Quarantine helped me start my journey of self-discovery

Since the start of the pandemic conversations have revolved around the prospect of what will be done “when corona ends” or about the nostalgia of pre-pandemic life. Quarantine has been a monotonous time compared to our old fast-paced lifestyles. Constant repetition of the same routine where days seem to blur into weeks and months. At first, quarantine seemed like this big inconvenient obstacle standing in the way of romanticized plans I wanted to fulfil: moving to Madrid, backpacking during the summer and going on exchange, and many more…

Personally, 7 months ago, I believed that I couldn’t be happy under these conditions as I saw my old routine come to a halt.  Yet, I now find that I am appreciative of this pause. It has taught me to come to terms with living happily in the present and what that means for me. In honor of World Mental Health Day (October 10th) I wanted to share some things that I have rediscovered on this 7-month journey of self-reflection. 

  1. You don’t always need to have a plan.

When I arrived in Lima, Peru at the beginning of the pandemic, and I observed how the borders closed in early March, panic seeped through me as it was never part of the “plan” to stay for more than two weeks. The popular saying: “Man plans, God laughs” couldn’t describe this predicament more perfectly. As someone who suffers from anxiety, not having clear “goals” or a long term plan for the upcoming months would end up in a vicious cycle which would often start like this:

  1. Spend my whole day worrying about not knowing what to do with all my free time. 
  2. As a result, not doing anything “productive” the whole day.
  3. Stress about not doing anything productive the whole day because I don’t have a plan 

And so the cycle continues…

Now, I have started to implement other goals in my routine that are more short term and don’t revolve solely on external factors that are out of my control (getting an interview for x company, etc. ) I center them on aspects of my life that I have more input over such as creating positive habits (waking up early, exercising, sleeping early) which will translate into better opportunities and a happier me in the long term. 

  1.  Don’t measure happiness in terms of productivity. 

We all remember logging into LinkedIn a couple of months ago and it seemed like everyone had completed an Accenture or Coursera course or how on social media everyone seemed to have a new hobby. I felt like I also had to prove that I was doing something so I browsed many times through online courses and countless google certificates and could never seem to commit. It seemed like in the middle of so much chaos and change we were all trying to maintain this ideal of productivity. I guess engrained by our capitalist society, I would beat myself up when I was “wasting time” or being “unproductive”. Over the past months, I have relearned what productivity means to me and how I choose to measure it. It’s all about finding a balance and reaching your terms on how you want to spend your time vs how society pressures/ expects you to do. 

  1. Ask for help

By early June when all my university deadlines had been submitted and I had fewer responsibilities, paradoxically I started to feel very overwhelmed. I had noticed I was not accustomed to being in my own company and felt very disconnected from myself and others. Suddenly isolating myself became easy which was followed by social anxiety and I started to suppress how I was feeling. I was embarrassed to ask for help as I thought I would be judged or seen as “overreacting” to circumstances that were affecting all of us, but I am so glad I was able to not believe the stigmas and ask for help. Therapy was a big step for me and is a resource that I am fortunate to have access to. It has helped me tremendously in the past months and has made me more aware of how common some of these issues are amongst us. I am now more open to express my feelings with friends and family members, which has felt like breathing fresh air. 

  1. Enjoy my own company

During quarantine, time which I normally allocated to socializing with friends has now been allocated to getting to know myself outside of a social setting. At first, it’s not like it was a choice as strict measures were put into order, but I have noticed that fewer distractions and stimuli have been extremely positive for my mental health. At my own pace, I have connected with my “inner child” and have reconnected with hobbies I believed I had outgrown such as reading and sketching which have helped me be more in tune with myself. Finally, during quarantine, I notice that it now takes very little in terms of materialistic things or big events to make a day a “good day”. 

  1. Be kind to yourself 

Finally, the underlying message is to treat yourself with kindness. Use this time to do things at your own pace, check in on yourself and others, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed as after all we are still facing extraordinary times. 

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