Switch It Up

Isolation has sparked a new wave of personal growth and exploration.

To break the stagnant feeling that quarantine has brought onto so many people, students have picked up new hobbies or experimented with their style, gaining new insight about themselves in unique ways. 

For Paly senior Bella Koutsoyannis, quarantine gave her a new outlook on life when she discovered tarot card reading. “I started getting really into tarot reading because of my friend Rachel,” Koutsoyannis said. “I’ve always been a spiritual person, but it wasn’t until she introduced me that I really got into it.” 

To Koutsoyannis, practicing tarot card readings is more than just a fun and enjoyable activity. “It physically and emotionally charges me, and helps me meditate when I’m really stressed because I have pretty bad anxiety,” Koutsoyannis said. “When I get really overwhelmed, I like to light some candles, put my crystals all around me and start meditating.” 

Art courtesy of Kellyn Scheel

It was this creative outlet that shed new light and positivity in Koutsoyannis’ life. Before using crystals and tarot cards, she had a limited view of what was important. 

“When I got into crystals and spirituality, I realized being mean to people and having negative outlooks on life doesn’t benefit your vibrations,” Koutsoyannis said. “[My spirituality] has also helped me not worry so much about what others think about me and how I view others.” 

While Koutsoyannis discovered something completely new, Everest High School senior, Iris Cruz, reconnected with her passion for photography. With the recent free time on her hands, Cruz decided to perfect her skills and craft all the while combating the quarantine isolation by befriending her camera. 

“Photography ended up being something that I did the entirety of quarantine, and it is still something I do now,” Cruz said. “It has become a hobby that I never want to stop doing.”

For Cruz, photography has been more than just a source of enjoyment or an escape from reality. “Photography has really helped me with my anxiety and my mental health,” Cruz said. “It is something that I can do to just get my mind off of things.” 

[My spirituality] has also helped me not worry so much about what others think about me and how I view others.”

— Bella Koutsoyannis

Creative outlets are seemingly simple and relaxing activities such as art, theater or dance, but for Koutoyannis, Cruz and Paly Junior Eva Salvatierra, these outlets fostered an environment in which they flourish mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

In the past few months, Salvatierra has changed the way she uses social media. “I reexamined what I truly wanted to see in my feed and decided to explore profiles that inspired me rather than perpetuated the common phenomena of insecurity and FOMO (fear of missing out),” Salvatierra said. “Through this, I felt an overwhelming urge to pick up my colored pencils again, which later evolved into my first purchase of watercolors.”

Since quarantine began, Salvatierra has found that art has become more important than ever before. “For the past two and a half years, my creative process limited itself to poetry in a Google Doc or utilizing school assignments as a foundation for expression as high school offered little time for an unbounded, unscheduled mind,” Salvatierra said.

Drawing has not only been a creative form of expression for Salvatierra, but it has also been an outlet for her mental health. “As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, in addition to habitually overworking, I needed a mindful activity not so focused around checking off boxes and accomplishing tasks,” Salvatierra said. “I found that making art was vital to centering myself and reconnecting my brain to the present.” 

Through social media, Salvatierra has also been able to share her artwork and connect with many artistic communities outside of Palo Alto. “People across the world would republish my work or reach out to me through direct messaging, an incredibly humbling and moving experience,” Salvatierra said.

I found that making art was vital to centering myself and reconnecting my brain to the present.”

— Eva Salvatierra

While many students have taken the time in quarantine to form new hobbies, others like Paly senior Ryan Leong decided to explore something completely different, a new hairstyle. “My hair before was really long and a slightly messy and parted look. There wasn’t much of a ‘style,’ and I just kind of went with how it looked when I woke up,” Leong said. “When I got it cut, my hair was significantly shorter, and instead of parting it to the right, I went with the middle part.”

Cutting his hair not only drastically changed his look, but it also changed the way Leong sees himself. “When I reflect on my confidence now compared to a few months ago, it has been a complete 180,” Leong said. “Before, I was always super insecure about how my hair looked and how other people saw it, however, after getting my hair cut, I saw a significant increase in my self-esteem.”

Using hair as a medium for creative expression is something many experimented with over the past months. Gunn senior Haleigh Brosnan also tried to switch up her hair, the difference being she opted for a box of temporary hair dye. “For the first couple of months, I wasn’t able to leave my house or see anybody, so then I got bored,” Brosnan said. After a lot of convincing from her parents, she made the impulsive decision to add bright colors to her blonde hair.

Art courtesy of Kellyn Scheel

Although the hair dye was temporary, its effects were permanent. “When I dyed my hair purple again, it was just for the fun of it,” Brosnan said. “But when I decided to go brunette, it definitely gave me a big confidence boost.” 

No matter how small, making changes during times of such stress and turmoil can make all the difference in the world. Since implementing these adjustments, these Palo Alto students have used their new interests to not just cope, but to thrive within the current stagnancy of the world. 

“Quarantine gave me an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone,” Leong said. “I would recommend that people try new things and not be afraid of what other people are going to say.”