They’re everywhere I look—articles and videos and carefully curated Instagram posts on how to stay productive while isolated at home. Productive. I feel like I’m seeing that word more than ever. Our society has often been one that demands constant productivity, continual self-improvement. The conditions caused by COVID-19 have exposed those impulses more starkly than ever before. With a backdrop of mass suffering and economic disaster, they seem even more unattainable and removed from our current reality.
It feels difficult, and even shameful, to articulate why I find this seemingly positive messaging to be so stressful. After all, what exactly is problematic about striving to be the best version of yourself? Giving the days and weeks a structure and purpose helps define them and keep us feeling sane, especially in the absence of traditional school or work environments.
However, there is a fine line between the routines that can help to protect mental health and wellness and the ones that only serve to increase the pressure people—especially students—feel during these unusual times. In addition to exercise and social interaction, having some kind of outlet through work or creativity is an important form of self-care. But issues emerge when that kind of self-care becomes curated and commodified online to the point where it doesn’t feel caring at all but another way to spark anxiety and sell planners.
Some days, I feel driven to tackle baking, gardening or bullet journaling. Other times, getting myself to call a friend or just walk outside for a bit of fresh air can feel like a triumph, and I have to choose to ignore the pit of anxiety in my stomach when I go to bed feeling I did not accomplish all that I could have. Now more than ever, the hardest work we have to do is to ask ourselves what we really need and honor the answer.
It might be going on a run or cleaning the bathroom. It might be another episode on Netflix. We’re grieving a lot right now—for people in our communities, our social connections, a sense of normalcy. That grief doesn’t have to result in a new language learned or an oil painting. So don’t despair if you’re not exceeding, or even meeting, the levels of focus, passion or energy you had pre-COVID. I know I’m not. We’re all just doing our best.