Unless you’ve been living in a remote corner of the country without cell service since February, you’re probably struggling with maintaining sanity given the state of our world. My feelings over the past 6 months have been a mixture of anxiety, confusion and stress. When was that Zoom meeting scheduled for? Did I forget a mask again? How many hours have I been staring out of this window for?
I get it. We’re all struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy while living through a time period that feels more like a Black Mirror simulation than reality. Especially now, as work and school seem to be ramping up, with no vaccine in sight, thinking about our circumstances can be a bit disheartening.
Recently, I was supposed to meet friends out for a drink at one of our favorite outdoor patios. After a long work week, I couldn’t wait to catch up with friends. I was the 7th and final person to arrive, and as I walked up to my the table I could practically taste the frozen gin & tonic that I’d been salivating over since Tuesday.
There were only six seats, so I asked the waitress if she would be able to pull another chair over. I was quickly informed that, due to COVID regulations, no table could have more than 6 people. My friends and I were a bit confused, but figured we could split up. No big deal! Except that the next available table would be a 45 minute wait. As my friends began to pack their things up, insisting we try somewhere else, I assured them it wasn’t the end of the world and that I could just grab a coffee around the corner and meet up with them afterwards. Under the obvious condition that they bring me a frozen G & T in a to-go cup.
I grabbed my coffee and sat down in a little park that overlooked the lake. Initially I was disappointed, maybe even a bit mad, even though I understood that these rules are put into place to protect me and the rest of society. As I drank my coffee in the park, I could feel a wave of calmness washing over me. Everything was so still, so quiet, so ordinary.
I realized that I had been letting the anxiety and stress of COVID dictate all of my thoughts. I hadn’t taken a moment to sit and check in with myself in a long time. There was always something to distract me; a new article by Fauci, coordinating socially-distanced meet-ups with friends, reading through my emails.
It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough “alone time”, in fact I’ve had more of that than probably ever before. Instead, it was the realization that I hadn’t been utilizing this time effectively. I had filled this time with worries. Trying to get ahead of schedule. Ahead of my own nerves. Ahead of the pandemic.
But, at the end of the day, we can’t get ahead of all of these things. We need to reach a point of acceptance where we are able to process the world around us, while still being able to sit with our non-anxious selves. Watching the horizon line fade into shades of amber, listening to the current lap against the rocky shore and sipping my sub-par coffee gave me the feeling of stillness that I had unknowingly been craving for months.
To be our best selves, we have to know when and how to relax. The world is asking a lot of us these days. It’s easy to understand how we’re feeling physically trapped. We can’t travel, we can’t meet in large groups, we weren’t even really supposed to leave our houses for a while. Yet, I think we also need to think about how we’re feeling mentally trapped. Trapped by that need to try to get ahead of everything.
So, my expert-advice-from-a-21-year-old this week is to go to a space where you feel comfortable and to just be there. Sit and notice what’s around you, stay mindful of the positive things taking place in every direction you look. Appreciate the ordinary things that we take for granted in times like these. This might turn out to be much harder than it sounds, but I promise you the results will be worth it.
by: Ben Matejka, Summer Intern HPS Chicago