Human beings are social creatures by nature. Even the most introverted person needs someone to bring joy and fulfillment into his or her life. Unfortunately, loneliness is on the rise. The 2023 U.S. Surgeon General’s report declared loneliness and isolation as the new epidemic, equating the risk of premature death to that of daily smoking. I firmly believe that bringing people together – through health sharing, arts, music, movies, sports or beyond – is truly healing. Human connection looks different with each person. Some people are ‘social butterfles’ who go out every night. Others are happy with a weekly chess game or a monthly book club. Connecting with another person or a group of people can relieve stress, increase happiness and improve physical and mental health in a myriad of ways.
I am a HUGE fan of laughter! Who doesn’t like a good laugh? It turns out that humor is truly good for our health. Short-term health benefits include relieving tension and increasing oxygen to the heart, lung and other organs. Long-term benefits of laughter include relieving pain, improving mood and boosting your immune system which can help you fight infections. I personally incorporate humor into my life in many ways: I watch sitcoms and funny movies; I love standup comedy; I start all of my presentations with a joke; and I end every episode of my YouTube show with a joke! (The audience loves it!)
Speaking came quite by accident. When I served as Chief of Addiction Medicine for New York City jails including Rikers Island, I was asked to train judges and court professionals on opioid use disorder and methadone treatment. That led to invitations nationwide where organizations wanted me to speak at the intersection of drug overdose, addiction, mental illness, homeless health, incarceration, pain, trauma and much more. Then when the pandemic emerged, I became an MSNBC and NBC News Medical Contributor appearing on air 350+ times discussing all things COVID, treatments, vaccines, burnout, loneliness, stress and much more. Organizations nationwide and globally are yearning for evidence-based health information delivered in an accurate and engaging way. In addition to the U.S., in the past two years, I have spoken in Norway, Italy, Denmark, Poland and India. It is a *thrill* and a *privilege* to connect with audiences as a speaker about health and wellness!
Most people – including healthcare professionals – still think of addiction as a moral failing or weakness. They don’t realize that addiction is a chronic disease of the brain where return to use (i.e. relapse) is expected. Among the 40 million+ Americans with a substance use disorder, only ~10% access treatment. Stigma is a MAJOR barrier to treatment and care. Most people also think that addiction only happens to “certain people,” i.e. people who are homeless, incarcerated, lazy, uneducated, etc. The reality is that, under the right circumstances, *anybody* can develop an addiction – to substances or behaviors (gambling, social media, devices, pornography, food, etc.) My patients come from all walks of life including people with law degrees and PhDs. Addiction transcends gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class. Just like other chronic diseases like heart failure and lupus. But the GOOD news is that most people with addiction – once connected to the appropriate treatment and recovery services – GET BETTER! This is why I dedicate SO MUCH of my time educating and empowering the public about addiction awareness, prevention and treatment.
I mean, it’s a LONG list! But if I had to pick one, I’d say my mother, Basanti Roy. She is now a retired former banker, having worked at TD Bank for nearly four decades. My mother had an arranged marriage to my father in India in the late ‘60s, emigrated to Toronto, Canada without knowing a soul. She underwent training, learned the Canadian culture, made friends, gave birth to me and my brother, and provides – to this day – unconditional support. She is the kindest and hardest-working person I know. My mom is also the BEST homecook who could easily have her own cooking show – she makes the most delectable Indian food you’ve ever had!
Besides the essentials (food, water, clothing, shelter), I’ll pick television. It’s not as frivolous as you may think! I use television for so many purposes: news, weather, cooking, comedy, drama, etc. But during the pandemic, when I was completely burned out, I realized that TV was therapeutic. After a LONG day treating patients, running team huddles, writing clinical protocols, communicating health information at NBC studios and publishing latest COVID medical research for Forbes, I would come home, plop on my sofa and watch television shows that would simply relax me. Late-night TV like Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel, sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory or comedy specials with Amy Schumer and Zarna Garg.
After several years of lockdown, people are so eager to go out, explore, travel and connect. Reliance on devices is having adverse health consequences. They’re realizing that isolation has become a major problem impacting them individually and/or their families, and they’re recognizing that improving their mental wellbeing is in their control. In a city like New York, folks are meeting for group walks or yoga in parks; they’re going to the theatre/Broadway; they’re connecting with good friends at a new restaurant; or they’re taking their kids to the museum.