Ten Things To Do During Social Distancing (that aren’t a puzzle or a TikTok dance)

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In the last three weeks, I have scrolled through countless lists of ways to stay occupied while being cooped up inside, and even more posts about the latest TikTok video a celebrity posted. It’s not that I don’t have anything better to do — the junk drawer in my brain labeled “Things I will do when I have time” reached full capacity somewhere between making my own kombucha and finally uploading those photos from my family vacation to a hard drive so my phone will stop telling me I’m out of storage.

Instead, I found myself mindlessly diving deeper and deeper into the interweb, vacillating between depressed boredom and life-sucking apathy. While I’m not against puzzles or experimenting with a few catchy dance moves, all those cliched boredom busters just made me feel more de-motivated than ever. If you’re in the same boat, then maybe it’s time you made a new list — of things you won’t only want to do, but that will also benefit you (and your mental health) in the long-run.

  1. Develop an emergency-preparedness plan —How have you handled the last few weeks? Did you run out of food in the first few days? Sure, now might not be the best time to stock up on toilet paper, but there are plenty of other things you can do to prepare for the next crisis. Do you have enough food storage to last you six months? Do you know how to purify water? If your home lost electricity or there was no longer gasoline available to fuel your vehicle, what would you do? If you can, put a few extra dollars into a savings account every week to give yourself an emergency cushion. While I’m not suggesting we all become doomsday preppers, it wouldn’t hurt to re-assess our self-sufficiency. Which leads me to my next tip…
  2. Plant something you can eat — Seriously, the last few weeks of food shopping have proven that being 100% dependent on the grocery stores for fresh food is not a good contingency plan. I can already hear you saying “But I kill everything I plant,” and that’s okay. Try and fail, but don’t fail to try. You can easily start seedlings for herbs, vegetables and fruits inside your apartment. All you need is an empty container, some soil, a plastic bag, and a few seeds (which you can order online). Put the dirt in the container, put the seed in the dirt, and put the container in a partially closed plastic bag filled 1/4 with water. Voila — you’ve got yourself a makeshift greenhouse.
  3. Start composting — Staying inside all day every day has likely made you more aware of some of your daily habits. If you find yourself taking out the trash on a regular basis, it might be time to start looking at ways to re-purpose that garbage. Composting saves biodegradable produce waste from filling up our landfills, cuts down on emissions released into the atmosphere from garbage trucks, and will give you some awesome free fertilizer to go into that container garden you just planted. Check out this article to get started.

4. Try cooking your favorite take-out dish from scratch — while I’m not advising against ordering take-out from local restaurants (they need your support now more than ever!), those delivery fees can add up. If you’re on a tight budget right now, it’s not a bad idea to practice your cooking skills and eat a home-cooked meal one or two nights a week. Sure, there might be meltdowns (of both the culinary and emotional variety), but at the end of the day you’ll feel better for having made the effort. And if things really go south, you can always ring up your neighborhood pizza joint for some last-minute backup.

5. Film a vlog for a day — your kids (or friend’s kids, or some rando on the Internet 50 years from now) will want to know what this time was like. We are living through a global pandemic right now — literally history in the making! And while it might not feel fun or even remotely exciting right now, someone in the future will be interested in your first-person account.

6. Pick up a religious text — You don’t have to be a poet to appreciate good poetry, and you don’t have to be religious to find something uplifting in a spiritual text. Exposing yourself to a new way of thinking will strengthen your brain circuits and improve your outlook on life. If you grew up Catholic, try out the Bhagavad Gita. If you’re burnt out on the Bible, pick up the Quran. It doesn’t even have to be a book — podcasts, radio talk shows and video conferences count too.

7. Revisit your New Year’s Resolutions — January feels like a lifetime — no, several lifetimes — away, but we’re still only a quarter of the way through the year. Pick one goal (preferably one that’s conducive to staying indoors and away from people) and break it down into small, manageable tasks. Maybe you wanted to read a work of Shakespeare this year. Divvy up the chapters by day (or even by hour) and delve in. Regardless, it will feel good to check something off your list.

8. Make your weekends count — When literally everything in your life (work, socializing, mealtimes, school, etc.) is happening from within the walls of your home, the days start to blend together. Where weekends were once the highlight of the week, they now feel disappointingly lacking. For most of us, work emails continue to flood in, only now we feel obligated to respond because truth be told, we’re all available, and everyone else knows it. This time of social distancing and staying inside isn’t going to be over in the immediate future, so you might as well make the best of it, and that includes your weekends. While you may not be able to go out to your favorite bar, or attend that concert you’d been planning on for months — take comfort knowing that no one else can either. What you can do is pick one thing that is enjoyable and quarantine-friendly, and schedule it for the weekend. Boldly write it in black Sharpie in your planner, set a reminder on your phone — heck, maybe even deploy your email’s out-of-office response for 48 hours and bask in blissful unawareness. Some suggestions: go for a night hike, order your favorite greasy food, set up an in-home theater, or take a long drive out of town.

9. Start meditating — So you’ve tried meditation before and it didn’t work. Try differently. There are a thousand different ways to meditate. We’re all under a lot of stress right now, and even five minutes unplugged from the world each day can make a huge difference in your mental and physical health. Be patient — it’s going to take some time and exploration to get in a rhythm that works for you. If you can’t stand sitting in silence, then don’t. Play your favorite song, or some ambient nature sounds, and picture yourself somewhere you want to be (ie; not in your living room). Instead of trying to think of nothing, think of all the things that make you smile. A meditation practice should leave you feeling lighter and brighter, not frustrated and failed. If you fall asleep, that’s okay. If your mind wanders, that’s okay too. Make persistence, not perfection, your mantra.

10. Become an expert in something — How many times in grade school did you sit through a boring lecture and wish you could study something you were actually interested in? Have you always wondered how glitter is made? Or wanted to know more about the mating patterns of sea cucumbers? It only takes about 20 hours of devoted focus to become an expert in any topic, according to this article. The internet is your friend right now — deep-dive into a topic you’re truly fascinated by. While everyone else is bingeing on Friends re-runs and out-bidding each other on eBay for toilet paper, you could become an olive oil connoisseur or an aficionado of ancient Greek burial practices. Go forth and learn.

Freelancer from Arizona, USA. I write about health and wellness, agriculture, science, travel, and lifestyle.

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