If baseball and apple pie is the national pastime for America, then what are we to do now that all sports are virtually shut down? State by state, social distancing is upon us. Restrictions are becoming more stringent. How can we keep busy, stay sane, and feel like we’re productive members of society when most group activities are canceled?

There are a lot of ways to stay active and connected during this unprecedented time, and it all starts with guarding your mental health. When our state of mind is happy and healthy, we are better prepared to find fun and creative ways to pass the time during the pandemic.  

Guard Your Mental Health

If you allow yourself to get pulled into the negativity and gloom of COVID-19, it can damage your outlook on life. Don’t let that happen. 

Instead, evaluate the situation, writes the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Is the nature of your crisis dire? Too many times, we rely on social media, the 24-hour news cycle, or Google to get our information. Often, we only look at one side of the story. 

If we are prone to fear, we will find information that feeds that fear. 

Granted, we don’t intentionally look for things that instill fear. However, in our quest for “facts” on the situation – in this case, COVID-19, we subconsciously find articles that feed our fear.

Let’s face it: most of us hate uncertainty. Hate it with a passion. To add insult to injury, we are told not to get close to anybody. If you’re an introvert, that’s not going to be a problem. If you’re a social person, it will not be fun. 

One way to help with our attitudes toward social distancing is to reframe the phrase. A good friend of mine, David Chaddock, runs the Center Point Counseling center in Indianapolis. David says that, in reality, we aren’t talking about social distancing. We are, however, talking about physical distancing. That means staying six feet away from another person. It’s a physical distance, not social. 

We need the social connection to others during times of crisis. To protect our mental health, we can’t lose that connection. Technology allows us to stay connected, if not physically, in other meaningful, tangible ways. Facetime calls, Zoom video, Skype, and other similar apps will enable us to have face to face contact and keep our social connection. 

And don't let pride keep you from getting professional help. Seeing a therapist can be a great help at any time, but especially during times of crisis.

17 Ways to Have Fun During COVID-19

1. Go On a Walk

Are you telling me this whole time that walking is free AND fun?!

Sarcasm aside, hear me out. Walking is not only an excellent way to enjoy the great outdoors, but it's also good for your health (both physical as well as mental, see above). And if you're lucky enough to have company on this pleasant weekend stroll, you'll probably strike some friendly and entertaining conversation as well. You can walk with people while still keeping a safe distance.

Find a park with wide-open spaces to walk. Hike a trail you've always wanted to tackle. Pack up the kids and the pets and go for it.

We live in the metro DC area (DMV). Last weekend, we packed up our two Akitas and headed down to DC to the tidal basin area to walk on the national mall. The cherry blossoms were just past full bloom. It was beautiful. We had plenty of space, and the dogs loved it. 

Our two Akitas on the DC mall.

Get creative. You’ll be surprised how much fun you can have. 

2. Watch a Movie

Remember the days of $1 movie tickets?. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore, with the cost of movie tickets up to $15 (usually in big cities).

Luckily, with rising movie prices, also came Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney +. And the list goes on and on. Streaming videos are everywhere. Though Netflix, Hulu, and the like are not free, they are relatively inexpensive. And much cheaper than going to a movie theatre. Those are all closed right now anyway.

For totally free options, check out YouTube. It’s the second leading search property on the internet. Want Sci-FI? Search for it. Documentaries? Yup, you can find that too. The options are endless. You can veg for days for free.  

So pop some popcorn and get the bunch-a-crunch ready and have yourself a nice movie night.

3. Read

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You could always do what you’re doing right now – read.

Combine this with the first idea and stroll down to your local library to grab a fun book to enjoy this beautiful weekend. Audiobooks are a great way to be productive while you’re taking your walks. 

With social distancing in full swing, many independent authors have been offering free downloads of their popular book series. If you are an avid reader, you can even get paid to read books.

4. Throw a Ball Around

If you don’t own a basketball, football, soccer ball, baseball, or any other type of ball, you can go ahead and skip this one.

If you do, find the person nearest you, go outside and throw that thing around. Or stay inside if it’s cold. I bet your mom is not there to yell at you for breaking anything.

5. Cook Something

Put away the Grubhub app! Lookup a fun recipe and make something for yourself. Here are some ideas to spark some inspiration:

  • Granola bars
  • Banana bread
  • Stew
  • Curry
  • Salad

Check your cupboards, see what you have, and make something happen. Maybe this will even lead you to meal planning. That’s a great way to save money and eat more healthy meals

6. Host a Game Night

Right about now, you’re saying, “Hey, fool. We’re practicing self-isolation.” I get it. Though you can’t invite your friends over (at least you shouldn’t), your friends or family can join you in an online game. Or you can play charades via Skype, Facetime, or Zoom. Get creative. 

