Preparing to on-ramp back into a new normal

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Learn a new coding language. Redo room. Get abs.

After the announcement that schools would be shut down indefinitely after the onset of COVID, I set plenty of quarantine goals like these for myself. Like other second-semester juniors, I was amid of preparing for my SAT and AP tests while juggling school work, extracurriculars and college applications.

The lockdown meant that I didn’t have any pressing responsibilities or upcoming events to stress over — it was as though someone pressed a pause and reset button, but not quite. 

Reset? For sure. Pause? I’d say somewhat.

For the first time, I felt like I was supposed to stay home and prioritize my mental and physical health, and could actually pursue interests I had never really found time for in the past.

So I made an ambitious list of things I had hoped to achieve in the next few months — a positive mix of self-care and productive tasks. I binged four seasons of Grey’s Anatomy between trying out a plethora of two-week fitness challenges. I experimented with new daily habits and routines and immersed myself in motivational podcasts.

Pre-pandemic, I would go to school, then extracurricular activities, then come home and study (and have a couple of mental breakdowns here and there). I was always focused on the next step, whether it was a homework assignment or competition or interview. All my “free” time was dedicated to productivity.

Quarantine granted me a chunk of free time so large that I couldn’t fill it with more of the same: I now had such an abundance of time that I could create agendas for myself in which, between the productivity, each item on the list was something I truly prioritized.

The satisfaction of completing a task on the list was my motivation to keep doing just that. If it weren’t for these agendas, I never would have found myself going for daily, early morning runs or reading 20 pages of a book every night. I certainly wouldn’t have stayed on track with writing articles like this one or adequately begun preparing for my upcoming school year.

Here we are a couple of months later, when cities are (hopefully) reopening, and our lives are already returning to “normal.” What used to be postponed or canceled has now been rescheduled, leaving many more opportunities ahead to feel overwhelmed and in need of a break. Things seem to be going back to the way they were before the implementation of shelter-in-place. But my new “normal” will undoubtedly be shifted by what I became accustomed to in quarantine. I am equipped with learned skills and experiences that have made me physically and mentally tougher than ever before.

There will be many more nights of cramming for exams and stressing over deadlines, but I’ll now dedicate the habits and skills I’ve developed in quarantine — whether they be sticking to an agenda or leaving time for five-minute guided meditations every night — just as much attention.

When it seemed like the world was put on pause, I actually got to “play” a little more.

Contact Myra Xu at dmyraxu ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Myra Xu is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.