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How to Make the Most of Social Distancing (with only an Internet Connection)

Image of man sitting on a sofa with a MacBook in his lap

Believe it or not, but there is more to do while self-quarantining than sharing memes on Facebook. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is a major shift for most of us. Even as someone who has telecommuted for work for the last 2.5 years, practicing social distancing has been a big change for me. Not only am I not going to the gym or local cafes like I usually do, but having a global emergency at the forefront of our minds has had a major impact on the stress levels and general attitudes of everybody who I have spoken to recently. 

Wanting to combat this sense of unease, it may be tempting to try to live your life as normally as possible and not break your routine too much. I’d caution against this though. Even if you’re (like me) in the population that isn’t very likely to have a particularly difficult time with COVID-19, keep in mind that social distancing isn’t about you. It’s about protecting the broader population, especially those who are more vulnerable during this time. 

Though this pandemic poses a challenge in reshaping how we interact with each other, it also presents us with some opportunities to shake up our day-to-day and approach life from a different perspective.

That’s why we’ve gathered some of our favorite strategies and resources for making the most of this time. Here’s what we’re doing and what we think will make this time of quarantine worth it for you!

Read/ Listen To New Books

While you’re staying indoors and away from others, you have the perfect opportunity to pick up a book and get some reading done. Most of us likely have books on our shelves that we bought with the intention of reading and never got around to, so now is the time to crack them open. 

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If you’re light on unread books, however, never fear. Using your computer, e-reader, or mobile device, you can access a wealth of books for free to help you pass the time. 

As a note, please do not pirate books. Most authors make very little money on their book sales, and a pandemic is not an excuse for book piracy. Instead, consider these completely legal programs that can get new books into your hands. 

  1. Tor’s Ebook Club: for those of us who love Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Tor is probably a publisher whose name you’ve seen on more than a few book spines. If you sign up for their Ebook Club, you get a free book each month. This is a great way to experience contemporary speculative fiction that you may have otherwise missed. 
  2. Project Gutenberg: named after the Gutenberg printing press, Project Gutenberg is a digital library of books that are in the public domain. This means that it is an ideal way to get to read some of the classics. Because these books are in the public domain (meaning that the copyright is no longer exclusively held by a particular individual), you’re able to read these works without having to pay for the rights to do so. Gutenberg is a volunteer-driven website in which folks have provided and uploaded classic works of literature so that others can enjoy them. Some of my favorite classic authors– such as Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Virginia Woolf– can all be accessed for free here, and can be downloaded to your computer or e-reader. 
  3. Amazon’s Kindle Library: Obviously, this one is best if you already have a Kindle device. However, you can also download a Kindle app to your phone and read there! Having a Kindle Unlimited membership does come with some monthly fees, but in having one, you’re able to access quite a few free titles and titles that cost as little as $0.99. Authors who publish their books through Kindle Direct Publishing will also frequently offer their books for free, meaning that you have a huge array of options when it comes to books to download from the Kindle Store. 

Deep Clean Your Surroundings

There’s a good chance you’ve already done some cleaning out of a sense of paranoia. Cleaning your commonly used surfaces and devices is particularly important right now! 

That being said, it’s also a great opportunity to Marie Kondo the shit out of your environment. Not only should you be sanitizing the things you touch, but keeping your surroundings organized, tidy, and fresh is incredibly important when you’re going to be in your home more than you usually would be. 

Having messy or cluttered surroundings can lend itself to a sense of anxiety or distraction. Especially for those of us who are working from home during this time, a cluttered room can be one of the biggest blockers for getting work done. Not only are you more likely to be distracted by the actual objects that you have lying about, but seeing clutter can trigger you to think about housework– such as the laundry or dishes or vacuuming– that you want to get done. 

Spring cleaning has a powerful effect on your mood and your ability to concentrate. 

As cited in Psychology Today

Beyond negative emotional effects, a disorganized space is also associated with less physical activity. On the contrary, organization and order have been associated with choosing to eat more healthily, being more generous, and conventionality.

From my personal experience as a daily telecommuter, when my house is in disarray, my workday is shot. When it’s tidy and clean, I’m focused and productive. Using your social distancing time to do some housework– hey, maybe you’ll even go wild and rearrange some furniture– can be a huge boost.  

