Pandemic Life Hacks

Written by Eddie Liu

How to stay happy, healthy, social, and productive while stuck at home.

There are 4 sections to this guide — feel free to skip to whichever one you find the most helpful.

Mental Health

Being stuck at home can definitely take a toll on your mental health, especially when all of the news is anxiety-inducing. Luckily, there are a lot of online apps and resources that can not only help in the short-term but even improve your “emotional toolkit” for the long-term. If you can take advantage of this time to put in effort towards improving your mental health now, you could leave this pandemic even more resilient than before.

Basic Tips

  • Stay in the loop, but if obsessively checking the news is negatively impacting your mental health, consider scheduling a time once a day to read up on the news.
  • Staying productive, exercising, and socializing (the other 3 sections) will contribute to your mental health.
  • Set up, stick to, and optimize a daily routine as best as you can.
  • Try focusing on what you can control instead of events outside of your control.

Meditation Apps — There are a lot of different meditation apps out there and there’s good evidence behind mindfulness being beneficial for your mental health. The problem is, which one? I recommend picking your favorite based on which narrator’s voice you like the most. Headspace (British narrator), Calm (variety), and Insight Timer (variety, free) are all good options.

Depression / Anxiety Apps — If you’re dealing with even mild levels of depression and anxiety, these apps can help you learn and harness cognitive-behavioral skills to improve your mental health.

  • UpLift (depression + anxiety) is offering a free limited-time Coronavirus De-stress Care Package with dozens of mental health boosting activities. This is our app! :)
  • MoodTools (depression) and FearTools (anxiety) each offer 6 different cognitive-behavioral tools.
  • Mind Ease (anxiety) provides stress-reducing exercises that take around 10 minutes.

Peer Groups / Online Support Groups — Talking to a peer about how you’re feeling can bring a lot of relief. NAMI Discussion Groups and Elevatr are two places to find safe space to express issues and challenges relating to stress or mental health. The Depression and Bi-polar Support Alliance Groups offers facilitated group support to share experiences, coping skills, and offer each other hope.

Online Therapy — Tired of all of these apps with no human interaction? Talk with a real, licensed therapist virtually with these online therapy options. What it comes down to is that it’s not the platform that matters — it’s the therapist. Both BetterHelp and Talkspace combine video sessions with unlimited messaging.

Sleep Hygiene  — With all of the stressors and loss of structure that this time brings, you might be experiencing lower sleep quality than before. Learning proper sleep hygiene can help you stay well rested as well as guard against depression, anxiety, and irritability. Here are 12 simple tips from Harvard.

Physical Health

Social distancing means no more gyms, no more in-person workout classes, and no more group sports. If you, like a lot of others, relied on one of these means to get fit, you’ll be itching for a way to stay fit while stuck at home. Here are some ideas and resources that can help you exercise:

Outdoor Exercise  — Running, biking, hiking, and walking is great for both your physical and mental health as long as you can maintain 6 feet of social distancing. Your access to this depends heavily on your location’s population density and climate. Also keep in mind local regulations, but most stay-at-home orders provide exceptions for outdoor exercise.

Housewalking  — If you have a fitness tracker, try and walk around the house to hit your daily step goal. Any fitness tracker covers the basics, but some good ones include Apple Watches, the new Fitbit Charge 4, and the affordable Wyze Band.

YouTube Videos  — A great source of free at-home workout routines. Just put it on the TV and start exercising! There are a ton of popular YouTube channels covering all sorts of things like yoga, Pilates, strength training, and cardio. Here are the most commonly recommended:

  • Fitness Blender offers a huge variety of at-home workouts covering HIIT, cardio, strength training, and more.
  • Yoga with Adriene presents full-length yoga videos for all difficulty levels.
  • Blogilates has peppy, short, and quick Pilates-adjacent exercises that are usually around 15 minutes long.
  • Athlean-X is a strength training channel full of reliable information and effective routines.

Maintaining Motivation — This is one of the more difficult parts of exercising at home if you’re accustomed to going to the gym with a buddy or going to workout classes with cancellation fees. A life hack here is to exercise with a virtual workout buddy — video chat with a friend while exercising at a specified time and keep each other accountable!

Apps  — Even more than in the area of mental health, there are a lot of fitness apps out there. Many of the YouTube channels above also have their own apps. Here are a few highly recommended apps, but there are many more quality apps out there.

  • Strong (Strength Training) is a simple, straight-forward app for tracking workouts.
  • Adidas Running tracks routes, time, and pace for outdoor runs. They’re currently offering a free 90 day premium membership.
  • Down Dog Yoga is an extremely customizable yoga application for all skill levels.
  • 7 Minute Workout is a popular quick workout app (specifically, 7 minutes long).

Video games  — Games are a great way to exercise while having fun! Here are my 3 favorite approaches:

  • Just Dance lets you copy someone on the screen dancing popular songs. You can play with up to 4 players and you don’t need a console — you can use a phone with Just Dance Now.
  • Ring Fit Adventure (Nintendo Switch) combines an RPG with exercise. However, it is hard to find in stock as of April 2020.
  • VR Games — Beat Saber is Dance Dance Revolution x Star Wars. Pistol Whip is Beat Saber with guns. Hardest part here is you have to own a VR headset — I recommend the Oculus Quest.

