A Holistic Approach to Mental Wellness with Dr. Burgess

April is National Stress Awareness Month, and we are highlighting the work of Dr. Sydnee Burgess, a Family Medicine Psychotherapist with a distinctive holistic approach to mental wellness. Dr. Burgess combines her expertise in anthropology, family medicine, and psychotherapy to offer practical stress management techniques and advocate for accessible mental health care. This article shares insights into mindfulness and self-compassion as tools for thriving independently. Enjoy learning more about Dr. Burgess's approach to creating a more resilient society.

When Dr. Sydnee Burgess speaks, her voice exudes a calmness that mirrors the comforting nature of her medical work. Her warmth and passion for what she does come across clearly in every word, reflecting not just her professional demeanor but also her approach to life. With a rich educational background in anthropology, family medicine, public health and economics, Dr. Burgess brings a unique perspective to mental health, weaving different viewpoints into her therapeutic methods.

The concept of meditation was introduced to her a couple of times by her father when she was 6 years old, and her mother, a social justice-oriented art therapist, first exposed her to yoga at the age of 19. These experiences fostered a profound respect for mind-body approaches to mental well-being, which, combined with a drive to find equitable and sustainable approaches to treating anxiety, depression, and trauma, eventually led her to pursue a career in psychotherapy. Additionally, the pandemic has highlighted to Dr. Burgess the essential role of mental health in everyday life.

As a Family Medicine Psychotherapist, Dr. Burgess adheres to principles of compassion and health equity. “My goal is to make mental health support accessible to all,” she asserts. Part of this vision is her acquaintance of the evidence of mindfulness and somatic psychotherapy—subcortical approaches emphasizing the mind-body connection—as effective treatment approaches to addressing the senseless nature of environmental failures such as racism and intergenerational trauma, in opposition to Cognitive Behavioral approaches that focus on reshaping thought patterns. She describes mindfulness as a collaborative process, stating, “It is a process that is nurtured in community; however, it is also about equipping my patients with the tools they need to thrive independently. I consider it a success if they eventually do not need me anymore.”

Dr. Burgess’ eventually took additional training to specifically support adults facing stress from racism and other forms of systemic bias. Her culturally-humble and anti-oppression framework ensures a respectful acknowledgment of each individual’s unique experiences. “Culturally-humble practice means we understand and respect that everyone has different experiences of our colonial landscape, and each person’s viewpoint matters,” she explains.

In her mission to provide accessible healing to the community, Dr. Burgess advocates for mental health care not to be a privilege but a right. Offering OHIP-covered mind-body psychotherapy is one of her approaches to this, but she adds that more approaches will be needed in order to eliminate barriers to accessing the tools and opportunities for people to be to prioritize their mental well-being.

Looking ahead, Dr. Burgess envisions a future where mental health education is an integral part of educational programs, starting from a young age. “My dream is that all teachers have access to trauma-informed care and wellness practices,” she shares. “Often, we go to kids, the next generation, but we often neglect caregivers,” she continues. By supporting caregivers and educators, and eventually the education system itself, Dr. Burgess hopes to pave the way for a more equitable and mentally resilient society.

Strategies and techniques to manage stress

In navigating the challenges of stress, especially during National Stress Awareness Month, Dr. Sydnee Burgess shares some strategies and techniques aimed at managing and reducing stress levels:

    • Make Connections: It’s important to not feel alone. Dr. Burgess emphasizes the importance of reaching out to supportive individuals who provide a sense of safety and comfort. This could be friends, family, or even brief interactions with strangers. Being around others can help lower stress.
    • Mindfulness Practices: Mindfulness-based techniques, such as prolonged exhales and opening our attention to where on our body we are supported by a chair or the ground, can offer small reprieves for managing stress throughout the day. The more you do them, the faster you can return to a state of calm over time (We are talking years… be gentle.)
    • Get Moving: Finding ways you enjoy moving your body gets you unstuck in your mind. It can be a quick walk around the hospital to get some water or the movements of the spine in a gentle stretch (front, back, and side bends and rotation).
    • Seek Safe Spaces: Identifying safe environments where one feels validated and heard. Dr. Burgess encourages individuals to recognize spaces where they can openly express their feelings and experiences without fear of judgment or invalidation.
    • Cultivate Self-Compassion: Dr. Burgess encourages individuals to grant themselves grace and permission to prioritize self-care. Whether it’s engaging in activities that bring joy, setting boundaries, or practicing self-compassionate self-talk. This is a practice. And if it is difficult at first, envisioning a person (or even a pet) towards which it is easier and safer to find compassion for may be a starting point to practice before extending it towards oneself.

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