COVID-19 has quashed plans for a normal restaurant edition of this editorial, so I’d like to offer you something different. You may be frequenting your favorite restaurants for take-out or delivery, or avoiding outside food altogether depending on your risk tolerance. For those of you getting delivery – do consider contactless pickup or calling the restaurant directly to order rather than using an app like GrubHub, Doordash or Seamless. These apps have been charging hidden fees to restaurants to the point where restaurants lose money when customers order through the app.

Instead of the simple pleasures of dining out, I’d like to focus on the simple pleasures of summer quarantine. An overachieving friend of mine blithely pointed out last month that “lockdown is split into those who made the most of it and those who didn’t.” To which I say, everyone handles lockdown differently. It’s OK to be hyper-efficient one day and sleep in the next – the entire situation is an emotional rollercoaster. Some people I know are just now coming out of “hibernation” and starting to do home projects; others have finished five projects already. Take things at your own pace, and be gentle with yourself. There is no obligation to write the Great American Novel or start a second career or become fluent in Swahili. Do what brings you joy and comfort.

That being said, this pandemic is an extraordinary time in all of our lives. Yes, we are all living and working under the fear of death and illness. And this crisis, like every other, will eventually pass. For you cynics, just remember the old adage: All bleeding stops eventually. But stop and think: When else in our lives will we ever have license NOT to attend meetings, events, get-togethers and performances without any guilt? When else will we have this much time to spend with our families? Or our pets, for that matter? When else will some of us have the joy of seeing our patients via telemedicine while wearing a nice shirt and pajama bottoms, and actually having three square meals a day and water breaks? The hustle and bustle of normal life has come to a halt, and that isn’t a bad thing.

How will you use your lockdown? Self-care comes in many forms. Here are some ideas, and you can share them with your kids.

Exercise

Use this time to set good habits that will become ingrained by the time normal life starts again. Find an exercise routine you like and work some movement into your schedule daily. Now is the perfect time to dust off the treadmill that doubles as a clothes rack, or pull out those exercise DVDs. A word about resistance bands – make sure you wear eye protection. I recently saw a patient with bilateral hyphemae caused by an unfortunate snap – filed under Quarantine Injury. Learn something new; there are online dance lessons that will teach you how to salsa and bachata alone or do the Texas-two step with a partner. Go for walks or runs, and enjoy the great outdoors (don’t forget protection against ticks – the last thing one wants now is Lyme Disease).

I stumbled across the fitness routine I’ve been looking for all my life last month. It’s a mixture of Tai Chi and ballet exercises developed by retired Canadian ballerina Miranda Esmonde-White called Essentrics; it also goes under the name Classical Stretch on PBS. Deceptively easy in appearance, it relies on eccentric muscle exercise (activation while lengthened) and focuses on better posture with good results. What will you find?

Diet

Now is the perfect time to conduct some fantastic experiments. What would happen if you ate a good breakfast every day? What would happen to your health and your waistline if you ate only home-cooked meals? What if you tried being vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free? If you consciously cut down on processed foods and excess sugar and sodium? If you experimented with a lower carb diet, or drank the full eight glasses of water every day? If you took the vitamins and supplements you always forget to take? The normal excuse is: There’s no time – you’re always rushing here and there. Now, there is no rush – only freedom. Your life can be a wonderful science experiment with so many variables to adjust.

Find cookbooks you like, sign up for a free trial of the New York Times cooking section, or subscribe to newsletters from Epicurious and blogs like Smitten Kitchen. Learn how to can and preserve nature’s bounty and teach your children as you learn – what better time to relearn old survivalist ways that saw humankind through worse crises?

Feed your mind

Devour all those books you always meant to get around to reading when you had the time. Consider a subscription to Masterclass, where for $180 you get yearlong access to popular experts in their fields, who give you 10-part video lessons on subjects as diverse as comedy, economics, interior design, negotiation, gardening and wine. The experts include luminaries such as Steve Martin, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, astronaut Chris Hadfield, David Sedaris, Helen Mirren, Thomas Keller and James Suckling. It’s a combination of personal lessons, a TED talk, and the Pittsburgh Lecture Series rolled into one.

