A loaf of sourdough rises on the sunlit counter. The dumbbells that she worked out with for three hours yesterday lay near the yoga mat, stained with sweat from intense six pack producing workouts. A stack of books, all of which she read in the past month, sits on the coffee table. It is day 53 of quarantine and she has her life together.

She snaps awake from her daydream and finds herself on her bed, in unwashed sweatpants, under a big blanket, while her online class runs in the background like a podcast on half volume.

In 1667, Sir Isaac Newton discovered calculus while in self-isolation during the Black Plague! By this logic, the average teenager today should do the same. After all, free time is in abundance. Between balancing school, family, friends, relationships, extra-curriculars, and hobbies, there is plenty time to be productive. Learning to cook, investing in cryptocurrency, and focusing on fitness are just a few realistic ideas. Indeed, many young adults are inspired by the pandemic to force themselves to try new things. “I made myself a coffee snob even though I still can’t tell anything apart,” said Dima Narkevich, a post-secondary student studying from home.

One cannot possibly be proud of their accomplishments if they do not include losing 50 pounds by following workout videos in their room. These are just part of the morning routine, which must include drinking a kale smoothie, going on a 10k run, and starting a business all before 7:00am. Otherwise, there might be someone more productive! However, all this only counts if it is posted on social media. If protein shake is made but no one double-taps a photo of it, does it make a sound? Only the best moments of life should be shared with others; otherwise, they will see imperfection. And Narkevich agreed that this would be completely unacceptable. Everyone needs to be under the impression that others’ lives are ideal. That way, a positive, not at all damaging cycle of inspiration starts, and mental health flourishes.

2020 was meant to be a year of self-improvement despite the stress from a pandemic. But if it was not, then there must be something wrong! Except the young, impressionable people are not the wrong ones: society is. Social media sets unrealistic expectations for what life during a global pandemic should look like. Grade 11 Riverside student Zephyr Barry described this as “incredibly damaging and overwhelming,” saying that this pressure negatively affected their mental health. In fact, there is no correct way to live through these times. Although these expectations have been amplified recently, in her recent article “Pressure To Be Productive During The Pandemic And What To Do About It,” clinical psychologist Dr. Zhen Xu explained that it is best to “redefine … priorities and set boundaries to stay on that path” and not allow the pressure to have negative impacts on mental health. The trend of working non-stop and being productive at all minutes of the day is only damaging, according to Xu.

Author Damian Barr wrote on his website on March 25, 2021: “We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat,” reassuring that comparison against others facing very different circumstances and issues during this time is unnecessary. All feelings, mental states, and ways of coping are valid, even if they clash with what society portrays as correct. Unproductiveness is not illegal. It is important to remember that everybody struggles, copes, and lives differently, and that is okay.

Header courtesy of Julia M Cameron

Pull quote courtesy of Ray Bilcliff