From the moment we heard the news in the spring that studies would be online for at least three weeks, until I boarded my flight home to California, I was in utter disbelief. In a matter of one week, my water polo season, my studies, and my formative first year of college came to an end without any closure. My mental health started declining at a rapid rate as a result, and an impending sense of doom seemed to linger for months.
The forced time at home ultimately made me reflect on many aspects of my life, and I realized I spend too much time focusing on the future, worrying about the most insignificant situations. An unpredictable pandemic was not something that fit into “my plan,” but throughout quarantine and into the summer, I continued to create plans (all of which were cancelled) in an attempt to rationalize the situation and continue being productive. It was not until my dad contracted COVID-19 in August, forcing my family into quarantine, that I realized I needed to start living in the moment.
My dad had a healthy recovery, something we are very grateful for. The time at home gave me no time to plan, nothing to look forward to. It made me take a couple of deep breaths and take each day as it comes.
Being a Princeton student on campus had heightened my unnecessary stress due to planning. Sometimes I felt that I was drowning in work without a lifesaver. When surrounded by plenty of students, these feelings can quickly become amplified. Everything moves so fast and it is easy to be wrapped up in the Orange Bubble. I wanted to plan out every hour of my day, maximizing my work potential because it seemed that was what everyone around me was doing.
I carried this need for productivity when I came home. I tried to continue the same pace at home during my quarantine period but found myself mentally drained by 1 p.m. every day. Trying to keep an East Coast schedule on the West Coast left my body and mind fatigued, and I could barely keep it up. This was the beginning of my realization that I needed to take things slow.
Yet even during the summer after classes ended, I kept thinking that I needed something to look forward to. I needed to plan something, even if it was going to drive and pick up food, because it felt normal.
It was not until I went back into quarantine in August after my dad’s diagnosis that all these feelings disappeared. I had nothing to do, nothing to plan because I could not leave my house. During this reflection time, I realized I needed to be more grateful for what I had and that I should stay positive because all I needed was what I already had — my family, small moments on Zoom with friends, where I lived, and the memories I made in my first year.
I have carried these lessons into this online semester. I am learning to live in the present. I am taking time each day to do something for me, even if it means stopping work for a few hours. I am putting my mental health first, something that hasn’t been easy, but has been necessary. I am trying to appreciate the little things because those are often taken for granted. These are some things I’ve realized that are not emphasized enough, especially when we are on campus.
With the midterms stress dying down and finals just around the corner, I want to remind students to take a step back and live for what we have now. The uncertainty about the spring is daunting, but we need to remember and be grateful for the moments we have now because we don’t know when they will be gone.
Maisie McPherson is a sophomore from Dana Point, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.