Social distancing to limit spread of COVID-19 doesn’t have to mean social isolation or boredom. The state of New Mexico is advising some healthy, fun and responsible ways for those who are isolating to stay occupied during the public health crisis:
• Connect with friends — on the phone or online. Keep your relationships alive by talking every day to friends, neighbors and relatives. Check in by phone with the elderly people in your life. Use apps such as Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts or Marco Polo to video chat with long-distance friends. Set a goal to call one or two people each day. Relationships are essential for our mental health. They’re also good for the immune system: one study shows connectedness has a bigger impact on mortality than quitting smoking.
• Read. Books. Magazines. Digitally or in print. This is a great time to revisit the classics, catch up on new releases or indulge in your favorite genre fiction. Reading expands your mind and sets a great example for your children, putting them on a path to become lifelong readers, too. The New Mexico State Library has a books-by-mail program, and many libraries have eBook databases patrons can access from home. Not sure what to read? The National Hispanic Cultural Center has started a blog with reviews of books by Latinx authors.
• Practice mindfulness. The science is persuasive: Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances our immune functions; it also helps us focus our attention and feel less controlled by challenging thoughts or feelings. Start small — just a few minutes per day — and consider apps that help guide meditation initially.
• Go shopping — virtually. This is a great time to support local businesses. If they have an online presence, go shopping or purchase gift cards. You’ll be ahead when gift-giving time comes around, and you could help keep a small business afloat.
• Get organized. No more excuses: Sort through your junk drawer; organize your kitchen cabinets; alphabetize your spices; untangle and label that pile of electronic cords; clean the garage. Whatever you’ve put off that will make your life easier when this is over, do it now.
• Practice an old skill. Maybe you haven’t played an instrument in years. Pick it up and see what you remember (provided it won’t bother your neighbors, who are also self-isolating).
• Learn a new skill. Calligraphy? Sketching? Knitting? Poetry? Origami? This is a great time to try your hand at something new. In addition to fun stuff, consider learning a new language or another skill you could use in your career. Online resources are almost endless whether through a virtual class, online forum, YouTube videos and more.
• Cook or bake. Whip up something new or make an old favorite. Involve the kids. Fill your home with fragrant scents from spices or baking bread. Perfect grandma’s bolognese recipe.
• Garden. Although it’s too early to transplant seedlings, March is a great time for these tasks in the garden: plant bare root roses, trees and shrubs; prune roses; cut back ornamental grasses; transplant mislocated plants while still dormant; and prune deciduous trees and summer-flowering bushes.
• Home school. Even parents who are still working from home can keep their children learning. You don’t have to be an expert or have state-of-the art supplies. Your best will be enough. Identify a space for your home classroom.
• Establish routines. Focus on core subjects (math, English, for example). The New Mexico Public Education Department has assembled some optional, free academic enrichment opportunities to help.
• Fill out your Census form. Aside from self-isolating, this could be the most important thing you can do to help your state and community. An accurate census count ensures everyone gets their fair share of resources and has a political voice. The Census Bureau is mailing invitations to respond between March 12-20. This invitation includes a unique, 14-character personal identification number you need to fill out the form. When you receive your invitation and PIN, please go to the online portal to complete the form — it’s 10 questions, and answering could take as little as 10 minutes.
•Complete your tax return. Even though both state and federal filing deadlines have been extended, this is a task you could knock out now. Most people can easily do their own taxes — either by hand or through the Internal Revenue Service’s online free fillable forms. Other options include online tax software programs or mobile apps. If your return is more complicated, make a one-on-one appointment now with your tax preparer.
•Spring cleaning. Revive the tradition of a really deep cleaning to usher in spring. Ramp up your routine with serious attention to details like lamp shades, switchplates, door handles and frames. A solid spring cleaning improves the air quality of your home and may improve your mood.
• Read. Read a book. Read the comics. Read a cereal box. Just be sure to keep reading every day. Ask your parents to read to you, and offer to read out loud to them.
• E-visit a museum. Tour the New Mexico Museum of Art’s collection through its Searchable Art Museum, then check out the museum’s blog, which is being updated twice weekly, to learn more.
• Be inspired. The Museum of International Folk Art is posting playlists and videos with detailed descriptions of its programs and exhibitions on its YouTube platform.
• Connect with New Mexico’s indigenous culture. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture has an online curriculum to provide students with an experience that enriches understanding of how indigenous people of New Mexico have worked to build, maintain and sustain their way of life and their distinctive tribal communities.
• Connect with New Mexico’s Hispanic culture. The National Hispanic Cultural Center’s YouTube channel features interviews with artists, performances, lectures, and fun mashups of footage from a variety of events. Or check out the center’s Google arts and culture page that features a variety of content about the performing arts, the visual arts, the literary arts and history.
• Be tutored. The New Mexico State Library offers live, online tutoring and homework help in English and Spanish through the BrainFuse platform on El Portal. Also available: quizzes, lessons and standardized tests for all ages. El Portal also includes free access to bilingual learning tools like Kid InfoBits, Academic OneFile, Gale Health and Medicine, Newsbank, Opposing Viewpoints, and a set of unlimited access educational eBooks.
• Learn about space. The Museum of Space History’s Launch Pad Lectures about stars, planets and galaxies are available on its YouTube channel.
• Learn about wildlife. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has developed an online curriculum with lessons about New Mexico wildlife. Most lessons are adaptable to grades 6-12. Check it out at Wildlife Curriculum.
• Camp indoors. Push back the furniture and pile up the blankets and pillows. Don’t forget the popcorn and maybe some scary movies.
• Interview your grandparents. Over the phone, of course. Record it if you can. Make an audio story or book based on what you learn.
• Have a game tournament. Scrabble. Pictionary. Monopoly. The possibilities are endless.
• Memorize something. The Periodic Table. State capitals. A long poem or speech. Memorizing is good for our brains and improves our ability to think and learn.
• Learn mindfulness. Kids can learn meditation practices just as well as adults, and doing so helps reduce anxiety and increase happiness – which is especially important right now. Here are a few ways to get started.
• Exercise. Yes, the gyms and health clubs are closed, but thanks to technology, there’s never been an easier time to start an exercise program at home. Try out at-home aerobics or yoga videos. Consider downloading a fitness app with curated workout playlists. Outdoor exercise is good, too: Take a walk. Ride a bike. Go rollerblading. Just be sure to maintain a 6-foot distance from others while outdoors.
• List what you’re grateful for. Start a gratitude journal or just make a one-time list. Research shows gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness, more positive emotions, improved health and stronger relationships.