in our lives, and to improve the quality of our lives in every way.
Some of my friends call me “doctor-doctor” because of my training in both medicine and ministry. The letters after my name are much less important than the perspective this gives me on the interconnections between the different areas of our lives. When one area becomes unhealthy it affects all the other areas.
I’m going to offer a weekly series of posts on the symptoms we have in different areas of our lives, and how to think about them. There will be questions for you to consider, and suggestions of how to go about “diagnosing” and “treating” the underlying problems.
If you have “symptoms” of any kind in some area of your life, I’d love to hear from you. What do you think is going on? What are you struggling with? Have you found any helpful ways of dealing with the problem? How can we work together to find better solutions?
When symptoms show up in your relationships, is there something in your physical life or spiritual life that could be the real problem? Could changing your attitude or working on your emotions change how you feel physically? We’ll address those kinds of connections and more, and offer solutions along the way.
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