By Megan McMorris

When people ask me what I did to celebrate my milestone birthday in May, I answer with one word: nothing.

“The only thing on my to-do list for the week is to not have a to-do list,” was my motto. Giving myself one week of free time at home, without any distraction, unplugging during the midst of an already unplugged, it was the best gift I could have given myself. Here’s why:

1. I learned how plugged-in I really had become. As someone who remembers the world before the Internet, I’ve sometimes been downright smug about how non-attached to my phone or email I can be.

That was before I tried unplugging for just a week, when I realized with embarrassment how difficult it was (and how long it had been since I had done so). My self-talk surprised me, Shouldn’t I just check email real quick? What if an assignment comes in? – and made me vow to make room for regular “unplug” time in the future.

2. I developed a sensitivity to other people’s energies. I credit Facebook for many things in my life, both personally and professionally. Yet simply taking a one-week break made me realize the sensory overload I’m typically bombarded with. When I logged back in and became privy to other people’s Facebook feeds again, I realized how much mental chatter it really adds to my day and how taking regular FB breaks is vital for my headspace.

3. I bonded with my neighbors in a new way. Unplugging for a week made me connect even more to my neighborhood. With the outside world shut down, my Montavilla neighborhood morphed into a simpler time.

Neighbors stopped to chat and check in on each other. I got to know the local business owners in a new, more meaningful way. Children rode bikes and played with sidewalk chalk. I learned neighborhood dogs’ names.

My condo community space turned into a regular summer happy hour hangout. We created lasting bonds that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise during “normal” times.

4. I became more conscious of my habits. Removing day-to-day distractions made me notice where I was spending my energy. It made me more conscious of company I kept and the places I visited. It snapped me out of autopilot mode and helped me recognize when I’m out of balance.

5. I developed boundaries. In an era where we’re so connected, I feel like I’m automatically apologizing to someone if I don’t get back to them right away. During my quarantine-within-quarantine time, though, I drop-kicked that habit.

I said “no” to something I normally would have said “yes” to. I asked for something I normally wouldn’t have had the courage to ask for. I didn’t return phone calls or texts promptly. I didn’t apologize for it. These things sound so simple, but the fact that they caused so much angst showed me how ingrained certain niceties had been.

As I write this, Multnomah County has been in Phase 1 for just a few days. While it’s exciting to see my neighborhood restaurants, bars and shops re-opening, I can’t help but be a little nervous about those open doors at the same time.

Now that our days will be filled with more choices, will I still stop and talk to the neighbors (and their dogs) once I have places to be and people to see? Will I remember how to enjoy doing nothing?

The other day, at the neighborhood store, the well-meaning clerk asked me a question I hadn’t heard in a while. “Got any fun plans for the rest of your day?” Little did she realize how her innocuous small talk triggered an existential moment for me. Feeling put on the spot, momentarily succumbing to decision paralysis, I got a grip and remembered the best way to answer that question was with a “no.”

As I walked home, with morning rush-hour traffic nearly back to normal levels on the street, I made a vow to myself:

Even when things get busy again, our lives filled with choices again, I’ll remember lessons I learned from my quarantine birthday and that I’ll always give myself permission to just be. Because sometimes, that’s the best thing that you can do for yourself.