De-stressing for the holidays

From scenic, wellness-minded Ulster County, some tips for stress-free holidays.

Since 2020 has been a year of tremendous anxiety for many, culminating in an unprecedented (and isolated) holiday season, we wanted to share “Top 10 Daily Tips to De-Stress & Meditate” from wellness experts in Ulster County to help you navigate the holidays and colder winter months ahead in the New Year.

Located 90 minutes north of Westchester County, Ulster sits in the heart of the Hudson River Valley with the Hudson River on its eastern edge, the storied Catskill Mountains on its western flank and a quarter-million acres of protected forests, fields and waterways for recreational use in between. Rich in history as a 16th-century Dutch trading post and New York’s first state capital, the county features celebrated towns and growing cities, including Kingston, Woodstock, New Paltz, Phoenicia, Saugerties and many others.

Known not only for these natural surroundings but for its residents’ longstanding commitment to holistic health and wellness, the county includes many yoga studios, meditation centers, hiking trails and award-winning spas available throughout the region, including the Emerson Resort & Spa in the Catskills and Mohonk Mountain House Spa, surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, among others.

The 10 tips below are from Amy Reed, a certified yoga instructor, wellness coach and co-owner at The Yoga House in Kingston, who is a longtime Ulster resident, a member of the LBGTQ+ community and mother of a 4-year-old daughter; and Theresa Lyn Widmann, founder of Anahata Yoga and Healing Arts in Kingston, a KRI-certified kundalini yoga teacher and a certified gong master. A former Manhattan resident with a previous career in sales and the law, Theresa is now also host of the “I Want What She Has” podcast and weekly live radio show on Radio Kingston. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Build a simple schedule – “We are oftentimes so busy, especially when trying to balance working from home, teaching from home and/or being a caretaker or parent from home,” Theresa says. “Life can be overwhelming very quickly. However, start by identifying when you can create more space (for yoga) and build it into an already existing part of your routine so that you are better able to commit to it. For example, if afternoon is better, end lunch five minutes early for a midday stretch or, if bedtime works best, give yourself a few minutes of meditation right after you’ve brushed your teeth. It can also be as simple as three minutes of conscious breathing and should be something that’s attainable so that you’re more likely to be able to fit it in. Start small.” 
  2. Create a wake-up routine – “Be dedicated and set a time every morning to take a few moments to deepen your breath when you wake up and create a personal, positive intention for your day,” Amy says. “Regulate your breathing and keep it well-paced, gently turning your affirmation over in your mind. Lift your sternum and set your eyes to the sky, then do a slow exhale. Remind yourself that deep, mindful breathing and focused-thought exercise are resources that you can turn to at any point of the day especially when you’re feeling that chaos or freneticism.”
  3. Get outside and get some vitamin D – “We’re lucky in Ulster County to have the outdoors and nature’s most gorgeous resources accessible in our backyard,” Theresa says. “However, even for those who are living in urban locations, we can all get outside. Take advantage of the sunlight during the daytime – even if it’s for 30-minute walk before the winter sun sets. We are connected to our phones and laptops now more than ever since working from home, so it’s important to be exposed to the outdoors and get some sun. Take a moment to do some conscious breathing when you are outside and appreciate where you live.” –
  4. Be conscious of your meals – “We all deal with stress in different ways, especially when it comes to nutrition,” Amy says. “Stress can also greatly alter our personal eating habits. I’ve found that creating a simple game plan can help, such as preparing a healthy meal and simple snack option in advance, striving for balanced food groups and proportions and setting aside scheduled downtime to dig in. This helps us feel more attuned to our nutritional needs.”
  5. Do things that bring you joy – “In 2020, work may have changed, and income may have changed,” Theresa says. “So, there is a need now more than ever to find joy and creativity from within. This can be an art project, listening to music, dancing, walking around the neighborhood, going for a run, cooking, finally diving into your reading list and much more. Meditation or sitting still may not always align with everyone. Don’t force it. Do what brings you joy.”
  6. Say “hello’ to your neighbors (even from 6 feet away) – “Ulster County is rooted in community,” Amy says. “Even with winter coming up, and we may think of the season as an isolating period, it’s important to be more mindful of your community outreach. Go for a short walk. Say ‘hello’ to your neighbors – even when 6 feet apart. I have a 4-year-old daughter and we often take our sidewalk chalk and write ‘hello’ notes to our neighbors around town. Simple offerings of friendship and solidarity are key elements of yoga, and fostering relationships helps each of us feel connected to one another.”
  7. Simple shoulder shrugs or spinal flexes – “You’d be amazed by what a little movement can do,” Theresa says. “Try shoulder shrugs mid-afternoon, whether sitting or standing, inhale lifting and squeezing your shoulders up towards your ears and then on the exhale just let them drop, sloughing off any of that stress or tension that has accumulated there. Spinal flexes are also extremely helpful and manage the energy flow throughout the body. Anyone can do them. Sitting with your hands on your thighs, inhale pushing your chest forward, shoulders back, then exhale flexing in the opposite direction. It’s an easy practice that can be done throughout the day and releases tension from the body. Set a timer and repeat for three minutes.”
  8. Reduce your screen time – “It may sound hard, but put down your screen when you can,” Amy says. “At the close of the day, move yourself away from the hyper stimulation. Find your breath and try a simple and grounding yoga pose such as child pose or slow, seated stretches that will help to quiet the mind and soothe the body. These kinds of mindful exercises can calmly wrap and peacefully close your workday.”
  9. Brace for that cold rinse – “After your warm daily shower, try for a cold rinse at the end while simultaneously doing deep breathing,” Theresa says. “The breathing helps to keep the energy and heat of your body flowing, allowing you to build up a tolerance for the cold water. Start with whatever level of cold and for however long you can handle. Notice that over time, it gets easier and you may just look forward to it. Not only does taking a cold rinse get the internal heat of your body going, teaching your body to create its own heat, but it’s also good for your immune system and mental health. If you do this regularly, you’ll find it helps your body build more resilience to brave the colder climate and life’s ups and downs.”
  10. Look ahead to 2021 – “When we move into the holidays and look into the New Year, it’s helpful to acknowledge the fact that this season will be different but that it’s OK,” Amy says. “Find ways to mentally, spiritually and physically stay healthy with the changing tides. Make time to virtually connect with your family, friends and loved ones. You can even share your health tips with them and talk about how you’ve been able to change and adapt during this time. Inspire others to do the same.”  
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