Socializing

Just because we’re all stuck in our homes doesn’t mean that we can’t stay social! It might take some extra effort, but with the help of technology we can be as social or even more compared to before. Here are some specific ideas for connecting with others:

Individual / Group Video Chats — At the most basic level, you can use different apps to chat with your friends. Many apps do this effectively — Facebook Messenger, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Google Duo/Hangouts, Houseparty, and Discord. In general, whatever platform your friends are already on is the easiest.

Simple Ideas for Group Chats

  • Happy Hour! Prepare your own drinks and snacks and talk. To recreate a bar environment, play music loudly and shout at the screen so you can be heard.
  • Charades / Heads Up (mobile app)
  • The whiteboard feature in Zoom can be used in creative ways like Pictionary & Hangman. Access it by pressing Share Screen → Whiteboard.

Virtual Jackbox Party Pack Game Night — Host a virtual game night with your friends! Jackbox games are perfect for this since it only requires one screen and everyone else can play along on their phone. The only requirement is that one person has to own at least one of the Jackbox Party Pack games on their computer. Then, that person opens up Zoom or Discord and shares their screen (along with the computer sound) with others. Overwhelmed by the number of games? Make your way down this ranking.

Watch Netflix With Your Friends  — Watch Netflix together remotely with the free Chrome extension Netflix Party. You and your friends need your own Netflix accounts or profiles, but the extension syncs the video across your individual accounts. The extension provides an easy text-based chat, but you can also set up a video call either on your computer or your phone.

Virtual Board Games — Board games usually require everyone to be in the same room but here are some great games you can play virtually:

  • Codenames — use this website if you trust your friends not to cheat, play codenames on slack, or point a camera at someone’s table and work it out (share the board from one spymaster via private message)
  • Ticket to Ride — the easiest way to do this is for everyone to buy the app on their phones and then play it while on a video chat.
  • Settlers of Catan — there’s an online version you can play for free with Catan Universe!

Play Multiplayer Video Games — There’s a whole world of multiplayer video games out there that you can play with your friends. Here are some quick recommendations:

  • Fortnite, Minecraft, or Roblox if you are a Gen Z-er or if you want to connect with a Gen Z-er in your life.
  • Animal Crossing (Nintendo Switch) if you want to escape to an island paradise — the opposite of staying at your home!
  • Apple Arcade if you have Apple devices and want to explore a giant library of games, including some multiplayer ones like Crossy Road Castle.
  • MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena) like League of Legends or Dota 2 if you want to get together with 4 other friends and fight as a team.
  • MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games) like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV if you want to adventure in a huge world for endless hours.

Helpful Technology

  • Facebook Portal devices for seamless video chats, especially with older relatives — they even have one that can turn your TV into a video chatting device.
  • AirPods or gaming headphones if you’re having trouble with your mic quality.
  • If you’re struggling with an old laptop, now might be a good time to upgrade! For the average person, I’d recommend the new MacBook Air (with i5 processor) or the new Dell XPS 9300 (1080p screen), or a good budget laptop.

Productivity

For some people, being stuck at home might actually increase their productivity. But if you’re like most of us, you’re probably feeling less productive than before and that’s OK. It takes time and effort to learn how to optimize yourself to work productively without the social pressures and expectations of being in a traditional work environment. Here are some tips that can help you increase your productivity.

Space — If possible, create a separate office space that is only for work. Ideally, fill it with natural light and plants.

Boundaries — Communicate boundaries to others so you aren’t unexpectedly interrupted while you work. Post “do not disturb” or “meeting in progress” signs on your door if need be.

Scheduling — Try setting a schedule in your calendar either the day / week before or at the beginning of your day.

Self-Control Apps — Try using self-control applications like SelfControl or HeyFocus on Mac or StayFocusd (Chrome extension). These apps block certain websites and you can even schedule which hours they are active. If you find yourself checking your phone instead, try using the Forest app.

To-do Lists — Use a to-do list app to keep yourself accountable. My favorite is Microsoft To Do and it happens to be free, but other good (paid) options are Things (Mac-only, one-time fee), Todoist (subscription), & TickTick (subscription).

Music — Many people enjoy listening to ambient music that doesn’t contain distracting vocals, like video game soundtracks or the famous lo fi hip hop YouTube channel.

Tracking — Each person is different. Track what works and what isn’t working for you in terms of productivity and see if you can identify patterns. For example, if you are more productive in the morning, you should complete your harder tasks in the morning. Toggl is a good app for simple time tracking.

Work Buddy — Find a buddy and keep each other accountable by staying on a quiet video call as if you’re in the same room together working. If your buddies are too distracting and you would prefer to buddy up with strangers, you can try Focusmate.

Virtual Meeting Tips –

  • Zoom, Discord, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts / Meet, Skype, WebEx, etc. are all fine video conferencing software. If one doesn’t work for you, you can quickly switch to another.
  • Use the best microphone and webcam that you can.
  • If you’re having Wi-Fi problems, try moving closer to the router or upgrading your router / modem / internet plan. This TP-Link router is great for apartments. For houses, consider splurging on a nice WiFi 6 router.
  • Look good by getting better lighting with lamps or windows (placed in front and to your side, not behind) and set up a nice background.
  • In general, use the mute button when you’re not talking.

That’s it! I hope at least one of the tips in this document helps you in some way during this difficult time. If you do find this helpful, please SHARE with your friends and family. Stay safe out there!

About the Author
Eddie Liu has degrees in Psychology and Neuroscience from Duke University. He is the creator of the MoodTools app for depression, which has reached over 1,000,000 people and won Mental Health America's “mPower” award.