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Three weeks into this seemingly indefinite period of social isolation and spirits may be running lower than ever. Within a matter of weeks, we have gone from the extreme social intimacy of Cambridge life to the extreme social distancing of quarantine. Days spent squashed into lecture halls and nights spent dancing in crammed clubs have turned into long empty days, our contact with the outside world reduced to suspiciously skirting around strangers on the street as we fearfully undertake our daily government-regulated exercise. But for those of us halfway through our degrees this unprecedented break in normal life could provide some valuable mental space, away from the constant socialisation and never-ending workload of university.   

This university lifestyle leaves little space for reflection; the weekly grind makes it very difficult to see the bigger picture. Once you’re in Cambridge you’re truly in Cambridge, and probably have no idea what the nearest town is called, or even the name of the ring road. 

Quarantine however, might provide the isolation and space necessary for genuine reflection, the kind that makes you consider whether the things you prioritise have sincere value to you, or whether they are a product of dogmatic societal value structures. In Cambridge, it seems like everything that we do must have ‘productive’ value. This stems from a mentality obsessed with individual success and achievement. Many students will prioritise finishing an essay over meeting a friend, chairing a committee over cooking for themselves and then writing Varsity articles in their spare time instead of exercising, all in order to further their chances of success in life. This frantic mindset might create an entirely synthetic set of values which make it difficult to slow down and find grounded value in our daily lives. 

Quarantine gives us an opportunity to change the patterns of our life.

These weeks spent indoors give us the precious gift of time, and this time can be used to find things to do that are valuable in themselves, rather than things that have value only because they will lead to success. Cooking with family, gardening, practising meditation, and spending long afternoons playing board games: all these things may make you feel more connected to others, to yourself and to nature. It is worth trying to engage in an activity for the sake of happiness and satisfaction, rather than for your CV. Take the opportunity to listen to whole albums, read books and learn about what interests you without the pressure of then having to write an essay on the subject.

However, the idea that everyone, whilst sitting at home, bored and alone, will suddenly have epiphanies about the truly valuable things in life is unlikely. In these times of uncertainty, it is much easier to cocoon yourself in the frequently reposted, guilt assuaging messages on social media that tell you not to feel as if you have to achieve anything in quarantine - ‘don’t feel as if you must come out of quarantine having written a book, learnt a new language or with a new side hustle’. This is an entirely valid message that also acts as a privilege check- not all environments are equally conducive to this kind of productivity. However, it is also worth asking: What’s the alternative? Scrolling mindlessly for hours and sinking deeper into a digital darkness?

These messages circulating in the online community create a space which encourages people to ignore the value of self-improvement. They change social media from a positive way of connecting people into a gloomy place that keeps people feeling guilt free about refusing to try things that could make isolation a lot more bearable.


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There is an elusive and golden middle ground, between the stress inducing churning productivity of term time and the sadness inducing slump of inertia that quarantine facilitates. And this middle ground may not always be found solely through introspection. For those of us quarantined with family or friends, the value of stepping outside of yourself and looking to the bonds you can create with others cannot be overstated.

Quarantine gives us an opportunity to change the patterns of our life. In the 9 to 5 structure within which we operate, wellbeing is distinctly separate from work and relaxation is synonymous with shutdown, often aided by the escapism that alcohol and social media both provide. But these months in quarantine are offering us a golden chance to relearn how to relax in a healthier way, how to sit and look out of the window for half an hour and follow the path of a plane across the sky. 

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