What I Learned Growing Into Adulthood During Quarantine

Turning 19 and 20, I changed to the healthiest I’ve ever been in our lovely yet traumatized digital world.

Since March 2020, I had my 19 and 20th birthdays, and I spent most days alone at home, distracting myself with my little projects, reading, and introspecting a lot. Away from the anxiety-ridden norms of normal life, I discovered the reality of social media, anxiety, motivation, and the productivity culture of our young generation in the 21st century (Gen Z folks, who probably don’t read medium articles actually). I CHANGED FOR THE HEALTHIEST I’VE EVER BEEN. What things did I discover? And what hurt did I sadly endure?

I’ve never been happier, but I struggled with these many problems for a long time, and all of them are universal for my generation. But I never gave myself the space to tackle them and be completely self-aware. Why? Because every waking moment, of every day, I am on the internet, listening to something, watching something, or scrolling somewhere (Like many of my friends). The thing is that I subconsciously knew the things going wrong, and why they might be, but I was trapped in purgatory.

All of us GenZs -and millennials (I don't mean to exclude you)- experience peculiar problems in our weird and digital world:

  1. Social-media insecurity
  2. hustle culture
  3. environmentally induced anxiety and ADHD (VAST)
  4. and an overwhelming lack of boundaries.

it was hurting me.

They sound simple, but these problems are so wildly hurtful of our lives (at least mine), and we barely realize. I was outside of my body for years. Anxious, depressed, and afraid, I still functioned as a person, but the hole I had in me now brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. If you feel lonely, incompetent, and outcasted, you are not alone. I want to share how I felt the same, and how I forgave myself. And learned to help myself.

Who to blame? The internet, the fast-changing world keeping us alienated, and everyday-subtle productivity culture.

First, let’s talk about how, being the first generation to be born when screens are the norms and Las Vegas addiction tactics are democratized, we feel disconnected from our emotions and we are exploited for it.

Lack of boundaries.

Living in a culture that thrives on our disconnection from our emotions.

“The best thing for a human being is another human being, the worst thing for a human being is also another human being” — Dr. Lisa Barett.

As insane as it sounds, we endure peer-to-peer evaluation through social media 24/7! Naturally, our nervous systems can‘t handle it. We are the first ever generation to deal with this sort of thing. The result? Free shame for everyone.

I am riddled with social anxiety at times. I don’t know about you, but no one taught me how to get in touch with my feelings, and social media certainly made them feel even more out of control.

The shame after posting a picture, after going outside knowing I'm lonely. It made me keep my head down for so long.

I get anxious and stressed a lot. When I feel on edge, I bury my head in my phone, and it makes it worse. I didn’t know what my boundaries are. Which means that I didn’t know how much I could ask of the world, and how much it can ask of me? Why? I was blocking my true feelings. Shame and anxiety were stopping me from being my authentic self. This is science explaining it, not me. And so many of my friends feel lost. Why is it so common in our generation? Where did we go wrong? Please bear with me.

According to Hillary Hendel, author of “It’s Not Always Depression” (A beautiful book I’ll talk about more later), we assert our boundaries by experiencing core emotions. For example, it’s important that I get angry at someone for hurting me and feeling sad so I can understand my needs. But somehow, because of the career-oriented culture of my parents and my (our) toxic embracement of the digital world, I never felt like I could ask the world anything. I was never in touch with my needs. I learned my way into it, but it was rough. Our world doesn’t allow for it.

Let me tell you about the things I realized to be in touch with my body and needs so I am more self-aware and less doom-scrolling (you will ultimately start to know that many things just makes you feel like shit, and how they don't and shouldn’t be in your life). This is the emotional education we starve for as the generation of the digital world.

Inhibitory emotions like shame, guilt, or anxiety (my worst enemy) block out core emotions, and they take a whole lot more energy.

Core emotions can be conditioned out, if you get angry and your mother gave you a stinking look or disconnects from you, you learn not to feel it. We are also conditioned from the implicit or explicit judgment of our feelings in social media. You can slowly start to know how we are shaped in this weird world.

Many of us are conditioned to be traumatized. We block all sorts of emotions. We block sadness if it does not give us the attention we crave on social media. We block being afraid. Sometimes, we even block joy (if you attract envy and hatred). Ultimately, we are blocking our open-hearted authentic selves.

