"I think being honest with who you are and taking the time to get to know yourself and to take a critical look at who you are is the most important thing you can do," she says

By Robyn Merrett
May 01, 2020 09:00 AM
Cara Santana
Cara Santana
| Credit: Filbert Kung

Since the beginning of the year, Cara Santana says she's been on a journey of reconnecting with herself — and as millions of people continue to practice social distancing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the actress and designer is using this time in isolation to further self-reflect.

"Given that the total landscape of our world has changed, it's been a really interesting time to reflect and reconnect," Santana tells Retreat in her cover story for the spring issue that hit stands on Friday, shared exclusively with PEOPLE.

"I feel at times that we've lost our moral compass," adds Santana, 34. "We've disconnected from our values, we're destroying the plant, and literally, this pandemic has caused everyone to stop. I feel like we can either come out of this the same or we can come out of it differently, in a good way. This is a time for everyone to self-reflect."

Santana, who split from fiancé Jesse Metcalfe in January after 10 years together, is focusing on how she can be her best self.

"I think just the journey that I've been on since the beginning of the year of really reconnecting to myself and trying to figure out what drives and fulfills me, coinciding with a time of literally, quarantine, where I have no external gratification whatsoever, has forced me to be internal," she says.

"I think it has happened for a reason," she continues. "I think everything does and every situation is what you make of it... I want to use this time to the best of my ability and hopefully come out of it with a greater understanding of myself and the world that I live in and society in general."

Santana, who stars in season 3 of Vida, which premiered on Starz April 26, says she felt the need to dive deeper after recently taking Yale's happiness test.

"I think of myself as a pretty happy person so I thought I was going to get a 10," she says. "I got a 3.5, so there is so much more that I could be doing to create a much more centered wellbeing for myself."

Cara Santana
Credit: Filbert Kung

While Santana acknowledges she still feels she has a lot of work to do on herself, she recently celebrated a major milestone: 16 years of sobriety.

Asked if she had any advice to give her younger self, Santana says: "Having just celebrated 16 years of sobriety, I think being honest with who you are and taking the time to get to know yourself and to take a critical look at who you are is the most important thing you can do."

"I don't think advice diminishes with age and a lot of what I was feeling as a young person that led me down the road of addiction, which I believe is a disease, was that I didn't recognize that so much of that inherent worry and fear created so much insecurity, and drugs and alcohol were just an escape," she continues. "So, if you just make things right with yourself, you can get right with anything."

Cara Santana
Credit: Filbert Kung

Aside from her work on herself, Santana is also putting her energy into fashion, having designed Apt. 9 + Cara Santana for Kohl's over the past year.

"I'm looking to continue to bring accessible, affordable clothing to all women very soon, directly from me to them," she tells the magazine. "I'm excited to start this journey as well and I have a couple of great projects that I'm looking forward to producing."

Cara Santana
Credit: Filbert Kung

Earlier this month, Santana was spotted running errands with Metcalfe, 41, in Los Angeles, prompting speculation about their relationship. But a source told PEOPLE that they are not back together and are simply on civil terms as they're living on the same property due to the pandemic.