People practicing social distancing share the small joys they’ve rediscovered.

By Lindsay Tigar
March 20, 2020
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Life as we know it looks mighty different today than it did three weeks ago. The news cycle and days may feel never-ending, especially if we are hunkered down at home. While anxiety and stress levels are high right now, there are silver linings. In fact, by being home with your family, roommates, or partner, you may discover a new sense of purpose at a slower pace. 

As licensed marriage and family therapist Melody Li explains, there’s a slight difference between being ‘purposeful’ and being ‘productive.’ As she puts it, while many of us are used to the grind of being productive, which is built upon capitalism, being forced to slow down allows us to reconnect with our passions again. Or in other words: return to old-school habits and traditions that usually fall pretty far on our list of deliverables. 

“Now can be a fitting time to exercise another part of our minds, to do purposeful things that are not necessarily purposeful in the capitalistic sense,” she continues. “This may mean to create art, to do projects, to sing and dance, to engage in deeper conversations with loved ones, to simply spend quality time with family without jumping to ‘what’s next.’” 

Related: Why Puzzling is Our Favorite No-Phone-Required Pastime

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1. Play Board Games As a Family

Since Heather Rohrer, a physician assistant and owner of the Center for Aesthetic Medicine is home with her daughter, Ella, she’s been coming up with creative ways to entertain that don’t involve technology. With extra time together, Rohrer says they’ve started playing board games as a family of three. Having the opportunity to disconnect and get competitive alongside her husband and child has been a surprising benefit of an unfortunate circumstance. “We're really connecting as a family, and I love watching Ella experience the sense of accomplishment she gets when we play. It's so nostalgic for me to open up Monopoly or Trouble, something I have not done in years, but it's been a lot of fun,” Rohrer shares. “You'd be surprised at how quickly time passes when you're in the middle of a heated game. I feel a lot calmer and happier because it's given me time to focus and enjoy the companionship, as opposed to getting sidetracked with how busy life can be in general.”

Buy It: Monopoly Board Game, $19.99, Target

2. Read a Book

Even if you’re an avid reader normally, not being able to go to in-person social events can diminish your calendar, big time. Though Rachel Southerland is busier than usual managing crisis communication for her clients in the hospitality industry, she’s found a much-needed escape in a good book. “I put my phone on silent, draw a warm bath and read. No beeps, no bells, no texts,” she shares. “It almost feels decadent: creating space and time for quiet, to focus on something that isn't part of current events.”

3. Practice Gratitude

No, this might not be an old-school habit, but it’s something most of us tend to deprioritize. When you’re trying to maintain the pace of a hectic, overbooked life, taking a moment to celebrate the small stuff doesn’t always make the cut. With more idle time, Gwen Jimmere, the CEO and founder of Naturalicious has returned to writing down the ‘wins’ of her day and putting them into a jar. This simple, quick task may not seem like a big deal, but it fosters gratitude and improves our mood. “Every day, we each have a win, no matter how big or small. Whether it's simply that I was able to open my eyes and see another day, or if I closed a huge deal that I've been working on. Everything counts right now,” she explains. “When I'm feeling crappy or discouraged, I pour all the wins out and I'm able to see all the amazing things that I've been blessed with.”

Related: Study Says Gratitude in the Workplace Can Do Amazing Things for Your Health

4. Actually Pamper Yourself

When you are running from a meeting to an event, and from an event to a friend’s birthday party, all before picking your kiddo up from school…your motivation at night is, well, non-existent. In an effort to get more sleep, you might skip any type of self-care before bed. Now that you are staying put for a while, maybe you can weave in some downtime to care for your skin, body, and soul. The creator of Beauty Kitchen, Heather Marianna has been trying new TLC tasks (like masks and serums) and seeing an improvement in her overall mood. “It's shifted my mindset from that negative stress and anxiety and feeling of imprisonment to a positive outlook to: ‘I'm going to have flawless skin when this is all over,’” she shares. “It's so easy to feel sad and blah, when you're at home rocking sweatpants, no bra and a messy bun, and I've found taking the time to pamper myself from home has left me in much better spirits, both mentally and physically.”

5. Put That Scrapbook Together, Finally

It’s been years since Crystal Frehner, the owner of Hottie Hair Salon & Extensions pulled out her scrapbooking materials, but she’s back at it, thanks to social-distancing recommendations. Though she says typically, she’s pretty good about printing off photos periodically, having three children, two busy salons and an online shop, she hasn’t put books together. Knowing she would be stationary, she ran to the store and stocked up on a few art supplies, and has been getting her kids in on the action. “Starting back scrapbooking has made me feel really happy because it's something I should have been doing just to keep documenting my children's lives and milestones but have never had the time to sit down and finish,” she shares. “I feel really happy knowing that my kids are working on something that they will cherish forever down the road. It has given us something to do together as a family and has helped share a lot of laughs while reminiscing on some old forgotten memories.” 