I’ve picked up a book after I’ve had issues in quarantine and I couldn’t handle the stress and anxiety of family, college, and the digital world.

It’s called “It’s Not Always Depression” by Hilary Hendel, and it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life. It taught me everything I need to know to be in control and reclaim my space in the world, one that’s been taken from me by the culture of social media and non-self-care productivity.

It taught me emotional intelligence (in its boring term, but it’s more than a buzzword.)

In the book, the main point is to express your true feelings through the “Change Triangle,” to bypass anxiety and shame.

Whenever shame, anxiety, and guilt bubble up, ask yourself what core emotions they are hiding. Probably the one you were conditioned not to feel, which, in the digital world? Usually many. Then, name the emotion and let it come to you naturally. You will embrace it by being curious and looking into your body with an open heart.

Sometimes when we are conditioned badly not to feel an emotion, we are terrified to feel it: Shallow breathing, sometimes panic attacks. According to Hilary Hendel, it is important to focus on our breathing and groundedness, separate the present from the past, and look into our bodies with curiosity and compassion.

Core emotions are Fear, Anger, Sadness, Disgust, Joy, Excitement, and Sexual Excitement. Whenever I go outside and my social anxiety takes hold of me, and I look around in hostility from people that might judge me. My breath becomes hollow and eye contact is terrifying, so I look to the floor.

But I try to name the core emotion that my anxiety is hiding, and then it is clear to me that what I am feeling is fear! Just by naming it, I feel better. Then the natural question is: Well, what am I afraid of? And when your logical brain takes hold, it turns out there’s nothing to fear at all! I feel expanded again, and I bring my chest high!

Words can’t describe how much this helped me in everyday life, I now recognize shame imposed by society, and I ask the question: Who told me that it is shameful to be this way? For example, who told me that I am not being productive enough?

“I should work harder.”
Emotion underneath: Guilt for not working harder. Shame for being lazy.

Is this shame good or bad for me? Some shame, like being shamed for wearing miniskirts outside from a conservative family, is bad for me.

Other shame is good, and I can recover from it. Like when I felt bad for telling a secret of my friend to someone else, or so I can not steal.

When I'm on social media, having an out-of-body experience, and being consumed alive with no control of my emotions. I can now say: “Wait a minute, this is making me feel …sad, and angry! I don’t actually like this.” And many things that we struggle with in my generation that exploit our disconnection from our emotions, become weak. We take back that power — I took back the power.

Social media, oppressive institutions, consumerism, productivity culture… You name it. Once I learned to be in touch with my feeling, I could see my needs better. For anyone like me, who was conditioned to lack boundaries for school, work, and other people, because of the world they were born in, it’s time to reclaim our place in the world!

The digital age has loneliness, social addiction, assholeness, and it inflicts TRAUMA and THRIVES on it. But I could now take back control. I use the Change Triangle, you can use something else. But understanding our needs and emotions lights up our way.

We need to know how things make us feel, so we can make decisions for OURSELVES, not an advertising company, or an oppressive upper class.

Second, the disconnection from our emotions made us follow hustle culture, and forced us to forget about ourselves to invest in a distant future. Many of my friends, my age, gave up their hobbies and mental health. They are afraid of creative living, they “don’t have the time for it.” Why would we, if we don’t allow ourselves?

With all the self-help and online gurus trying to sell you a course to read more books, my friends dream of labor and they’re hard on themselves for it, but without fruition. They’re doing something wrong, but they’ve been so disconnected, they don’t realize how hustle culture makes them less productive.

Easy on yourself, pick up a hobby

Social media and hustle culture kill mental health and assertiveness.

With all of the overwhelm of content and hustle culture, we kill ourselves. I'm here to tell you if no one has: Reconnect with something bigger, pick up a hobby. Don’t be scared of creativity, practice your “right difficult”.

We are born into a digital world, your parents (and probably your therapist) barely get how the digital world affects you.

When I was 18 through 19, all I could do was be on the edge of my seat, 24/7 in a rodent-like state, scrolling through social media, checking who checked my stories, and endlessly want to post more. It was ridiculous. I was at that point admitted to College in a new city (Actually a new country). I could not transition to college life healthily because of that edge and social media. I was stuck, for two years. Worse, all I could think about is my college studies. I forgot to prioritize my health. I inflicted pain on myself, I stopped myself from sleeping because “I did not study this one thing.” I couldn’t focus. Nights became days, and the cycle continues. I was being hard on myself.

