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What Is Holistic Health Care, Anyway?


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When you hear "holistic health," do you think of alternative medicine, naturopathy, or other Eastern-inspired health trends? If so, you're at least partly right.

Holistic health does incorporate complementary therapies that have been scientifically proven to work, and like alternative medicine, it focuses on wellness and prevention, rather than just treating diseases. But holistic care is about more than integrating Eastern and Western medicine. It's a more comprehensive and personalized way of thinking about wellness.

So, what is holistic health care?

Treating the Whole You

Holistic health is about caring for the whole person — providing for your physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs. It's rooted in the understanding that all these aspects affect your overall health, and being unwell in one aspect affects you in others.

Take stress, for example. It's a psychological response, but it can also cause physical symptoms, such as headaches, trouble sleeping, weight gain, and muscle pain. Of course, it works both ways, and being physically ill can cause you to feel anxious or depressed. Meanwhile, your spirituality and your relationships can boost your mental and physical health. Studies show that having close friendships lowers your blood pressure, reduces your stress levels, and can even improve your chances of surviving cancer.

Understanding this, doctors who take a holistic approach to health don't just ask you about your symptoms. They ask about you — your overall health and your life — so they can make personalized recommendations to improve your wellness.

Doctoring Outside the Box

Holistic care providers address a wide variety of wellness concerns, and they use a wide variety of clinically proven therapies — from surgery and pharmaceuticals, to dietary changes and exercise plans, to psychological and spiritual counseling. They might also recommend evidence-based alternative therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, and yoga, for supportive care.

For example, if you're experiencing chronic pain, a holistic health care provider might prescribe medications or recommend surgery to repair an injury, but they'll also recommend that you increase your endorphins naturally by getting more exercise. They'll ask about your diet, and discuss how certain foods contribute to inflammation. They'll ask you about stress, anxiety, and depression — all of which can cause pain or be caused by it — and refer you to a therapist if you want one. Then they might also recommend massage to relax your muscles, acupuncture to help with nerve pain, or mindful meditation to help with pain management and stress relief.

Simply put, rather than treating the pain, they'll treat the person, and use all the tools at their disposal to do it.

Making Wellness Doable

Wellness is a big, important goal, and it can feel overwhelming. You know you should eat healthier foods, drink more water, hit the gym more often, sleep eight hours a night, give up your vices, and make more time for rest and relaxation. But the busyness of work and life can make it hard to prioritize self-care, and the more you think about what you "should" be doing differently, the more daunting wellness can seem.

Holistic doctors empower you with the education and motivation to make better choices. Rather than suggesting a long list of lifestyle changes, they include you in the conversation and help you determine which changes would make the greatest impact on your health. They help you set wellness goals and then provide you with resources — whether that's a personalized plan or a referral to a specialist.

So, what is holistic health care? It's about honoring the mind-body connection and treating the whole person, using a variety of clinically proven therapies. It's about developing a strong relationship with a doctor who is committed to getting you healthy and keeping you that way.

Dignity Health strives to make holistic care part of its care and an integral part of how the entire team works every day.

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