Create a Post-COVID Roadmap

During difficult periods of time, it can be difficult to have a healthy outlook on things. It may feel like the entirety of your existence is consumed by disease and politics. That’s where it’s necessary to have to foresight to think about what you’ll be doing after the COVID-19 pandemic simmers down. 

Personally, I highly recommend doing this through journaling. Writing down your goals, hopes, and ambitions is a fantastic way to force things into perspective. Plus, if you start your day that way, it can frame your outlook on the rest of the day and orient you toward optimism and activities that are going to benefit you in the long run. 

Even if you’re not feeling particularly goal-oriented right now (and that’s perfectly fine and normal during times like this!), it can be incredibly helpful to just make a note of the things that you miss doing while you’re practicing social distancing. Do you find yourself missing the gym? Jot that down. Miss specific friends? Send them a message and make yourself a note to get with them when you can. 

That sense of longing we get in our guts when we’re unable to follow our normal routines is a strong indicator of where our priorities lie and what is important to us. Listen to that voice and let it be a beacon that you set your sights on when the pandemic feels all-encompassing. 

Limit Your Time on Social Media

If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: limit the time you spend on social media. 

When you’re sitting around at home, it can be tempting to scroll Facebook and Twitter while binge-watching your shows or playing video games. As much as possible, resist the temptation to do this. 

It’s true pretty much year-round, but especially during times of crisis, social media becomes an echo chamber of negativity. Add in the fact that this is an election year in the United States and 99% of the posts you’ll see can be summed up as “here are depressing statistics about death rates” or “people of THAT political party are idiots” or a combination of the two. The other 1% are anima videos... I have nothing bad to say about those. 

But the negative 99% of content ruins the experience of the 1% of delightful posts.

While mindful, routine use is a positive way to stay connected to others during this time and boost your mood that way, extended time on social media is also strongly correlated with feelings of being left out and a lowered mood and sense of life satisfaction

As a simple litmus test, just ask yourself whether you often find yourself feeling angry or anxious while you’re on social media. If so, log off and set yourself time limits!

Get in Some Home Workouts

As a gym addict, one of the big pain points for me has been not being able to go to the gym. I usually go and lift about five to six days per week. Lifting is a hobby of mine, but I also rely upon it to help regulate my mental health. Even if you don’t deal with a chronic mood disorder, working up a sweat can still be a crucial way to maintain your mood, health, and bodily comfort. 

Moderate exercise helps to deter aches and pain, elevate your mood, strengthen your cardiovascular system, and improves the quality of your sleep. 

The below exercises are some that I greatly recommend for times like this. Keep in mind that you may need to adapt it depending upon the ranges of motion accessible to you, and you should never attempt an exercise routine if your healthcare provider has advised against it. Disclaimer aside, doing the following a few times a week will help more than you realize: 