I look at stories on Instagram and see people have fun and then I want that. Then I want to study, and then I do nothing. I never gave myself space. I never learned to. I am in purgatory.

I didn’t let myself feel, and that’s why I didn’t transition.

Feeling is important, and it was stripped away from us in the digital age.

In quarantine, I came back to my parents’ house. We moved to Constantine, I had a lovely view of the new city. And it was beautiful. I had sunshine on my face during the day. My own desk. And because of the mayhem of the coronavirus, everyone started to face uncertainties. It felt like everyone slowed down for me.

Everyone was inside. When I look on Instagram, less interesting things are happening. People are talking about their own insecurities more, ones that were there even before the coronavirus. There was a weird moment in social media and real life where people could say: “Hey, we’re tired.” I started to learn something amazing that, like many “hustlers,” I forgot how to do: Self-compassion.

People finally felt that others agreed, and they did for a long time. Suddenly, this alienation fell on its head. It helped them to start talking about it. People vented. They told their bosses, their professors: “You know what, this never-ending 24/7 email and lack of boundaries? It’s overwhelming.” They came in touch with their feelings about the system. My heart slowed down.

I started to feel comfortable again, I started to go on the internet and find things I like, and be curious again. I listened to Lofi hip-hop beats and I drew ANYTHING. I started to have hobbies, things I did for me, not for people to look at in social media, and not to harm myself now to invest in the future, and shaking in terror and anxiety while doing it. I started to be more present. Love learning. Reading and writing. I focused on Present and Future, healthily.

Social media shows you too many things you “can” have all at once, it is stressful, and then it feeds on the anxiety you get from that. Well, I stopped letting that get a hold of me. And the world helped me remember that.

I finally felt the suffering in me that I’ve been hiding for years. When I heard others agree on my universal pain, I paid attention to it. It was always inside me, but I was outside of myself. I ignored my body for so long. I realize:

All this, and for what?

For a system I was forced to believe is right, which wasn't right for me, and now I know: For no one.

Social media. Hustle Culture. Alienation. and Education (As opposed to learning). My life was at the hands of systems at the cost of myself. I was standing next to my window, staring at white buildings covered by the golden light of a setting sun, and I finally took my earphones off. I left my brain to think on its own. It wasn’t an act of courage, I was too tired to keep it shut.

I started to look back at the healthy side of the internet. Some Pinterest. Some Tumblr. And all the old youtube that interested and inspired me when I was small before I was completely consumed by craving attention.

Before craving attention started, Not only did I allow myself to be creative, but the reason I did was that I did not judge my creativity, that's the secret. I did not say when a drawing was bad or what people would think. I did it for me. I was free when I paid attention, not look for it. That's the secret.

The judgment we have of our art, ourselves, our expression. Is from social media and the culture surrounding it. I’ve lived from 17 to 20 years old thinking about what others thought because I was most addicted to Instagram. 2 months in quarantine, I lost the courage to do that. I started to focus on what I think and feel. By natural curiosity, I started to pick up hobbies, almost unconsciously. I forgave myself from the culture, and that’s when I could express myself, for me. It’s not about learning the skill, it’s unlearning one.

In a weird twist of fate, after understanding the vulnerabilities of the world and unlearning the addiction of the give-me-attention and hustle culture, I learned to be assertive -and take space!!

I reply to emails differently. I did not trust the system anymore, and I realized something amazing: As I acknowledge that it sucks, it frees me to take Space I deserve. I knew the flaws of the institutions now. What’s the thing that makes them flawed? The fact that I don’t feel good playing into them. They don’t make me feel happy, and anything that does that deserves criticism.

Now? I ask for things and I deserve them. I don't have to apologize for taking space. I stopped saying: “If possible please” and “thank you for your precious time” in my emails. I deserve this part of the road on my bike as you do on your car. I deserve to be angry at you too! I can stand with my chest high, and shoulders back. I am assertive because 1) I am in touch with my feelings, and 2) Now, I trust that I know the flaws of the systems you built and left me with, because it feels bad, and that’s not what the society WE build should make its people feel.

