Climbing trees, board games and idea jars: How to stay sane when practicing social distancing

March 25, 2020
Man sitting alone in an empty stadium
Bored? You can always catch a canceled ball game by yourself. Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

*EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series of light-hearted columns dealing with life in the midst of newly difficult times.*

Social distancing.

The term has been getting a bad rap lately. But let’s face it: Does it really have to be the worst thing ever to take a little break from people? Look at it this way … this means no more long drives to the office. Or small talk with strangers. Or pants. (Not to brag, but I was WAY out in front on this one.)

So is it really that bad if, for the next few weeks, we are asked to keep to ourselves and stay close to our homes? I say no. I also say – without the least fear of judgment because we parents understand each other – I am actively looking for an Airbnb for my kids through mid-September.

In the meantime, of course, we still have our jobs to do. And our children to educate. 

CORRECT: “That’s right, Suzy, ‘go’ IS the verb in that sentence.”

INCORRECT: (Quickly turning off the TV) “Daddy, why was that deer climbing the other deer?”

But in those down times, when you feel a little stir crazy, in order to keep from losing your mind, you have to get a little creative. So we talked to Janis Newton, director of MUSC’s Wellness Center, for some ideas of things we can all do to stay mentally and physically sane during this unprecedented time.

“The rules of the game have changed, and it’s like we’re skating on ice,” Newton says. “So we need to redefine how well-being fits into our isolated worlds. It can be challenging, but if handled properly, it can also be a time of self-growth.”

So here are a few of those ideas that should help make social distancing a little less painful and, dare I say, a positive experience.

Share a little virtual love.

Newton says a simple text, email or video can make somebody’s day. It can be family, friends, community members, even health care workers. Use social media if you need to. Just make sure it doesn’t feature you sitting atop your hoarded rolls of Charmin.

Learn a new skill.

Wish you were a gourmet cook? An expert on Mongolian dynasties? Always wanted to speak Spanish but never had the time? Well guess what? Now you do have the time and the opportunity to get super frustrated with a whole new skill! Not to mention potentially learning new ways to swear at your family.

Create new ways to get exercise.

In this new germ-infested world, the gym probably isn’t the best place to get your daily fitness routine in. But that doesn’t mean you should just sit on the couch and watch six consecutive seasons of “Game of Thrones,” which I totally didn’t do yesterday. But if you insist on watching lots of TV, Newton says you should make a game out of it. Get a deck of cards and every commercial you draw a card that is correlated to a movement. Six of diamonds? Do six push-ups and six jumping jacks. Queen of spades? Do a dozen deep lunges.

PRO TIP: Keep an UNO deck handy, and when you get tired, sneak out a “reverse” and make somebody else do the exercise for you.

Also, spread the exercise out. “If you’re used to an hour workout,” Newton says, “break it up into seven-minute chunks.”

Get outside and think like a kid.

If you’re craving a little Vitamin D, go out in your backyard and get back to being a kid. Climb a tree. Jump a fence. Crawl under a table. Eat dirt. Complain about something really trivial. Say you’re bored. Fourteen times in a row. OK, maybe that’s going too far, but you get the idea.


This one’s really important. 

“Make sure it’s part of every day,” Newton says. This can be done by watching funny movies, reading satirical articles or simply talking with loved ones about that time when people used to congregate in groups of more than 10. 

Start an idea jar.

If you have what feels like a houseful, come up with a list of things that need to be done as well as things you want to do. Write everything down on pieces of paper, fold them up and put them in a jar. Take turns drawing them out and make a game out of it.

Newton stresses that in order for this to work, you need to take input from everybody. 

“Look, we’re all in this together,” she says. “So take it down to the family level. Kids need to feel they have self-growth and a voice during this, too.” 

ME (pulls out a piece of paper from the jar): “Sweet! We got ‘Sort the laundry’!”

MY KIDS: “This is stupid.”

ME: “Oh, I’m sorry. Let’s see what sort of ideas you geniuses came up with.” (Pulls out another piece of paper.) “Hire a maid.” (Pause.) “OK, your idea is better.”

Play old games.

Everybody owns checkers or Jenga. Or that one game where it’s during an operation on a patient who’s lying on a table they do operations on … I forget what it’s called – Organ Grab? The point is, don’t forget about those classic board games. There’s no need to make every activity feel like it was planned by Martha Stewart or plucked from Pinterest. Sometimes the answer to your boredom is right there under the lamp in my living room. Er, I mean, in your game cabinet.

Go through old pictures.

Have you ever stumbled upon old pictures, started looking through them and next thing you knew, it was two hours later? I think we can all agree that a treasure trove of pics of your dad with four-inch chest hair and your mom with a hairstyle that would have served as fine protection against a rockslide is pure gold. And if you have kids, going through old photos can allow you to enlighten them about some of their familial history, providing them with a solid connection to you. Not to mention give them an opportunity to laugh at you and your past hairdos, too.

MY SON: “Before you had my sister and me, you looked weird.”

ME: “What do you mean?”

MY SON: “Well for starters, you’re smiling.”

Get more sleep. 

This one is obvious and – much like when your mom told you to put your coat on before going outside in the winter – nobody wants to hear it. Yes, sleep is important. We get it. But when you’re a grown up with responsibilities, sometimes it can be difficult to turn in by 10:45 p.m., when for the first time that day, you’re finally able to focus on your own needs. 

That’s why you need to come up with workarounds, Newton says. “Create a new habit before bed that will make bedtime more enjoyable,” she says. “For instance, you can start a new tradition where everybody says something they are grateful for, turning sleep into something you’re looking forward to.”

So folks, don’t despair. This too shall pass. We will be back to normal again in no time. But until then, keep things fresh at home by utilizing some of these handy tips. You never know, they might just be things you continue to do even after the pandemic ends.

Just make sure you finally brush your teeth when that happens.