  1. Cat-Cow Stretches: Start on your hands and knees with your hands placed directly below your shoulders, palms on the floor. Keep your knees at hips’ distance apart and your spine in a neutral position. Breathe slowly and deeply. As you breathe in, drop your stomach and lift your head so that your spine is curving toward the floor. As you exhale, reverse that motion, tucking your chin and pushing your back toward the ceiling. 
    giphyDoing so will loosen your entire spine, your hips, and your neck. This is absolutely necessary if you’ve been sitting more than normal or if you’re feeling tight. Plus, it will gently engage the majority of your body, helping you to loosen up ahead of anything more intense.
    Start off doing 5 sets of this stretch– that’s five full breaths in and five full breaths out. If it’s feeling good, do more!
  2. Jumping Jacks: Jumping jacks may make you feel like you’re back in elementary school gym class, but they engage your hips, shoulders, and feet and helps to prepare them for additional exercises. Doing them quickly can also get your heart rate up and help you break a sweat. Additionally, the motion of jumping jacks creates an impact,  which is particularly important for the bones in your legs. Engaging in activities like jumping jacks (or running) helps to strengthen your bones, which is an important element of preventing injury and can be especially beneficial for folks who are concerned about bone density.
    As a warm-up, do at least one minute of jumping jacks. I also recommend doing jumping jacks for thirty seconds to one minute between exercises if you’re looking to increase the intensity. 
  3. Push-Ups: Don’t neglect the classics! Push-ups work your chest and engage your core. They’re a great strength trainer, and you can easily modify them to make them easier (start on your knees instead of your toes) or harder (elevate your feet). They’re a bodyweight exercise that hits most of the muscles in your pectoral muscle group, your triceps, your abs, and your shoulders.
    Push-ups have been one of the unsung heroes of my own fitness progress. Everybody talks about their bench press when bragging about their chest strengthening, but for most people, push-ups are just as helpful. They can be a challenge if you’re just starting out. When I started my workout routine, a full five pushups in one set was a challenge. So, I recommend starting out by just doing as many as you can at one time. Then, rest for a minute and do it again. Over time, you’ll be able to increase the amount that you’re able to do. 
  4. Body Weight Squats: Don’t skip your legs! You can engage most of the muscles in your legs by doing air squats. If you have dumbbells or something else you can hold to increase resistance, do so, but know that it’s not necessary to have weights for your squats to count. For example, I usually do 8 reps of squats for 4 sets at 255lbs when I can go to the gym. When I can’t go to the gym, I’ll do 50 air squats per set of just my body weight, or 25 reps with 50lbs since I have some old dumbbells I can hold at chest level.
    Additional weight or not, engaging your legs will help keep them from feeling tight and achy as well as it helps them stay toned.  

Reconnect with Folks

Use Skype, Zoom, or Facebook’s video chat functionality to get face-to-face time with friends and family members. If there are people you’ve fallen out of touch with, it can be a great time to connect with them as well. 

Video chats and hangouts can be awkward, especially since it’s hard to tell if you’re about to talk over someone else, so consider using that time to play a game like Skribble.io (which is similar to Pictionary) or Jackbox.TV. Games like these can easily be played on your own devices and give you an easy way to incorporate fun and socializing into your quarantine. 

Experiment with a New Hobby or Learn a New Skill

If you start to feel like you’re trapped or like you’re stuck in a place of monotony, taking up a new skill can be a huge boost to your daily routine. Who knows? You may even find something you love that you’d like to continue doing post-Coronavirus! 

Here are some of my favorite resources for free (or really cheap) online learning and personal development: 

    • Lynda.com: Lynda has classes on tons of skills and areas that will enhance you in your professional life. How impressed would your manager be if you came back from COVID quarantine as a master marketer? Lynda can help with that. They offer a free month plus many local libraries include access to Lynda when you use the library’s services, so dust off that library card and try it out!
    • Duolingo: If you’ve ever wanted to learn a language, Duolingo can be a great way to get some exposure to it. Plus, their mascot is a famously passive-aggressive owl that does its best to keep you on track. And yes, that is as awesome and slightly comical as it sounds. 
    • 1GiantMind: 1GiantMind is my go-to source for meditation. Their app is simple, straightforward, and easy to follow along. It makes it simple to meditate even if you’re the type of person whose mind is never really still (like me). Meditation can be a great way to protect your sanity while quarantining yourself. 
    • Open Culture: Open Culture is a free repository of audiobooks, online classes, textbooks and more. It lacks the structure and intentional lesson design of something like Lynda, but it offers a huge variety of high-quality information that’s at your disposal. 
    • YouTube: Don’t discount YouTube! You can find videos about everything from coding to gardening, SEO to dancing. One woman in Arkansas even used YouTube videos to teach herself how to build a house that she and her kids now live in. It takes some discipline to avoid the entertainment-only videos, but if you can avoid clickbait, you’re golden. 
    • Me! That’s right, I’m also offering myself as a resource. If you’d like to learn some of the basics of web design, what it takes to start a blog, or how to become an unstoppable demigod in Skyrim, let me know by commenting on this blog post. If there’s enough interest in anything, I can set up a Zoom hangout to walk through these things. 

This Will Pass and We’ll Be Better People on the Other Side

Times are tough, but they won’t always be this tough. During the current period of social distancing, use the above strategies to invest in yourself and remember to extend a little extra patience and understanding to others. It won’t be long before things return to a state of normalcy and we can carry on where we left off. 


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