The Atlantic Daily: 14 Fixes for Pandemic Monotony

We’ve arrived at the final stretch of this pandemic. Break up the monotony of isolation with a small activity, as suggested by our newsroom.

Hands throwing potting over a fence
Carolyn Drake / Magnum

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The prognosis is good, really good: Cases are falling and summer 2021 looks to be incredible. Now we’ve just got to get through the spring.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of being isolated for another few months, or have simply run out of activities to do in your home, let us help. Below, our writers and editors offer their best suggestions for making it through this stretch.

1. Take a neighborhood plant walk.

I have taken up night walks, wandering the empty streets of Oakland and Berkeley after my kids go to bed. Every once in a while, I find a succulent from a neighbor and snip just a tiny piece. Then, I take it home, stick it in water, and wait for its roots to sprout and grow down. Eventually I plant it in the tiny garden that I've built.

— Alexis C. Madrigal, staff writer

2. Then: Build on your indoor garden.  

Grow it; don’t throw it: Plant some kitchen scraps (lemon seeds, lentils, celery stalks, avocado pits) and watch new life happen in days, no extra soil or pots required.

— Shan Wang, senior editor

3. Call someone.

Pick up your phone and call—actually call; don’t text—a friend just to catch up. Any time I have talked to a friend during this pandemic, I have found the conversation restorative, grounding, and gratifying. Plus, you never know when the person on the other end of the line really needs a friend, too.

— Rebecca J. Rosen, senior editor

4. Make pierogies.

One weekend, perhaps seized by the spirit of some ancient Polish ancestor, I found myself irresistibly drawn to the idea of making pierogies. The little dumplings require an astonishing amount of time and patience, at least by my standards, but the process is meditative, and at the end, you have something delicious for the freezer. Any filling works. I’ve followed recipes from the Gefilteria and NYT Cooking.

— Emma Green, staff writer

5. Take a fake commute.

I learned this trick from one of my favorite newsletters, Girls’ Night In: If you're working remotely, create a daily commute and take a walk around the block in the morning. Quarantine has blurred so many work-life boundaries that even a pretend journey can feel refreshing.

— Marina Koren, staff writer

6. Learn about cicadas.

Maybe you or your kids are fascinated by bugs. If so (and if an overabundance of insects isn’t too biblical-plague-esque for you), now’s a perfect time to study up on them before your spring hikes: The Brood X cicadas are emerging for the first time in 17 years. (Did you know that there are also 13-year broods?)

— A.C. Valdez, senior podcast producer

7. Host a standing Zoom get-together.

A group of my friends organized a standing nightly Zoom meeting for the month of February as part of a plan to revive a college tradition. This structure has (perhaps ironically) recreated both the consistency and the spontaneity that I’ve been missing socially. The meetings are planned, but it’s always a surprise who will show up. They help to fight against the instinct toward self-isolation by removing any barriers to seeing friends: Someone will be on the call each night.

— Kate Cray, assistant editor

8. Change up your hair (but don’t give yourself bangs).

Every day is the same. Every day is overwhelming. You scroll through Instagram, bored, procrastinating, and see the same ad as always, for brightly colored hair dye, until one time you hit Purchase. Why not? It turns the floor of your shower purple; now you’ve got Saturday-night plans. And the next time you see yourself in a mirror, you smile—for once, not everything is the same.

— Karen Ostergren, deputy copy chief

9. Play video games.

Video games are fun! Remember fun? They take you away from your stupid home; they give you a sense of forward motion, even when you’re sitting on your couch. You could spend these long, boring pandemic days yearning for your old life or beating yourself up for not being more productive, or you could just play Pokémon. A pandemic is no time to overachieve.

— Julie Beck, Family editor

10. Take on a home-improvement project.

The most satisfying things that I’ve done for myself in the past year have been a series of small home-improvement projects, such as swapping out my kitchen faucet for a model with a higher neck and spray nozzle. DIY projects work on several levels—they give you something new to learn, they require you to put down your phone and focus on the task in front of you, and they provide the satisfaction of solving a problem whose solution you can see and appreciate every day.

— Amanda Mull, staff writer

11. Buy new socks.

This is sad, but even the smallest novelties help. I ordered two pairs the other week just to have something to feel excited about.

— Paul Bisceglio, Health, Science, and Technology editor

12. Set micro-goals, and track your habits.

I know, I know. This seems like the kind of toothless advice that the worst person you know would offer on LinkedIn. But it works: My habit calendar guided me through a turbulent January, forcing me to take five-minute stretch breaks and get outside once a day. Crossing my daily tasks off also helped me visualize the passing of time.

— Caroline Mimbs Nyce, senior associate editor

13. Do a clothing-and-other-items-that-can-be-donated purge.

The pandemic is nothing if not clarifying, and one thing it’s helped me realize is that I have too much stuff. Twice this past year, I’ve gone through my belongings—clothing, books, kitchenware, decor—and separated out items for donation. Hopefully, my neighbors will find them as useful or educational or beautiful as I once did.

— Nora Kelly Lee, senior editor, Politics

14. Volunteer.

Many organizations offer creative ways to serve the community while staying safe. You can organize a contactless food drive, tutor a student over Zoom, or answer a domestic abuse hotline. I consistently find a deep sense of purpose and connection in meeting and helping my neighbors.

— Katie Martin, associate art director

One question, answered: Once I get the vaccine, what precautions do I still need to take?

Our staff writer Sarah Zhang responds:

If you and a small group of friends are all fully vaccinated, congrats. You can relax precautions among one another. If you’re with unvaccinated people, though, remember that your risks are smaller, but not zero. Your chance of getting sick is significantly reduced (by about 95 percent), and your risk of infecting others is likely also much lower. (That exact statistic is still unknown, but is probably less than 95 percent.) Your tolerance for these risks might depend on whether the unvaccinated people you’re with are at risk for COVID-19 because of other reasons.

I think there’s another reason to keep wearing masks in public, at least for now. The strangers around you in a grocery store have no way of knowing whether you’re vaccinated. Wearing a mask is also a signal that you take the virus seriously and believe that we’re in this together—because we are. We can all get back to our normal lives when enough people have been vaccinated that the coronavirus no longer poses much of a threat in schools, workplaces, or even a big, crowded party.

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved isolation activity:

NASA’s newest rover, Perseverance, took the plunge to the red planet last week, and the high-definition footage of its descent is something to behold.

Today’s break from the news:

I Care A Lot, Netflix’s new neo-noir film isn’t just about a merciless scammer who takes advantage of the elderly; it’s about the broken bureaucracies that enable her abuse.