So, it turns out that sense of control we’re all missing right now, might have a much simpler fix than we thought.
I think it’s safe to say pretty much everything about life right now feels pretty flipped upside down. Grocery shopping is stressful, our dogs are actually begging for a break from going on 6 walks a day, our mental states are questionable at the best of times, and on top of all of that, we also have the interesting new life feature of being around another person (or people) literally all the time. At least, this is the case for a lot of us.
By now I think most of us have adapted, at least somewhat, to the routines of our temporary new normal. Maybe we’ve replaced our commute time with a morning meditation, or by reading up on an extra dose of the daily news, or, and I’m openly admitting this is totally me, soaking up that extra half hour of sleep every morning…(I wanna tell you guys I feel guilty, but I’m not gonna lie, I love it!)
But there’s one thing that I think is still very hard to adapt to, and that is being around another human being, or beings, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It’s just so beyond what we’re used to as humans.
And this is coming from a social extrovert who prefers to stay in hostel dorms over fancy hotels entirely because I love being around people. I will caveat though that I’ve tried the hotel-room-for-1 way of travel, and though I totally get why people love it, as a solo traveler it’s just not for me.
I’ll sidetrack off our topic for a second to be honest with you about something though. I love solo travel and will happily continue to travel that way for however long my life takes that path, but I learned something when I spent a few months traveling with a friend around Europe. Sometimes seeing ruins and visiting monasteries and taking in breathtaking views from mountain tops, is a little more exciting with someone by your side.
That’s why I as solo-traveler I will always pick hostels over hotels, because those experiences can be just that little bit more special when they’re shared with another person. And sometimes the people you share those experiences with end up staying in your life forever. They occasionally even end up teaching you valuable life lessons years later! Something I talk about in my blog ‘How Missing my Friends Abroad Taught Me Valuable Coping Lessons.‘
Still though, even as someone who thrives on being around the energy of others, throughout all of this I’ve realized sometimes I just need time to myself. Uninterrupted, unknown to others if I’m scrolling through Facebook rather than doing homework, quiet me time. And I’ve come to find out these last couple weeks, that’s completely okay to need.
But what’s not as easy as wanting that time, is creating both the time and space to make it happen.
Once I figured that out though, once I created an environment that gave me the choice for alone time, I found a sense of calm that I haven’t felt since all of this chaos began. So, here’s my advice that can maybe give you a little feeling of control in a life that is so out of control right now.
Makeshift a space that can be yours to go to – but make sure there’s a door.
When I first ended up in Phoenix (not my actual home, as you guys already know) living with my parents during this, I opted to use my dad’s office for my daily work and homework. He had the desk all set up, it has a nice big window, beautiful books lining the walls, all in all it seemed like a great temporary office.
But I quickly learned it had one major flaw. You guys all know that room when you walk into a house that’s immediately to your left or right, totally open, no doors, can’t actually be used as a bedroom or anything useful so usually becomes a second living room that never actually gets lived in? Yeah, that room.
Well my parents intentionally created that room to be a library/office. My parents being from the generation they are have an insane amount of actual hardcopy books and DVD’s, so much so that the initial purpose of this room was to have 2 walls of shelves put in for the sole purpose of displaying about 1/10 of their collections.
The downside to that room, however, was how easy it was to be both interrupted, and distracted, by literally every single thing that happens in this house.
If you’re living that work from home life right now too, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about…
So, rather than trying to just power through and blow out my eardrums with my headphones on full blast – my original solution which lasted about a week, I opted to do a little furniture rearranging, spend a little bit on Amazon, and turn half of my bedroom into an office. (You can see a picture of my new digs on my blog post here!)
The peace and quiet it’s brought me has been huge for my productivity and, I’ll be honest, my patience for distractions. See, with my door closed, I can’t hear the conversations happening in the living room that naturally I want to weigh in on, my sweet 3-year old niece knows the door closed mean Auntie Holly has to work, and my family have adapted to waiting until I emerge to bring up conversations they want to have.
And while I’m so grateful for the productivity and patience this has brought me, at the end of the day what I really love most, is that when I leave my door open, I suddenly have a choice. I can choose to listen to and weigh in on those conversations, I can choose to have my niece come in a play with her toys, I can choose to let myself be distracted by all the little things happening around me.
It’s like a trick I learned while living in hostels. If you’re on a bottom bunk, throwing up a sheet that blocks off your bunk is an awesome way to create a little privacy for yourself.
When you’re staying in hostels, there’s very little privacy or space to yourself. It comes with the fun side of always being around other travelers. But that feeling of needing space among a constant sea of people, is a lot like what I’ve been feeling with this quarantine. I’m still amazed you guys at how everything I’m experiencing during this time, I’ve been able to relate back to my travel experiences in some valuable way.
So, much like hanging a sheet in front of my bunk bed, making this space behind a close-able door, gives me a choice. And in a time like this, when very little feels like it’s our choice, our doing or even within our control, the ability to choose anything is something I think we could all use a little bit more of.
It may sound small or silly, to simply close a door, but when we have to create environments that help us thrive in our temporary new normal, I’m starting to realize it’s the little things that seem to help the most.
Authors Dan and Chip Heath wrote in their book, Switch, “Small tweaks lead to big changes.” In this case, I think small tweaks in our environment can lead to big changes in our mental state right now. And taking care of our emotional and mental states should be top priority in all of this. (Well…maybe on par with planning our next adventure when this is all over…)
So I recommend to you, if you’re feeling anything like I was, find yourself a space in your house, with a door, that you can go to and be alone. Make this small tweak in your environment. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day. Or maybe this will finally be the motivation you need to clean out that spare bedroom. Or move around some furniture in your guest bedroom to make space for a desk. It might take a little work on your part, and a little understanding from the rest of your quarantine buddies, but I promise it’s worth the effort. It’s worth feeling like we have a little bit of choice in a world that feels so out of control.
Until next time searchers.