Don’t let self-isolation put a hamper on your regular game nights; consider taking your gaming online. There are several massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) that are currently free to play. Everything from sci-fi favorites like Star Trek online to fantasy games like Game of Thrones and World of Warcraft. Here are seven board games you can play online with friends.

7. Draw (or Paint)

If you’re naturally artistic, you’ll probably like this one on your own.

If you’re naturally competitive, invite some friends to participate and make a game out of it. Pit a couple of contestants against each other and have the judge pick a winner. You can each create your masterpiece, scan it, and put it online for your friends to see. 

I’m told the best way to enjoy this activity is with a bottle of wine.

8. Binge-Watch a TV Show

I’m not saying to do this EVERY weekend. Quite to the contrary, I’m saying not to!

But, once in a while, binge-watching a TV show can be super fun. And super free if you’ve already got the right streaming service

Remember, YouTube has literally millions of options available. 

9. Window Shop

You have to have some serious will power to pull this off, but there is no harm in looking. Plus, checking out some cool, local shops is a fun way to spend an hour or two. And with most non-essential businesses being closed, you’re safer window shopping now than when the stores are open.

That’s a benefit I bet you never considered. You’re feeling better now, aren’t you?

10. Learn Something on YouTube

YouTube is full of insightful videos that can teach you how to knit, do yoga, or even learn another language.

Pick something you’ve wanted to learn and have at it! You have a lot more time to do that now than thought, right? 

11. Call an Old Friend

Have a good friend in another city? Call them up and catch up! Better yet, do a video call using one of the many options available. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. 

There’s no better time than now to reconnect. Remember, it’s a physical distance, not a social disconnect. Keep and expand social connections. 

12. Sleep

Hey, I mean, sleep sure is fun to me. Sleep in. Take a nap. Go to bed early. Whatever you have to do to catch up on some (probably) much needed sleep.

I’ve run my business from a home office for almost ten years. My wife, Cathy, however, still goes to the office every day. With mandatory work from home rules in place at her company, she’s getting extra sleep and taking much less time getting ready for work. She doesn’t have to put on makeup and dress up for me. 

She doesn’t have a long commute like many in the DMV. It’s common to have an hour plus commute each way. Still, she gains between 45 and 60 minutes a day, not driving to work. SCORE!!

13. Exercise

Like Cathy and me, I’m sure many of you have gym memberships and work out regularly. Most gyms are now closed. That’s a difficult adjustment for sure. Here’s what we do.

We have an exercise bike (no, not the expensive Peloton) that we got through Amazon. It’s a spin bike. We also have some free weights we’ve had for years. We can get all the exercise we need on the bike and free weights. 

Many of you are runners. Nothing is stopping you from going out for your runs instead of at the gym. If you’re not a runner, see #1 above. 

We do yoga at our gym. They have a fantastic yoga studio and great instructors. That’s been the hardest adjustment for us. We’re still trying to sort out how best to do that. YouTube has tons of options. What we don’t have is a heated and humidity-controlled room. That’s quite a first world problem, isn’t it? It’s crazy how good we have it. 

Exercise is a known stress reliever. Don’t let the self-isolation keep you from staying healthy. Find a way to exercise regularly.

14. Listen to Music

When was the last time you listened to music while you weren’t in a crowded bar, or commuting, or doing something else? It might be nice just to lay there and listen to a song, or a podcast, or an audiobook.

No matter your taste, music is good for the soul. It can lift your spirits quicker and easier than almost anything I’ve found. Put on the earbuds or headphones and crank it up. Better yet, tell Alexa what you want and ask her to crank it up. 

Cathy and I have been known to crank it up and dance in the living room. Nothing wrong with that. 

15. Take a Bath

Take it easy. Think of it as a hot tub. You don’t need the bubbles and all the frills. But soaking in a nice hot tub is good for the muscles. It’s relaxing. You can add some music to make it even better. Alright, guys. Don’t knock it till you try it. 

16. Open a New Credit Card

Opening a new credit card technically does not cost any money. And finding the perfect credit card for you can be fun! I’m talking about the credit card that gives you the most points and cashback possible, that you can then put to good use next weekend.

Now, before all you Dave Ramsey disciples go crazy on me, let me be clear. When I say get a credit card, I’m not talking about doing that to spend money you don’t have. Credit cards are a great way to earn free stuff. You can get cash back, earn miles for travel, get points to buy things. You should only use them if you can pay off the balance every month. If not, you’ll pay one of the highest interest rates out there. 

If you have the discipline to do that, they are a great way to get free stuff. 

17. Ride a Bike

And we’ll end it with this – go a long bike ride! Like walking, it’s a great way to have fun and get a little exercise in.

Well, there you have it! That’s all I got.

Let me know what you do for free on the weekends in the comments!