Overdose on culture

Many museums are offering free online access. Try https://artsandculture.google.com/ for virtual tours of many of the world’s leading museums and interactive activities to explore from Peru to Kenya. The Louvre also offers virtual tours: https://www.louvre.fr/en/visites-en-ligne, as does the Uffizi Gallery: https://www.virtualuffizi.com/, since a trip to Europe is impossible. The Metropolitan Opera, https://www.metopera.org, offers pay-per-view concerts from the greatest stars and a nightly opera stream. Broadway may be dark, but you can still enjoy it from home: https://www.playbill.com/article/15-broadway-plays-and-musicals-you-can-watch-on-stage-from-home.

Try a language learning program like Duolingo, Babbel or Rosetta Stone – you can learn in minutes a day on your phone. Swahili fluency may be more attainable than you thought. Repeat after me: “Ugonjwa huu ni mbaya.” (Translation: this pandemic is terrible.)

Travel

Virtual travel offers a chance to visit the most far-flung destinations without leaving the comfort of your sofa. Visit national and international parks, the wonders of the world, zoos and aquariums, botanical gardens and wellness workshops. Go on a virtual safari in Africa or walkabout in Australia, stroll the Great Wall of China and much more.

Try https://www.buzzfeed.com/annahaines/virtual-travel-experiences; https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/virtual-trips-travel-tours; and https://www.departures.com/travel/virtual-cultural-attractions-around-world#8 for ideas.

Teach your kids how to adult

What better time to teach your children life skills? School and camp and sports and friends leave little time for family, and less time for imparting skills like household maintenance, car care, cooking, laundry, manners, CPR, first aid, the art of conversation, budgeting, yard maintenance, painting, hanging pictures, How to Plan a Trip, What It Means to be a Responsible Adult and How to Run a Household. A class on How Much Everything Costs also would be helpful – from groceries to utilities to cell phone bills and soccer gear – with the companion class – and Here’s How Much You Earn on Average in Different Careers. Teach them about compound interest, saving and investing. Many Millennials and Gen Z kids complain that their education was lacking in life skills; don’t let your kids fall into that trap! Bonus: free labor for all your home projects. “See one, do one, teach one.”

Garden

You may have planted a Victory Garden during lockdown, in which case you are likely beginning to enjoy the fruits of your labor in the form of tomatoes, lettuce, beans, peppers and zucchini … and more zucchini. If you hadn’t, you can still plant herbs. In addition to the satisfaction you will get from all of the delicious dishes you can create with them, you also will avoid the unnecessary danger and expense of a trip to the grocery store for costly little bouquets of plants which you can grow cheaply and sustainably on your own. You will experience the sublime joy of pesto and chimichurri and mint chutney brightening dinners on sweltering summer days.

Mother Nature has forced us to focus on the essentials and cast the fritillaries to the wind. Who needs new clothes and accessories now? Nobody. We need food, shelter and medicine. We need to pay our mortgage and utilities. We need to help our fellow humans and animals.

Look at your spending – dining and otherwise – before and during pandemic mode; what extraneous expenses can you eliminate when life goes back to normal?

Instead of focusing on lockdown/quarantine as a punishment without end, reframe it as an unprecedented opportunity for self-care and growth, as well as precious time to bond as a family. Chances are you’ve always said, “If only I had the time! I’d do X, I’d learn Y, I’d read Z, I’d lose the weight and get in shape, I’d eat right, I’d be able to work out …” Here’s your chance – a reprieve from social obligations and non-essential activities. This may (hopefully) be the only time in our lifetimes that the whole world hits the pause button. What a luxury – even this horrible pandemic has a silver lining. Make the most of it.

Author profile
Deval (Reshma) Paranjpe, MD, FACS

Dr. Paranjpe is an ophthalmologist and medical editor of the ACMS Bulletin.