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By Jessica Kennedy, Chief of Staff at Mental Health America

Captain’s Log. Day eight of quarantine. Work has been busy; I’m grateful for the technology we have to collaborate and continue business during this time. I have walked around the block seven times today. I wonder how many days in a row I can eat frozen jalapeno poppers for lunch before it needs to be addressed. All four cats in my Feline Foreign Language school have refused to make any progress learning French.

Le chat ne parle pas francais.

I refresh my Google search for coronavirus news for the 19th time today.

Virginia K-12 schools closed for the remainder of the school year. Olympics postponed. Three week lockdown in South Africa. More charts showing the impact of COVID-19.

That’s enough news for now.

I’ll check again in an hour.

Or sooner.

During this unprecedented time, it’s way too easy to check the news. I’m here at home on my computer and connected to the Internet. All I have to do is refresh a search or type in “coronavirus,” and I have access to global news and information about the pandemic. If I walk into the living room and turn on a 24-hour news network, I can consume COVID-19 related content all day.

It feels good, for a little, to see what’s going on in the US and the world. But for many of us, constantly checking the news can create or worsen feelings of stress and anxiety. How long will this last? When will things return to normal? Will we all have jobs in eight weeks?

It’s best to limit your consumption of news during this time. Here are ten things you can do besides watch the news:

1. Get in touch with an old friend. You know when you have a fleeting thought about someone - an old neighbor, a former coworker, or a school-age friend? And you wonder how they’re doing? Now is a great time to reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Call, text, or video chat - everyone is in the same boat. It’s a great way to connect. Don’t forget your elderly family and neighbors or people with mental health concerns.

2. Play games online with friends! If you and your friends are technologically savvy, you can probably find a way to play video games together on Steam or online consoles. If you can find one person who is tech savvy, that person can host a GoogleMeet (or another type of videoconference) and share a screen to play interactive games.

My friends from MHA playing a Jackbox.TV game. Faces obscured to protect them from embarrassing webcam faces.

3. Exercise. Fun thing I learned during quarantine: a half a mile is not far to walk to the grocery store unless you have to bring a lot of groceries back (ow). There are many ways to exercise during the pandemic. If you can stay six feet away from others, and you aren’t sick, you can walk outside. Many fitness or yoga studios are streaming workouts that can be done with just a towel or a mat. There are also body weight exercises you can do from home without any equipment. As always, consult your physician before beginning an exercise routine.

4. Experiment in the kitchen. Does your grocery store only have weird cuts of meat or vegetables you haven’t heard of left in stock? Challenge yourself to cook something new and different. If whatever you make isn’t quite edible, you can always order take-out from your favorite local small business to support them.

Ah yes, the traditional March 23rd “Spring Thanksgiving” at my mom’s house.

5. Learn a new skill. Maybe it’s time to learn something to enhance your professional portfolio, like HTML or database administration. Maybe you can teach yourself to juggle or snap. (Confession.: I’m 34 and can’t snap). There are tons of free tutorials on YouTube for everything from playing guitar to how to moonwalk. You could also learn a foreign language using an app like Duolingo.

6. Read a book, or heck--write one. Choose nonfiction books that open your mind to new ideas or dive right into a good old fashioned Southern vampire romance mysteries. You can even use social media or web conferencing to host a book club.

7. Help people in need. You may have neighbors who are in an at-risk group for COVID-19. I’ve seen people use the NextDoor app or Facebook groups to volunteer to do grocery shopping or errands for those who shouldn’t leave the house. Many restaurants and small businesses are taking up donations to support their employees through this time.

8. Practice deep breathing and meditation. I’ve never been good at deep breathing or meditation, mostly because I get bored easily and can’t sit still for long. Since we’re going to be sitting still and staying bored for a while, I might as well practice this useful, calming skill. There are many YouTube tutorials and online guides for both practices, as well as guided apps like Calm or Headspace.

9. Make actual decisions about what you will watch on Netflix tonight. If you’re anything like me, you spend as much time scrolling through your streaming options as you do actually streaming content. But since we’ll have a lot of time to watch movies, you might as well stream anything you’re interested in. Bonus: use Netflix Party to invite others to join you.

10. Do your laundry. No, seriously, Jess, you’re out of clean clothes. Your coworkers are beginning to notice that you have worn the same shirt the past two days. There is no excuse for you to leave your laundry in the dryer. You have nothing but time. Take them out and fold them. Now put them away. No, don’t leave them on the computer chair and pull random clothes out of a stack like it’s Jenga. You’re an adult. You can do this.

Have any suggestions for what to do besides check the news? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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