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How To Hold Space For Yourself in 180 Square Feet

by Maria Tuason

It’s been seven weeks since Madrid called off school for all levels, which is effectively seven weeks since I’ve made my regular commute to work, sat across a table from my friends, gone for a run outside, or lived any semblance of life outside the confines of my apartment. As this was all unfolding, my loved ones around the world were experiencing the same to varying degrees. Even as other countries warned us of how this tale would unfold, it still felt like the world was turned upside down overnight. All of a sudden we had to make sense of the terms of this strange new reality while we flailed around in the dark grasping for a sense of normalcy. 

Yet through Zoom calls, bread baking, and a gold mine of Internet content, it seems we’ve landed there. Not quite at this “new normal” - which is made out to sound like a promised land we’ll be jaunted to once they’ve figured out the model - but a pace of life we now feel settled in. We learned to adapt to what once felt like the unadaptable. Now, governments are slowly rolling out de-escalation plans and we’ll soon find ourselves with new sets of rules to live by. In fact, this weekend where I live, we’ll be allowed to take daily hour walks for the first time in almost two months. To me this signals a slight shift forward into what is still very much the unknown, but movement nonetheless. As I prepare myself for another period of inevitable adjustment and readjustment, I can’t help but take stock of the things I’ve picked up along the way. They’ve served as helpful reminders as I waded through unfamiliar waters these last few weeks. I share them with you below in the hopes that they help you, as they’ve helped me, stay grounded as we enter into this next phase and into whatever normal we create for ourselves thereafter.

1) Adopt new habits and hobbies as you please. Let them go with ease. 

Weeks one and two had me dipping my toes into every possible outlet I could direct my energy to. Like so many others, I was bright-eyed and ambitious about what all this time meant for all the hobbies I’d wanted to devote myself to but “could never find the time for”. Yet here I am with an untouched Duolingo for Italian app I swore to open everyday and a daily journal that has once again been abandoned. My knee-jerk reaction was to see this as my failure to commit myself to anything. I’ve since realized that perhaps these habits never materialized, not because I didn’t have the time, but because I simply always chose to do other things. In these tenderest of times, there is absolutely no room to guilt yourself over things you’ve started and decided to let go of. Try on as many hats as you like — what works for you will stick. 

2) Eat all your meals by the window. 

Don’t rob yourself of a few precious moments to look at anything that isn’t a screen. The emails, the pings, the WhatsApp work chat can wait. Don’t even put on a show or listen to a podcast. Pull up a chair and enjoy the view. Meals are already the best part of the day, so elevate the experience even further. Your eyes (and heart) will thank you. 

3) Your space is sacred. 

In September of last year, I moved into a shared apartment that unfortunately does not share a living room. This means that I’ve spent the majority of the quarantine in my bedroom (save for my 76 daily trips to the kitchen). I’ve somehow managed to stay sane despite the spacial challenge, which I attribute largely to my physical surroundings. At the risk of sounding hopelessly woo-woo, there is something about the energy in my bedroom that has kept me from feeling alone. She feels gentle and nurturing (thus naturally, female); an inextricable character in my quarantine story. Thinking back on these last seven weeks, I can’t help but feel a quiet reverence for her — this place I call home. I’ve cried, slept, eaten, exercised here. I’ve escaped to other worlds through books and movies here. I’ve even turned a year older here. My space keeps me grounded, and I give a little thanks for her every day. 

4) The single greatest feature on your phone is airplane mode. 

Information overload has been a very real thing for me. I once woke up to a forwarded article on Whatsapp which led me to read six corona-related Atlantic articles before I even got out of bed (which you can imagine did wonders for my anxiety). I had to be better about when and how much I consumed. Between the news, another meme, or group chats blowing up, it’s beneficial to give your brain a little break. Enter airplane mode, the sexiest button on your phone. Use it to disconnect for a few hours at a time or set it before bed to reclaim your mornings (if you’re able to, of course). Hopefully it gives you the chance to wake up, make your coffee, spend a few moments with your own thoughts first and only let the world in when you’re ready. 

5) Eat. 

Food is the light of my life. Though this has always been true, it seems to have taken on new meaning under the lens of our current situation. I look forward to each of my meals with as much excitement as a kid on Christmas morning. I make audible sounds with each bite, as though I hadn’t just eaten two hours before. I peruse Instagram stories to further inform my cravings and to see what everyone else is eating. I no longer worry about the calories or how many different kinds of carbs I’ve consumed in a day. The only thing I’ve cut out from my diet is guilt, and it has made all the difference. If it brings you joy, eat. Feed. Your. Self. 

6) Call mom just to say you’re washing your hands. 

Though we might not be the most vulnerable demographic in this pandemic, we certainly know and love people who are. If you’re living away or are isolating to keep them safe, check in with your parents. See where they’re at physically, mentally, emotionally. Tell them how you’re doing. Dispel any and all hysteria they bring forward from their Viber groups so as to help calm their nerves. Since this began, my bi-weekly calls with mom have increased in frequency and are supplemented by daily text messages about what we both did or ate that day. And if family isn’t an option for you, phone a friend, a colleague, or anyone you feel could use some checking in on. It might seem inconsequential, but connection of any kind goes a long way these days. 


7) You can say no to phone calls. 

This might seem a little counterintuitive after I just said to phone a friend, but hear me out here. 

I learned very quickly that socializing over the Internet could be just as exhausting as it can be in person. Perhaps even more so. With nowhere to zip off to or any real pressing reason to exit the virtual party, Zoom calls could go on for hours and leave you wondering where your day went. Though they didn’t require me to dress up, catch public transport, or navigate any real life social situations, I often needed time to disconnect afterwards. It seems silly to have to carve out alone time when you spend all day alone, but I say do what you must to protect your energy. It’s okay to honor time for yourself and say no without giving any excuses. 


8) Accept yourself in all your new forms of being.

Accept that on most days, you’re not going to have it together. There will be entire days spent in bed, where any activity feels like too much activity. Some evenings you will be so restless you won’t be able to sit through a movie or get through a page of your book. As far as bodily changes go, accept that there will be many. New colonies of cellulite will appear without warning. Your skin will regress to its adolescent state. Body hair of all kinds will thrive like never before. So when you’re feeling like the unkempt grouch you want so desperately not to be: don’t fight it. Lean in. Hold yourself a little more gently. 

9) Non-contention breeds contentment. 

In fact, take that acceptance and apply it to just about every aspect of your life in these strange times. When we’ve lost so much by way of the past and can’t quite picture a clear way forward, our natural human response is to resist the terms of our reality. We resist the discomfort of our anxiety, the unease of uncertainty, the questionable decisions of our leaders, the individual and collective grief we might be feeling but have not yet acknowledged. Yet resistance can cause such a physical response in the body. For me it’s a tightening of the chest and an unpleasant sensation in my upper back (which, if I could describe in earnest, is what I imagine it might feel like to have a dementor’s cold hands wrapped around your shoulders). More than just the physical reaction, putting up a fight against the things I can’t control throws my entire day out the window. So I’ve started making a conscious effort to stop resisting. Don’t get me wrong — it takes actual work to step back when you feel the need to control, predict, or plan. But I’ve found that when you start to open yourself up to what is, and start letting go of what you think it should be, you tend to move through the day with a bit more ease.

Photoshoot featuring blue Madrid skies and the Maranta plant sent to me on my 29th birthday.