Slow it Down

As the world grinded to a halt, people were forced to slow down, and maybe that's a skill that shouldn't be abandoned.


illustration by Liz Fosslien via Instagram

Isolation gave many the chance to evaluate the way their achievements affected their view of themselves.

Kristen Kinzler, Junior Class Editor

One of my absolute favorite songs is “Slow It Down” by the Lumineers. I love its acoustics and the way the steady lyrics build up to the chorus and singer Wesley Schultz’s vocals. Most of all, though, I love how the song always reminds me to take a breath. While its true meaning is actually about a relationship, over the years, I’ve taken it as a personal reminder to quite literally slow down, check in with myself, and take just a moment to be in the present.

The thing is, I’m not good at slowing down, hence the need for a song. I don’t know how to shut my brain off, and I always strive to feel like I’m working towards something. Often, I don’t know how to stop working, planning, or even worrying.

That’s exactly why isolation has been so dreadful for a lot of people like me– the overthinkers and the overworkers. Sure, school isn’t completely taken away, but any sense of pride, or dare I say enjoyment, I once took in it is. No more extra curricular activities. No sports. No hanging out with friends. 

It’s particularly odd for everything to be halted during high school, the time when many students do an abundance of activities for college applications and resumes. When you’ve spent your whole academic career building that resume– the thing a college is going to look at to decide if you belong there or not– it’s dangerously easy to let all those activities define you. And when you’re used to viewing yourself through the lens of everything you do, and then all those things are taken away, it’s scary.

For the exact same reason isolation has been challenging, it was also a kind of necessary intervention– at least for me. I remember the last normal week of this school year as one of the most stressful of my life, as I struggled to handle a new lacrosse season with my increased junior year workload. Everything on my to-do list felt so defining and important. But over the past two months, as the world slowed down, I was forced to, as well.  It was frustrating, and don’t get me wrong, I still hate it, but a large part of me also realizes that slowing down was something I needed to do. 

Workload isn’t really a factor here, either. Obviously, if I changed my class schedule or dropped a few extracurriculars, I could make my life infinitely easier. For me, the challenge has never been the work– it’s been detaching myself from it. I have an incredibly annoying habit of basing my opinion of myself on all of those extrinsic metrics like grades and accomplishments and how much I can handle. It’s an easy trap to fall into when every minute of your day for the majority of the week feels reliant on those things.

Well, right now, those metrics have never mattered less. So, I’ve had to look for other places to judge myself on, and I haven’t found any. It feels odd, but for the first time I can remember, I don’t feel like I’m being harsh on myself. I’m still overthinking and over worrying, but I’ve also given myself the opportunity to just be a friend, a daughter, a sister, a person. 

Despite the natural human desire for all of us to show off and have that wonderful trophy case to prove that we’re special and that we matter, lockdown has proven that being a person who tries their best is enough. That alone makes you worthy of whatever validation you’re looking for.

I’ve always had family and friends tell me that I was enough simply for being me. Maybe it took a pandemic and a quarantine and two months of nothingness, but I finally believe them.”

I wouldn’t call this an epiphany or anything, because I still stress and freak out and care way too much about things that don’t matter. But at least now, when I do get upset about things that I think matter too much, I know somewhere in the back of my mind that they don’t. I’ve always had family and friends tell me that I was enough simply for being me, and that’s never really stopped me from chasing after more. Maybe it took a pandemic and a quarantine and two months of nothingness, but I finally believe them.

In one episode of his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed— another one of my favorite things– author John Green said, “Being busy is a way of being loud.” 

I remember stopping for a moment after I recently heard that line. Being busy keeps us distracted and it makes us feel important, but I needed the quiet that quarantine ensured, just so I could hear the small, timid voice in the back of my head saying that I was already okay. 

In general, the past few months have made productivity much less important to people as a whole. A health crisis puts things in perspective, and when the most productive way to do a job, whether that be physically at the office or surrounded by people, has been made virtually impossible, it creates a more widely-accepted flexibility.

That flexibility, under any other circumstances, can go a long way in easing anxiety and other mental health issues caused by overworking. I’m not saying to make excuses or to not work as hard, but motivation to achieve must be based on something other than a person’s need to feel whole. Less focus on productivity and more attention to the process and to personal well-being can provide a greater and healthier perspective.

So, as the world reopens, I don’t want to go back to how things were. I don’t want to lose the ability to slow down. I don’t want to put taking a breather at the bottom of my to-do list. Because, perhaps most of all, quarantine has proven that our tendency to always chase things and continuously push ourselves in order to achieve happiness is not nearly as important as we once thought. In fact, a break every now and then– a chance to just be– is not so detrimental. It is vital.

Maybe it’s naive, but I hope that as we enter whatever comes next for us as a country and a society, we can take time to slow it down every once in a while and remember that just being a decent person is enough. I hope we can acknowledge that our value is not dependent on achievements or productivity, but rather on being good friends and family members and citizens. I hope we remember to breathe. At the very least, those are the things I plan on carrying with me into the new normal.