One Monday morning, I strolled into work thinking it would be like any other day. As my shift was wrapping up, an email popped up in my inbox that would upend life as I had known it in a matter of seconds.
The email was from my university’s president about the COVID-19 outbreak. Per the email’s instructions, on-campus residents like me were encouraged to leave their dorm rooms immediately. Classes would be cancelled for the next two days, and continue online thereafter.
When I peeked outside the office to see everyone’s reaction, I was surprised to see that the normally bustling campus café had suddenly become a ghost town. And when I got back to my dorm after my shift, my room had transformed, too — my roommates had already finished packing! In a mere few hours, we said our dazed goodbyes and departed New York City for our homes across the country.
I truly had no idea that in 24 hours, I’d be en route to the airport for indefinitely long self-isolation in California. I write from the security of my home, grateful to be surrounded by my family and loved ones in such a disruptive and tumultuous time.
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But still I grieve for the seniors, who won’t have a campus experience to round out their final semester of college. I grieve for my friends, and not knowing when I will see them next. I grieve for my professors, whom I miss dearly, and the ease of collaboration during in-person classes. I grieve for the loss of life around the world, and those who are ill and struggling to get help.
But wallowing in my grief only made my time of self-isolation harder. After some time to process, I have identified four steps I’m taking to stay positive and calm. Here’s what I’ve been doing:
Keep a routine
I’m the kind of person who thrives on structure, and when I already have my class times and work shifts scheduled out, I can easily plan when to wake up, eat, and study. But now that I’m home, and self-isolating for the most part, the schedules I’ve grown so accustomed to have all gone out the window — I can’t physically attend class, and I have no office to go to.
At first, the temptation to sleep in was strong — but I know from practice that I feel worse and accomplish less whenever I do. To avoid that urge, I made myself a schedule for each day to bring back the routine and order I need.
In the spirit of preserving my “body clock” from my old routine, I wake up at 7 AM — the same time I would wake up for classes. A lifelong beauty lover, I still do a full face of makeup so I feel put-together and motivated to start my day. I aim to accomplish a chore or task, like doing my laundry. Then follows lunch, some homework or freelance writing in lieu of another class, and then preparing dinner. Maintaining a schedule gives meaning to my days and helps my time feel purposeful.
Take time to unplug
Further adding to my anxiety during this time was the threat of having my summer internship program in London cancelled. Ever since I heard about the emergence of COVID-19 cases in Europe, the first item in my morning routine became Googling every possible permutation of “coronavirus London” and related terms. And after perusing the various news alerts I’d set up, I’d check my social media, text in group chats, and maintain my Snapchat streaks.
Before I knew it, my phone was constantly buzzing with new messages. I found it hard to focus on writing important emails, or on even simple tasks such as noticing when my pasta water had reached a boil. Only when I set my notifications to “mute” or physically put my electronics in another room could I focus on whatever task I had at hand. Now more free from my phone’s incessant warbling, I feel more productive and at peace.
Be adventurous in the kitchen
In my busy New York life, there’s one thing in particular I’ve constantly put off: cooking new things! Now that I have more time to cook, and better facilities at home, I’ve taken the plunge and experimented with more adventurous or complex recipes. This past week, I’ve cooked family dinner multiple nights in a row, trying out new and healthy dishes such as this butternut squash mac and cheese and panko-breaded tofu with Sriracha mayo. To make cooking extra fun, I play my favorite Lizzo songs and practice my dance moves.
Time in the kitchen has also been a delicious opportunity for me to bond with family. This weekend, we made cheese and potato pierogi — as recipe author Leanne Brown notes, making the small dumplings is a great way to bond in groups! Even my 3-year-old sister partook in the fun by helping fold the dough. On nights when we’re feeling something less labor-intensive, we make something more simple, like cookies or muffins.
Find meaningful ways to stay in touch
I recently received the unfortunate news that my study abroad program was indeed cancelled. Saddened, I found comfort in my friends from a geography quiz site called JetPunk, on which I am a regular.
We all hopped on a conference call to play a countries and flags-themed game of skribbl.io, an online version of Pictionary. Limited by our poor trackpad drawing skills, hilarity quickly ensued, and I soon forgot about the bad news I had just heard as we chatted away.
Although many of us have actually never met in person, sharing laughter at our drawings reminded me of what brought us together in the first place — our communal love for geography. No matter what is going on in the world, and no matter where they are, I am comforted to know that my friends are always there to support me.