Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 14, 2024

In quarantine, doing less is doing more

By CHINAT YU | April 14, 2020


You’re sitting in front of your screen staring at YouTube. It is 3 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, a school day, or so you used to think. The images on the screen start to merge into a blur, and you cannot help but wonder how long it has been since quarantine started. Two weeks? Three weeks? You can’t be sure.

Sound familiar?

With the advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many of us have lost touch with the routines that we have diligently built up over the semester. Everyday we wake up in the morning, or in the afternoon in most cases, just to face the same four walls binding us. We hop on our laptops, get through the Zoom classes and then get lost in social media or some mind-numbing Netflix show to help time pass. Everyday is like a living nightmare that we wish we can wake up from. 

We are constantly reminded how lucky we are and that we shouldn’t complain as there are many less fortunate than us. Yet with every passing moment, the burden our hearts carry increases. We wish that we can just get up and do something meaningful. Periodically, it can lead to some depressing moments.

Most advice on mental health currently circulating is about catching on to a new fad or trend. Meditate everyday, attend Zoom yoga sessions, call 10 friends that you haven’t spoken to in a year. Long lists of activities that you can do during quarantine leave you more overwhelmed and confused than ever. Others leave you with generic advice that is almost identical to other general lists. The vast amount of freedom and time that we have at our hands leaves us feeling as though anything we do can help boost our mood. However, this is just an illusion of choice.

While they may seem novel at first, I find that these recommended tricks are distracting and gimmicky at best. Sooner or later, no matter how many tips you try, that original sense of restlessness returns. 

Instead of prowling the internet for a new show or YouTube video, I find myself scrolling through sites looking for advice on how to maintain my mental health, like which meditation app is the best, or which yoga video is trending highest. 

The antidote that I have been presented with has simply manifested into the problem itself. The underlying desire for control and fulfillment remains a burning craving.

The truth is that given our current circumstances, the need to prioritize has never been greater. In our depths of uncertainty and fear, so many of us blindly scramble to look for promises and answers to comfort ourselves. We often fail to see the wonderful opportunities presented right before our eyes. 

Recently, after growing frustrated from the lack of closure I got looking for meaningful things to do online, I decided to take a different approach and look at advice that I personally left for myself. By luck, I came across a bucket list that I wrote two years ago while cleaning up the files on my computer. It was a gem!

Not only did the list flood me with fond memories from the past, but there were also many great ideas that were now within my grasp. For example, one of the items was to set up my own webpage.

I have longed to create my own website, but due to a lack of time and skills, I was previously unable to pursue it. After studying computer science for a year, I now possess both the time and confidence in setting it up, and the project has brought new motivation and energy into my life.

The old saying that less is more should be our motto during these turbulent periods. We should reflect inwards to identify our core values and build from there, rather than fumbling with our insecurities outwards in the dark.

Now, I get up in the morning with a focus of the day in mind. Gone are the days when I would check social media first thing in the morning, wandering aimlessly for the new trendy, COVID-19 thing to do, only to waste the day away. Gone are the days when I would stare at the news for hours on end, only to feel the anxiety boiling up within me, despite knowing that there wasn’t much action that I could take.

Instead, I have now limited myself to three projects a week, three concrete things that I can work on. That way, I know what got done, regain a sense of time and reflect upon it with pride, appreciation and gratitude.

Chinat Yu is a freshman majoring in Computer Science from Hong Kong, China. 

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