OPINION — Quarantine is no self-improvement course or yoga retreat, it’s actually quite hard

The quarantine has inspired many people to promote self-improvement, but the corona crisis hasn’t given us more time to do so. On the contrary, I feel that we have less time for it and should be careful not to push ourselves too hard.

Every day when I open social media, I see posts from influencers who are being exceptionally productive. I’ve seen people take up knitting and yoga or baking. It seems as if this quarantine is making them better people. But I’m left wondering where they find the energy for all this self-improvement. In my experience life still goes on in quarantine, it just got harder to deal with.

Learning Chinese
I think we all underestimated it in the beginning. We thought quarantine would be all right. I definitely did. I naively thought I could use this time to become a better person. ‘I can use it to learn a new language!’ I thought. Only there was no time to learn a new language. Because when you are working from home, you are still working. The essence of our day to day life didn’t change in quarantine. Yes, we can’t go out for drinks anymore but we still have to work, eat, sleep and shower.

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Stress, worry and pondering
Of course, we do have some extra time. The time that we’d usually spend on our commute or for socializing and relaxation. And while some people are thriving and actually doing yoga every day, I think many of us won’t suddenly be using our extra time to be productive. Because as it turns out, being quarantined due to a global pandemic gives you stress. It makes you worried about the future, your own and that of the world. It makes you miss and worry about loved ones you can’t see anymore. It makes you miss being out and about and free to go wherever you please. All of it can make you a bit more down than usual.

The life we’ve lost
Psychologist Kati Morton describes these mental challenges of isolation as an overall feeling of grief for the life we’ve lost. The life we could have had if it wasn’t for the virus. And these feelings take time to get used to and be processed. Time we all desperately want to use for self-improvement. But the time that we should use for mental health.

‘It’s a mental health disaster waiting to happen’

Or to build up a routine. Because while the essence of our day-to-day life might be the same, life still changed. It changed drastically. We cut out the routines we had. Work and school create a structure for you, you know what has to be done when. So it can be difficult to adjust when work or school falls away. By staying home, we have more say in how we choose to spend our time. So to have a productive day, we have to choose wisely and try to create new routines. However, new routines are hard to stick to. They’re hard to sustain. And when they don’t work we tend to blame it on ourselves.

It’s not easy
Combine the stress that we have because of our worries about the future, the grief for a life we could have had and the need to build up a new routine and you get a good sense of what we are collectively dealing with in quarantine. Add the pressure we feel to find time for self-improvement and you’ll understand that it’s a mental health disaster waiting to happen.

‘Make peace with the knowledge that quarantine is hard’

I feel that it’s important for us to be reminded that this quarantine isn’t easy for anyone. It’s not easy for the people with an essential job, of course, they are the real fighters. But it’s also not easy for the people that thought they were lucky that they could stay home. Somehow we have to find a way to stop demanding ourselves to get better and to self-improve. Instead, we should try to make peace with the knowledge that quarantine is hard and that it’s all right if you can’t speak Chinese.

Click here if you want to see more ideas on this topic, do note that this article is in Dutch.

Text and picture: © Lisa Poppe