6. Use Your Nice China

Though many couples aren’t asking for fine china when they wed these days, decades ago, collecting your ‘fancy dishes’ was a big part of your registry. While they’re typically considered a ‘for special occasions only’ type of dining set, principal Kevin Isbell says COVID-19 is as good of a time as any to pull ‘em out. Alongside his husband, they are using them for daily meals to add a bit of sparkle into a gloomy time. “It’s a very scary time right now, so any opportunity I can take to focus on the things that make me happy, the better off I feel. I’m just trying to channel my inner palm tree right now; a strong base, but flexible enough to withstand high winds,” he shares.

7. Return to Family Traditions

Tanya Zhang and Wesley Kang are not only the force behind the store, Nimble Made, but they are life partners, too. Like many small businesses, they are suffering from slower sales but to keep their spirits up, they’ve been creating heirloom dishes at home, including Chinese dumplings from scratch. As Asian Americans, they used to make dumplings with their grandparents growing up but haven’t implemented the hobby into their day-to-day lives as adults. Trying it themselves also encouraged them to reconnect with their family, especially considering Zhang says they had to call Kang’s mom to guide them through the recipe. “Cooking again and wrapping dumplings together is very therapeutic and calming because we're building something to eat together from scratch,” Zhang shares. “Not only do we get to self-reflect during this time but we also get to reflect on our cultural heritage and reconnect with our parents in a time that has so much chaos and uncertainty. Being able to ground ourselves in our identities, who we are, and where we come from has really helped us stay positive and keep our mental health in check.”

8. Use What You Have

In an age where typically, anything you want is available when you want it, many Americans are adjusting to longer delivery times and limited access to goods (lookin’ at you, toilet paper). While this can be frustrating and stressful, it is also challenging families and individuals to take inventory in their homes. As the co-founder and chief innovation officer at Full Circle Brands, Heather Kauffman shares, she’s noticed a big shift in using every last item she has, rather than buying more. “We’re painting sticks we find in our yard. we’re converting boxes into forts and airplanes. We’re using our recyclables for ‘junk art’ projects, and digging out ‘old’ toys to make them new again,” she continues. “I’ve found simply putting toys in a new location makes them interesting to the kids. I’m always into reusing and repurposing, but learning to take that to a whole new level.”

9. Go For a Walk

For those of us who have access to green space or the permission from our city governments to walk freely (within six feet of others, of course), the fresh air can be a game-changer for our mood. In rural areas, Mother Nature has quickly become a much-needed escape from the confines of a home. Kate Swoboda, the author of The Courage Habit says she’s found sunshine in a dark time by going on family neighborhood walks with her husband and five-year-old child. “It keeps us all from sitting for too long in front of screens and gives us time to talk. Plus, we get to slow down and interact with nature: pick dandelions, notice the clouds and appreciate that we are healthy,” she shares. “And as silly as it sounds, we call to other neighbors from across the street to have short conversations, providing some much-needed human interaction while maintaining social distancing.”

10. Doodle

As a full-time entrepreneur and now also a full-time kindergarten homeschool teacher, Jessica Zutz Hilbert, the co-founder of Red Duck Foods, has been struggling to find calm in the recent storm. To cope, she’s turned to an outlet she hasn’t used in years: art! You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the soothing impact of drawing, coloring or creating. “By simply taking crayons to a page, I’ve allowed my mind the almost unimaginable luxury of taking a completely blank page before me and letting the details unfold,” she shares. “From both a professional and personal perspective, it’s been a nice refresher on juggling the big picture with the details.”

11. Make (and Enjoy) a Fire

In an effort to term lemonade out of lemons, the founder and chief brand officer of Cora, Molly Hayward has been using the social-distancing period to connect with her family, community, nature and herself. Something that seems so ordinary has actually created a warm, comforting daily experience for everyone under her roof: making a fire. Following dinner, they fire it up and they take time to talk and process their thoughts and emotions. “Fires are also universally comforting, cozy, and grounding in a very primal way, which I've found to be incredibly calming in these anxiety-producing times,” she adds.

12. Make Homemade Cards and Actually Send Them

Do you remember the utter joy of opening your mailbox as a kid and seeing an envelope with your name on it? Most people don’t send snail mail anymore but with some extra hours to create, nutritionist and celebrity chef Serena Poon has started making handmade cards again. “It's a beautiful, calming outlet to escape back into because you need to tap into your heart and the creative part of your mind to do so,” she shares. “The process also shifts us into our parasympathetic nervous system, helping to put us into a more relaxed state of being, especially given the uncertainties of the ever-changing state of the world right now.” And as a bonus, she has been spreading the surprise of joy to her loved ones, creating a ripple effect of goodwill when we need it the most.

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