That’s a big problem in my generation. Nobody talks about the self-torture that happens for GenZs when they feel like they can’t blame the system that outcasts them. My generation blames themselves. As chaotic or revolutionary as it is to call people to hate the system that makes them feel bad, it is the best thing you can do for them. That’s the curse of people conditioned to agreeableness.

Think about people who have ADHD and torture themselves to sit at a desk and read the page they’ve been stuck at for 4 hours. They skip lunch, they don’t watch TV, they sit on the floor. Or the people who don’t feel good about how they look because Instagram tells them they’re not fit enough. Or the teenage girl that didn't get enough likes on her TikTok.

Remember that you are not alone, you are allowed to critique fragile and inefficient systems. When I did, I understood I can be free and explore my own possibilities. I became deserving. And happiness welcomed me.

It was the greatest call of humility I’ve ever had. Thanks to my disconnection from the culture and understanding the fragility of the culture that’s hurting us all, I started writing poetry (that no one will ever hear) and reading all about the things I'm curious about without judgment about my “lack of hustling.”

I may take time off during the day to watch a show because I know the system doesn't work for everyone. And my attention skills just need this break if I ever want to be productive later. There is no one size fits all, and as soon as I know that, I can make things work for me the best I can.

I took breaks and did not feel guilty about it. The system failed me in many ways. The best thing I’ve done was to tell it so and trust my deservingness to challenge it. And do different things.

What happened? I am getting better at everything. I am healthy. I am happy. I established boundaries by learning to hate the system that doesn’t work for me. And empowering myself.

Sometimes it’s a bad professor, sometimes it’s social media. Sometimes it’s a person that made me feel sad.

Now, I can feel what I want and need, and I can ask for it and do things for my needs (The first point on the Lack Of Boundaries). And not for some unknown needs of a system that dare not be questioned because we’ve been put it, for my own. (The second point you just read, feel the right to disconnect from a toxic culture and pick up a hobby.)

Third, we talk about Hustle Culture, another system we dared not question. Let’s look at it from our needs for both our present and future, and see what we think about it.

IF YOU HUSTLE LESS, YOU HUSTLE MORE

Hustle culture is a life-sucking parasite.

You are a big package. Focusing on one thing is detrimental to you. Think about the students you know at school that try to study every waking hour and feel bad when they don’t. Turns out, the more you give yourself space and do several things, the better you are at whatever you do. Watch that T.V. show, even in the morning if you feel like it. Give yourself SPACE, the thing they ROBBED us of as a generation.

Your skills and intelligence come from different things, like cooking, sports, playing an instrument, surfing the internet freely (the things that inspire you, not social media), writing, drawing for your sake, etc. We are simply not programmed to be narrow, yet that’s what social media and hustle culture tell you.

I always struggled with this dilemma: I feel guilty every moment I am not studying. And it makes studying difficult. Fun fact, hunter-Gatherers used to work 15 hours a week. That's all. And their work was pretty straightforward: You hunt together, you get meat: The results are tangible. It’s the best motivator ever, it’s food. But now?

We work 40 to 80(!!) hours a week, with results that are so far away from us, we don’t know the meaning of our work. You often hear about people who were sick of this lifestyle and moved to Africa to help feed the poor, and they came back to say they never felt more alive. It’s straightforward for the brain: You give food to a person, you see them smile away. Serotonin shotgun fires up.

Long story short, I had a mental breakdown — the good kind. I got sick of the standards I put on myself, and I know (and painfully so) that people my age are all like this. I have friends who get sad at themselves, every day, because “they weren’t productive,” and when I ask what they did? They force themselves to sit at the desk and open their notes, their brains can’t do it, so they go on Instagram (something they don’t like doing either) still sitting, then they hate themselves, then they can’t study, and the cycle continues. (Purgatory). Why?

My generation doesn’t give themselves the FREEDOM (That’s SOO IMPORTANT), to get out of their chair, and go be IMPULSIVE: Do something you like for a while, even if it’s the whole day. You can’t force your brain for work at times. And once again, you need to be in tune with your emotions to do that.

When I proposed this to a friend that felt bad because they weren’t productive, he said: “I tried, I went to work on my laptop outside. It didn’t work.”

Hence the idea: The only way to be productive now is to stop being productive. Give yourself that space. That time off.

You deserve better than the lifestyle generations who didn’t know better left us in: Social media, and then productivity culture, “study with me” videos, anxiety, and the pursuit of addictive fame or impressing your friends in the fake digital world. (no offense to the YouTubers out there, you’re doing good service.)

