In these strange times of the novel coronavirus, everybody is adapting differently to the confines of isolation. For some, this period may represent a time to relax, unwind and slow down the rapid pace that has come to envelop 21st century life. Yet for many, such time in confinement may paradoxically increase their level of stress, and the ability to unwind may be hindered by habit, guilt and worry. So what is one supposed to do with a seemingly unlimited amount of free time?
Three tips on how to approach your time in isolation
Expand your definition of what it means to be “productive”
Personally, I have found myself shifting between two mindsets, one that is urging me to relax and use this time to recalibrate, and the other that is telling me to use this time to be productive. Of course, therein lies the problem. I have dichotomized relaxation from being productive. In my mind, I associate production with tangible output. Being productive means looking back at this time and not feeling like it was wasted. For some, that might mean working on a business idea which they previously haven’t had the time to develop. For others, it might mean studying a language they have always wanted to learn or even the lofty task of writing a book.
But that is admittedly a flawed and narrow view of what it means to be productive. For some people, yes, this quarantine may be that very opportunity to launch a new idea and embark on a finite project. For others, though, perhaps the best thing they can do is to unburden themselves of the expectation to “produce”. Maybe some are better off lying on the couch, reading books, binging tv shows and doing puzzles, in an effort to recharge and deliberately put a pause on the chaos that has become normal life.
Don’t obsess over the “right way” to spend this time
There is no right answer in how to approach this isolation. And the choice is not binary. To write a book over the next few weeks may very well bring calm and peace of mind to some, whereas freeing up your days of all tasks and projects might lead to severe boredom and a state of angst. For others, however, the pressure of writing that book might become all-consuming and allow the hectic-ness of the outside world to intrude on this time of isolation.
Give yourself the space and time to just “be”. It is often only when we take the pressure off of ourselves, that we feel the energy and inspiration to actually achieve that task we have been contemplating. For some, an “un-structuring” of our days or a loosening of our plan may be the best step towards un-tapping your creativity.
Remind yourself that we are all different
Perhaps the best thing to do is to acknowledge that we are all different. Peace of mind comes in various forms, and relaxation manifests in myriad ways. Don’t look at your friends who might be coping better with isolation and assume that mimicking their daily routine will make you happier. Just as you and your friends all have different personalities, so will the approaches you take to isolation be unique and different as well.
Maybe the solution is to unshackle ourselves from all expectations and allow ourselves to redefine what it is to be productive. If you feel like lying on the couch all day, then go right ahead. If you feel like finally putting that overdue business plan into action, all the power to you. But above all, be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself to just be.
When we look back at our confinement, we need not be regretful if we have nothing tangible to show for it. We need only be regretful if our energy was misdirected by pressure and expectation and was out of alignment with our energy. Do what will fuel you, and trust that you will come out of quarantine as a better version of yourself.
Zale Mednick is the producer and host of the podcast Preconceived, a show that examines the preconceptions that shape how we view the world. He has also worked for four seasons as part of the crew for the CBS hit television show Survivor. His work related to medical education and ophthalmology has been published internationally.