How’s your health, Hudson Valley? With a constant stream of COVID-19 coverage popping up in your newsfeed daily, it’s a challenge not to think about your physical wellbeing every other minute. Yet with such a heavy focus on coronavirus symptoms and treatment, the significance of mental health during this stressful period sometimes gets pushed to the back burner.
To shed light on mental wellbeing during self-isolation, we turned to Chrissa Santoro, an instructor and external communications director at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck. As a yoga and meditation practitioner since 1998, Santoro understands firsthand the impact the two practices can have on mental clarity and serenity.
“Yoga and meditation can really help us to calm our minds and get out of our heads by grounding in the physical body,” she explains. “Even when we are not facing a crisis, these tools are beneficial for everything from stress reduction to improving sleep and lowering blood pressure.”
Here are her top ways to promote mental health during high-stress situations:
“Give yourself some time each morning and evening to get quiet,” she recommends, “whether that means sitting in meditation or prayer, stretching, or taking a few minutes to pay attention to bookend your day.”
For beginners to meditation, she recommends this four-minute guided meditation with Omega instructor Beryl Bender Birch. With serene music and a peaceful view of Long Pond Lake on the Rhinebeck campus, it’s ideal for nature lovers who miss trekking through the great outdoors in the Hudson Valley.
According to Santoro, the key to remaining positive during a period of mental strain is to shift thoughts from negative to positive.
“For example, ‘I’m stuck at home’ can be reframed as ‘I’m safe at home,’ which feels really different and more empowering,” she observes. While the root of the matter remains the same (in this case, being at home), the view surrounding it makes all the difference for mental health.
There’s nothing like a pandemic to trigger boredom or stress eating. Yet that’s precisely why it’s critical not to give into temptation, but to use those moments of “hunger” to delve deeper into emotional wellbeing.
“Sometimes asking, ‘What am I really hungry for?’ can be revealing,” she notes. If the answer is not food but something along the lines of activity or conversation, she recommends taking time to fill that need in a meaningful way by signing up for an online class or calling a friend. On the other hand, if food really is the root source of hunger, Santoro says that slowing down and taking time to savor meals is key for genuine nourishment.
It’s OK not to be OK, Santoro says. Given the intensity of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s understandable to feel anxious or confused at times. The secret to overcoming those moments is to accept them and feel comfortable discussing them with others.
“Expressing our vulnerability not only helps us lighten the burden of emotions we carry, but it also helps others feel connected to us,” she says. “More than likely, you are not alone in your fears or pain.”
With self-isolation getting to the best of us, it’s all too easy to lament everything that’s not going according to plan. Instead of focusing on canceled concerts or delayed vacations, Santoro points out the significance of taking time to appreciate the good things. Whether they be as big as pausing to thank the healthcare workers on the frontlines at the Hudson Valley’s COVID-19 collection sites or as little as savoring a cup of coffee in the morning, those positive moments can do wonders to maintain perspective on the situation and stay thankful.
In the Hudson Valley, gratitude can extend beyond the home and into the community as well. For those who are able, ordering takeout from local restaurants or streaming online fitness classes from the area’s gyms are small, yet meaningful ways to support regional business owners in need.
As Santoro observes, one of the best parts of living in the Hudson Valley is the picturesque landscape of smooth grasslands, rolling mountains, and rippling waters.
“If you are able to get outside,” she says, “whether for a walk or bike ride, some spring gardening, or just to sit in the sunshine and get some fresh air, it can make a world of difference in your day.”
Wondering where to step outside safely in the Hudson Valley? A number of parks and trailheads in the region are open to the public in accordance with social distancing protocol.
One of the toughest parts of quarantine at home is the lack of structure during the day. With changing lifestyles for many, the set structure of daily routine becomes less defined as work and home lives blur into one. To ensure this separation remains in place, Santoro advises defining and adhering to a clear schedule.
“Whether you are a parent [who] is homeschooling for the first time or adapting to working remotely…creating a schedule and sticking to it can help to create some normalcy and balance,” she says. “For example, going to bed and waking at the same time daily will help to ensure you feel well rested and better prepared to handle what’s ahead.”
Let’s face it; watching the news 24/7 can be depressing. While it is important to stay informed about local and national coronavirus coverage, it’s just as important to make a concerted effort to step away from it. During those respites, taking time to pick up hobbies or watch a movie is a meaningful step toward maintaining a positive mental outlook.
While Omega’s campus is closed for the time being, the institute continues to be a resource for Hudson Valleyites with free articles, videos, and wellness podcasts on its website. For more mental health information, Omega’s online courses with top instructors touch upon everything from dealing with the new normal to facing pandemic fears and staying connected with family and loved ones.