Hustle culture took over, many Gen Zs don’t even have hobbies to fall onto anymore. All they can do to distract themselves is a downward spiral in the social media dopamine cycle.

We’ve been robbed out of self-care and breaks. Put self-care on your to-do list. And how to quit social media? Go back to the good side of the internet.

Go back to the internet we fell in love with

The internet to inspire you, not trigger you.

Do you guys remember youtube when we were 14 years old? When videos were storytimes, and YouTubers felt like friends. Where communities existed around YouTubers and their studios were literally their bedrooms. Now it’s corporate. There’s clickbait, exaggerated facial expressions, and a factory of content EVERY DAY.

Quit social media is the greatest advice I can give anyone. I deleted my social media for months now, after reading “10 Arguments to delete your social media right now” by Jaron Lanier and watching The Social Dilemma. I was already sick and tired (and determined), but that push did it for me. I’ve never felt happier. The only hustle culture there is to hustle for me is to be happy: to progress in learning, problem-solving, doing THE RIGHT DIFFICULT FOR ME.

The book I mentioned (10 Arguments to Delete Your Social Media Right Now) is nothing special. I know you know the problems at hand. Social media makes you an asshole, unproductive, anxious, bitter, hate yourself, addicted, and all the adjectives we can think of. It’s so cliche to even talk about how “SOciaL MeDiA iS RUiNInG OuR LiVeS,” you know, that whole parents talk. Yet no one wants to get out of it. :)

The internet doesn’t have to be as dark as Instagram or Tiktok (and Facebook, if you’re still there). There is art (I still use Pinterest and Devianart), there are articles, books, YouTubers to get inspired from, etc. For people my age, I know there are a lot of us, who were somehow funneled into addictive social media and we’ve forgotten the beauty of the internet.

The healthy internet is still there, the one that inspires you and teaches you, the one you count on to share your drawings with others, to learn skills from, but it’s not in social media.

Social media makes for a world of ADHD and anxiety.

Living in a world of ADHD and anxiety

There’s a new condition coined by one of the most well-known ADHD doctors called VAST, it’s ADHD for the generation of the INFORMATION AGE (sparkles all over that name). VAST stands for Vaginal Atrophy- I'm just kidding. VAST is Variable Attention Stimulus Trait, it’s the environmentally-induced ADHD we all have (I know, very fun). Listen to how Dr. Hallowewll and Ratey describe it in the 2021 book ADHD 2.0:

“Modern life compels changes by forcing our brains to process exponentially more data points than ever before in human history, dramatically more than we did prior to the era of the Internet, smartphones, and social media. The hardwiring of our brains has not changed — as far as we know, although some experts do suspect that our hardwiring is changing — but in our efforts to adapt to the speeding up of life and the projectile spewing of data splattering onto our brains all the time, we’ve had to develop new, often rather antisocial habits in order to cope. These habits have come together to create something we now call VAST: the variable attention stimulus trait.” — ADHD 2.0, 2021

Most of us can’t spend seconds without looking for a screen.

And anxiety too! (Everyone’s favorite topic ^^) We are alienated and judged all the time and our nervous system is always on edge, it makes sense to be anxious, I explained it all clearly in the first 2 points.

This is the world we live in, and we need to acknowledge it to be able to forgive ourselves and to want better, and be better.

As a generation, we face so many peculiar challenges that we don't give ourselves credit for making it so far.

Pick up a hobby. Hate the system that outcasts you. Hustle less to be a better human being. Stay in touch with your emotions. It all boils down to one point: Don’t hurt yourself.

Loneliness, detrimentally career-oriented societies, lack of attunement with our emotions, an epidemic of anxiety and ADHD, unlimited content and addiction, all these things and more fuel the pain of a generation who’s abandoned.

This pandemic put things in perspective. I hope all the people my age can tell if they agree and what did they feel?

I was lost, anxious, outside my body, and a victim before the famous ol’ breakdowns-that-bring-clarity. I finally learned to take the space I need and know what I deserve, thanks to the world slowing down when I was going into adulthood.

Thank you for reading me rant,

Nabil :)

Lifestyle blogger, mental health, & a person discovering things. Anything at: nabilchemseddine.houari2@gmail.com