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Craving Connection

Quality Social Interactions Benefit Your Health

By Amy Morgan

 

It started early last month when a specialty-themed pink Stanley cup craze reminded us that Valentine’s Day was approaching – a time dedicated to romance. But relationships don’t need to be romantic to improve our quality of life. Connections with others have the ability to greatly impact our mental, emotional and even physical well-being and stave off diminished health caused by loneliness. 

 

The CDC recently reported that loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. “The physical toll is also harrowing, as the lack of social connectedness is found to be a predictor of premature death. It carries a risk akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is even more perilous than obesity, escalating the mortality risk by approximately 30%.”

 

Social connectedness is just one of the six pillars of Lifestyle Medicine addressed by husband-and-wife team, Dr. Prisiliano Salas and Dr. Monica Salas, at their practice, Salveo Direct Care. The physicians are board certified in both Family Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine to offer their patients personalized, holistic medical care. Lifestyle Medicine promotes choices to prevent, manage and even reverse chronic disease and increase healthy longevity by addressing six areas that are important to a whole person: nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress management, positive social connectedness and eliminating toxic substances.  

Both doctors take time to assess their patient’s personal relationships as part of an annual exam or initial appointment to establish care. 

 

“Social connectedness has a huge impact on a person’s health,” Dr. Monica said. “We’ll ask about their home situation, what they do for work or hobbies. We want to identify if they are connecting regularly with people." 

 

The pandemic brought to the forefront issues of social isolation. “We saw a huge increase in mental health issues in our practice and nationwide. Emergency rooms reported an overwhelming number of mental health crises and suicide attempts. Anecdotal evidence and academic research has shown us that loneliness can shorten a person’s life and increase the incidence of all sorts of health conditions. We need to be aware from a physician’s perspective what a person’s social connectedness looks like and find ways to improve those connections,” Dr. Monica said. 

 

Another clue to a person’s emotional and mental health: Do they feel well supported? One member of the family may do the emotional heavy lifting for the others, but feelings of support need to be reciprocal, she added, otherwise the giver might become overwhelmed. Dr. Salas will probe to detect signs of things that would heighten levels of concern. Is a patient showing signs of depression: apathy, lack of motivation and hope, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, withdrawal, sleep or nutrition issues? "Sometimes people are still getting things done, but their flame has gone out,” she added. 

 

Mental wellness is one of the most important things to a healthy life, Dr. Prisiliano said. Salveo Direct Care offers access to a licensed professional counselor to support their patients’ mental health. The doctors also teach coping skills and can use medication as appropriate.

 

To improve social connectedness Dr. Monica recommends starting with something small and simple. A great way to connect through community is to find a way to serve. Helping people gives you a sense of purpose and belonging, Dr. Monica added. 

 

She and Dr. Prisiliano practice what they preach. A group of Salveo Direct Care’s professionals and patients, including their kids, recently volunteered as a group at the Texas Diaper Bank and regularly participate in local volunteer events throughout the year. 

 

Three tips to improve your mental wellness this month: 

Reach out to three people for a quick connection every week. Volunteer once a month for a cause you support.

Pick one activity you enjoy and find an opportunity to do it in a group of others who share your interest. 

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