On my ninth day of self-isolation, I woke up a sweaty mess. I had dreamt I was stuck in a metal box with barely enough room to move. I hadn’t eaten in days. Oxygen levels were slowly dwindling. I had no choice but to curl up in the fetal position and accept my imminent death. I was terrified. 

Although my dream felt like an episode of Criminal Minds, these feelings of terror, anxiety and loneliness are comparable to my emotions arising from COVID-19. I spent my first week-and-a-half of isolation full of stress, boredom, and anger. I hated the lack of movement and social connection in quarantine. The absence of fresh air was turning my brain from a usually creative engine of productivity into a mushy blob of nothingness. I needed a change. I had to change, or else I was putting my mental health at risk. 

Even before Coronavirus swept the planet, no one could predict what would happen from one day to the next. For example, going to a yoga class may not mean you’ll stand on your head and feel zen. If you order a cup of coffee, you may not be hit with an instant buzz – or even get your correct order in the first place. As many Queen’s students now understand, although you’re in your senior year, it may not mean you’ll get to wear a cap and gown and receive your diploma. Clearly, certainty is a mirage, a facade that covers the fact that none of us can truly foresee the future.

Yet, life’s unpredictability feels more alive than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the inside, many of us in self-isolation are feeling anxious and unsure of our place. We are living a drastically different way of life. We aren’t going out as much. We haven’t seen our friends or extended family in weeks. On the outside, the entire world is in crisis. Usually busy streets are unusually silent. It’s sad and askew. I began to feel lost in my own home, a place that should make me feel comforted. I was getting antsy and confrontational. I had to ask myself: what will bring me out of this slump? How can I find my way in this confusion and disorientation? A friend used to tell me to “always protect oneself from the storm of life.” Perhaps in this case, the protection needed to come from within the storm.

I felt I had two options: give in to my lamentation, binge Netflix, and complain that my previous way of life has been put to bed. Or, I could use this time to transform my life. To be kinder to my body and mind. I could use this time to slow down, reflect, and determine how I want to productively progress. I realized I have the power within me to see isolation as an opportunity to build healthier habits and improve my skills. 

With this more positive mindset, I realized that maybe being stuck in quarantine isn’t such a bad thing after all. In fact, it truly is an opportunity. A time for transformation. Eventually, when this is all over, we will go back to our previous lives. We will emerge on the other side. We will live as we did before. So when this happens, why not be the best version of ourselves? 

As I’ve said, social isolation provides an essential opportunity for personal growth, reflection, and reconnection with the self and with others. In this time, why not develop ways to reassess how you cope with various situations, and devise ways to minimize stress moving into next school year? Consider, how can you become a better family member and friend? Use this time to contemplate ways in which you can be your best self. Personally, this situation has forced me to admit that I need help controlling my stress levels. I thought this confession would make me feel weak. Instead, I ended up feeling empowered by my capability to be vulnerable, and to seek and accept help. 

There are a few ways isolation has already helped me become a better version of myself. The first is slowing down. I finally had time to process the world around me. I reflected on the simple joys of life, like being wrapped in a cozy blanket, baking muffins, doing puzzles, or shoving my face with mini eggs over Easter weekend. I could think more openly, honestly, and clearly about what decisions I would need to make in my life in the coming months. I reflected on how these decisions would affect my role as a student, sister, daughter and friend. I began to feel more confident that I can make decisions to positively influence my future job, finances, and overall happiness. Instead of looking at slowing down as being lazy, I learned that it can be incredibly productive.

Isolation also has provided me with an opportunity to become closer with those I care about. I used this time to write letters to my friends (yes, by snail mail), and sent texts to those I hadn’t spoken to in some time. I FaceTimed distant family I unfortunately will not see for many months. I’ve initiated activities inside my house to continue to strengthen the bond my immediate family is lucky enough to already have. These simple acts were not time-consuming and were easy to do. Yet, they made a large impact as they lifted the spirits of my family and friends. Overall, I learned that letting someone know you are thinking of them can go a long way.

Since I’m stuck inside with nothing to do, I thought -why not try something new? I decided to let my creative juices flow and try bullet journaling (in reality, this turned into mindless doodling). I thought I could ask my Mother to teach me how to knit. I brought out my sketchbook, and chose a zucchini muffin recipe I wanted to master. I began writing my best-selling novel (in my dreams). Overall, I found that I had extra time to actually tackle some of these desires that I’ve pushed aside in the past. Not only did I learn something new, but I felt that I actually accomplished something.

Meditation may seem like a stretch for some, and I will admit it’s not for everyone. However, it gives your brain a much-needed break and has the potential to reduce anxiety and stress – which can negatively affect our productivity and creativity. Personally, meditation optimizes my self-awareness. According to Healthline, meditation reduces memory loss, and has been proven to improve attention span. I figured if people like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates can get behind it, it may be worth a shot. When I tried to meditate, the first few times were a complete disaster. My mind wandered, and my backside hurt from sitting cross-legged for so long. But as the days progressed, I forced myself to breathe and enjoy the peace that meditation offers. Now, I look forward to this calm. I learned it is an opportunity to reset my brain and body.

These tips aside, I realize my isolation stress may not be cured by activities like baking muffins or doing puzzles – although I have baked a lot of muffins and pulled out a few puzzles. What’s gotten me through tough times is drawing attention to the aspects of my life that make me happy. Through these little moments of happiness I have realized that being in quarantine may be a blessing in disguise. That while my daily routine is disrupted, I can still improve myself. 

Now is the time to reconnect with people you care about, and to try new things. Now is the time to continue to learn and challenge ourselves. Now is the time to slow down and listen to your body and mind. 

Now is the time.

This article is the first installment in “MUSE’s Declassified Quarantine Survival Guide.” Stay tuned for a week of stories, inspiration, and tips and tricks to distract from the glum, boring, and potentially demoralizing reality of living in isolation. After all, the Queen’s motto is Sapientia et Doctrina Stabilitas, translated from Latin as “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” Therefore together, through the power of words and knowledge, we can turn our isolation sorrows into an empowering, conquering force of positivity, productivity, and stability.

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