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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USC chapter.

As college students, we often find ourselves moving at a million miles an hour. There is an expectation to be busy. We have so many opportunities right in front of us and it feels silly to not take advantage of clubs, student organizations, internships, and job opportunities.

If you’re like me, you tell yourself that having free time means you’re not busy enough. So, you add more to the plate when you’re already struggling to finish the meal. We don’t do this because we like to be stressed and frenzied all the time. We do it because motivation and contentment often stem from a sense of accomplishment, so we base our days around productive activities. This causes us to run around like chickens with our heads cut off (okay, maybe we’re not THAT busy).

A month ago I was still immersed in the day to day of college life. My schedule didn’t allot a lot of quiet or personal time. Then COVID-19 swept through the world, shutting down universities and workplaces and threatening the stability of many people’s lives financially, physically, and emotionally. The world quieted and our fast-paced life halted to a stop. 

It goes without saying that having the ability to be a busy college student is a privilege. Business is a privilege as it indicates opportunity. Yet I noticed a conflict among many college students quarantined at home. If we measured our value in our level of productivity, what are we supposed to do now?

For many years, I’ve struggled to find my self-value in who I am without it correlating with what I produce, achieve, or accomplish. I often feel proud of myself when I improve a new skill, meet a goal, and succeed academically or artistically. Now that I’m quarantined, I feel a sense of guilt when I’m unable to use this endless stretch of free-time to become some productivity robot, accomplishing everything I’ve ever wanted to do.

But what if I used this time to figure out who I am in the silence of a shut down world, to create a relationship with myself that exists outside of goals and accomplishments and to-do lists?

So naturally, I created a list for ways we can find value outside of our productivity:

1. Go back to what makes you feel good:

What activities feed your soul, rather than your ego? What can you do that energizes you as opposed to draining you? For me, reading is what always comes to mind. Reading takes almost nothing from you while offering you a world completely outside of your own.

But maybe it isn’t reading. Maybe it’s stretching or walking or creating a playlist for your quarantine moods that helps you relax and get in touch with how you’re feeling. Is there a creative project that you can do for yourself?

Whatever it is, go back to doing things that truly make you content. Activities that don’t require the affirmation or attention of others and that don’t make you feel like a failure if they aren’t completed perfectly.

If all else fails, try to binge watch some movies and shows.

2. Set realistic expectations and goals:

Currently, we are trying to create structure in very unstructured times. Inevitably, there will be good days and bad days and even days that are worse than bad days. Set small goals and don’t punish yourself if you fail to meet them every day. If you’re someone who finds motivation from business, then creating attainable goals will help provide some normalcy into your day to day.  

Ideas for small goals:

  1. Wake up on your first alarm 

  2. Walks/short exercises 

  3. Daily journaling 

3. Take Care of Others by Taking Care of Yourself:

Sometimes when we feel unsettled by changes in our own lives, we can regain some sense of motivation and peace by pouring positive energy into other people’s lives. In order to do this successfully, take a few moments each day to check in with yourself. Are you feeling guilty that you aren’t being as productive as you want? Is self-pity creeping up on you? Are you feeling lethargic, unmotivated, and discouraged by the news?

Acknowledging how we feel helps to dictate the actions we need to take going forward. Once we acknowledge the ugly feelings gripping us, we have the power to break out of our own head and pour into others.    

So make it a priority to check in on your friends. Ask how their mental/physical/emotional health is. Chances are, they are feeling something similar and you can help each other navigate these emotions. Check in with your family, even if they bother you. You may think you know how they feel, but they need someone to talk to as well. Is there a creative project you can start that would require the contributions of your friends and family? A quarantine scrapbook, story, video compilation? A friend you could write a letter to?

Everyone’s circumstances are different right now. Maybe you’re just trying to stay afloat each day, feeling drowned by the mental and financial toll of this pandemic. Everyone has different limitations on what they can and can’t do in quarantine. Gentleness toward ourselves and others is more important than ever.

This brings me to my last piece of advice for anyone feeling like they’re not doing quarantine ~right~ 

4. Take Things Day by Day:    

Remember that we weren’t magically granted a stress-free, endless amount of time to accomplish all of our lives’ greatest goals. We are living through a pandemic. We are waking up to headlines of death, tragedy, and heartache. You may not tick every box off of your list. And that is okay. It is a day by day situation. 

Mostly, I try to remember that there are ways to find value and appreciation for myself without producing something tangible. Let’s go back to what makes us proud of ourselves. Go back to what makes us happy, let it run through us, and shine it onto the world around us. 

And when that isn’t possible – I guess we can just make a list.

Katie Muschalik is a film student at the University of Southern California. Everything she ever needed to know she learned from a Judy Blume book.