A holistic approach to staying healthy during the pandemic

Sherra Owino, Contributor

The term “pandemic” has seemingly changed its definition according to many modern people. Instead of seeing COVID-19 as a worldwide disease, many may instead say that it’s a shift in conveniences and the normal way of life.
As creatures of habit, the drastic change in routine and what’s known has had effects on humanity in a holistic way; mental, social, spiritual and physical. Since the body is a whole package as opposed to random pieces walking around separately, it makes sense that when one part is affected, the other parts follow suit.

Nutrition and Physical Health
The “stay at home” order caused a considerable change in eating habits. People were no longer eating in restaurants and instead having groceries delivered directly to their residence. While these could be for some a positive shift with more home-cooked foods and intentional ingredients, for the majority of adults (61 percent), staying home meant unwanted weight gain or loss.
So, how does that happen?
Again, the body is a whole piece. According to the American Psychological Association, weight changes are a common symptom in working through challenges with mental health with stress or emotional eating or lack thereof. Furthermore, people often reported sleeping more or less than they wanted and consuming more alcohol to deal with stress during the pandemic as compared to before.
Despite the distancing challenges, Madison College has gotten creative with ways for students to stay or get active and healthy. Online wellness courses can be found on the college’s website at madisoncollege.edu and include Zumba, yoga, core strengthening, dance for fitness, Intro to Meditation, kickboxing and muscular weight training.
Jessica Jones, peer health educator for student health at Madison College, described the lengths the Student Wellness Center has gone to work with students on their health. With so much requiring hands-on or close proximity, Jones bemoans that staying healthy has become a challenge. She sympathizes with students who are struggling with having everything virtual and acknowledges that doing yet one more thing online such as counseling or solo fitness proves to be too much.
Jones and others are not giving up, though, and will continue to strive toward making a healthier campus. Her efforts are seen on the school website as well as Instagram under Madison College PHE where students can access exercises, nutrition (including recipes), mental health and others.

Mental Health
With emotionally eating comfort food or taking too much alcohol being ineffective solutions to coping with stress, other mindful modalities such as yoga, therapeutic massage, meditation, counseling, pet therapy, coloring and physical exercise are better choices. In this season of COVID-19, stress management has powerfully risen to the surface as a necessity for everyone’s daily life.
Matt Fish, director of the Therapeutic Massage program at Madison College, explains the key elements of massage and how this relaxation method has holistic healing properties.
“The main benefit of stretching is similar to the main benefit of massage in that it’s getting muscles that are hypertonic (too tight) to relax and it’s a nervous system thing,” Fish said. “It shouldn’t be thought of as stretching the tissue directly. The muscle tissue is only responding to the nervous system. If you get the nervous system to relax and work properly, those tight [or problematic] muscles will probably start to relax as well.”
Fish also described how studies have been done using meditation to increase range of motion since a focus of meditation is to enable a sense of calm and complete relaxation. According to what’s been found, meditation works just as well with stretching even if stretching is not being done at the same time as meditation.
While there’s certainly a difference between a professional massage and one done by a friend, Fish said that it’s more about the presence of touch. A roommate can easily help with tight muscles without worrying too much about creating injury by applying some pressure and gentle range of motion.

Spiritual Health
A sense of uncertainty in today’s world, brought on in part by COVID-19, has caused a shift in spiritual pursuits for many people who otherwise did not count themselves among churchgoers. The BBC News reported that the convenience of being able to participate in religious services from home has opened up more options of partaking in different services and denominations.
A report by the Pew Research Center shares that almost 30 percent of Americans claim their faith is stronger during the pandemic and family connections have strengthened.

Social Health
Some have said that just having the term “social distancing” during this pandemic has automatically caused anxiety for a number of people. The phrase perhaps could be called “physical distancing” instead of social as staying connected with friends and family, even from a distance, is important to stave off feelings of loneliness and depression.
According to the Military Health System, one of America’s largest and most complex health care institutions, it’s necessary to use the “multitudes of technologies and apps (many free) that can help you stay in touch with those you love,” and that this time, more than ever, is when people should “fully exploit these modern capabilities for fellowship, companionship and camaraderie.”
Even though individuals each have their own personalities and preferences when it comes to being social – some prefer alone time, while others thrive at big gatherings – research suggests that humans are not meant to be completely cut off from others all the time. To maintain (or gain) holistic health, it’s important to have connections with other people.
Research is also showing that during this time of COVID, a main focus in holistic health has been to maintain a healthy level of stress and anxiety through nutrition, physical activity, social and spiritual connections and a focus on mental health.
Madison College has really watched how to take care of its students by getting creative with holistic health despite the circumstances. Little steps can make a big difference toward health and now’s the best time to start.