Monday, 6:32 p.m. The email arrives saying someone in the house has tested positive and you’re going into isolation for 14 days. We lead such active lives at university that the split-second change of an imposed lockdown can feel like whiplash after a car slams on the brakes. Something analogous to the five-stages of grief ensues (denial – but it can’t really be 14 – anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – it is what it is) as the condolence texts flood your phone. Looking out on a 14-day line of dominoes, it can seem like the goal of each day is just to knock one down, but during my time in isolation I’ve found that the people in my household and our community as a whole has shown support for each other in spectacular ways.

Given Oxford’s recent rise in coronavirus cases, it’s more vital than ever that we uphold our social responsibility by isolating so that we protect the vulnerable members of our city. With that in mind, here are some suggestions to help you make the most of lockdown:

  1. House Events: Let’s be honest, you weren’t going to Park End anyway, so having some planned gatherings might be a step up for your social calendar. So far, my household has had drinks nights (which, if you’re not a drinker, could work to your advantage when it comes to the board game portion of the evening), dinners together, and movie nights (the Rudy Giuliani/Borat shock may well have brought us closer as a household).
  2. Indoor Workouts: One of the hardest things about isolation is, of course, not being able to go outside. Workouts in your room can help you take back control of your fitness. Pamela Reif, MadFit, and other training YouTube channels offer free high intensity workouts that let you sweat out some of the confinement. Also, if your friends or college will deliver items to your house, dumbbells can arrive quickly and provide a nice mind-muscle connection for tapping into your strength.
  3. Food: I am not embarrassed to admit that I depended upon the kindness of others and take-out meals before lockdown. While it may be overstatement to say that, by necessity, I’ve come into my own as a chef, I am now a cooking-convert. Time in the kitchen has become one of the most cherished parts of the day as my household and I catch up while sharing recipes, eating, and washing pots. We’ve found there’s something shockingly cathartic in taking raw ingredients and turning them into a nice meal for yourself. The obvious problem is of course that it’s hard to get the items you need for the full two weeks. I’ve personally found that anyone in our community is happy to help out people in isolation by going on food runs, but if you’d rather do the shopping yourself, Sainsburys and Tesco have delivery services and, for locally-sourced produce or specialty items, Farmdrop is an excellent – albeit slightly pricier – option. (For all of these, you have to plan a couple days in advance.) Of course, there’s a place for pizza delivery nights, too.
  4. Work: This can tend more toward personal preference. Though I’m not a list-maker, I’ve found that writing down in the morning the different work items I want to accomplish in the day can be helpful. Not only does it give the hours some structure but, at the end of the day – even though I almost certainly have not finished the essay or gotten to the Beckett lecture – it’s still satisfying to see my progress.
  5. Distractions: A word on procrastination’s evil twin. At Oxford, we’re always focusing on the next thing. Some of the best moments during lockdown have been when my housemates and I have made impromptu visits to each other’s rooms. Whether isolating with friends or people you hardly know, lockdown presents an opportunity to get to know your household in new ways. Drop-ins not only change up the tempo of the day but allow you some healthy distraction. 

When I came back to Oxford in October, I felt incredibly fortunate to be able to return to university when so many of my friends in the United States could not. I still do. Despite the difficulty lockdown presents, I cherish the ability to see my friends in safe settings and work in Oxford’s inspiring environment. I appreciate the tireless work of college administrators and staff who ensure our community stays safe and healthy.  

This term will inevitably present challenges. We are quite literally doing Oxford as no one has ever done it before. (How often can you say that at a 900-year-old institution?) At any moment you can get “the email.” But amidst the lack of certainty, creative emerges. Now, I like knowing the only box I have to check in the near-term is the one to vote in US elections from abroad. Lockdown doesn’t mean a two-week freeze on the clock when at any moment your household can have a new distraction.