The Unwind: How we're finding calm, from virtual piano lessons to poetry

Flattening the curve by self-isolating at home is a small sacrifice during the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s not without its challenges. How does one ward off loneliness in the absence of community? What can we do to keep anxiety at bay during such an emotionally fraught time? How do we fill the hours stretching out before us, and use this time to make connections, pursue long-neglected hobbies and discover new ones, and inject a little positivity and calm into our everyday lives?

Introducing The Unwind, a new, recurring feature in which Yahoo staffers share the ways we’re finding moments of peace, levity and inspiration during these trying times. From adopting soothing strategies to boost our mental health, to losing ourselves to virtual social calls, newfound passions and other joyous diversions, these are the things getting us through. The days may feel uncertain, but beauty and bright spots abound.

For more, check out the last edition of The Unwind.

Working with colorful dried flowers has given Chrissy Nguyen a "mental pick-me-up." (Photo: Chrissy Nguyen)


Flower arranging

Before quarantine, I never could resist picking up a flower bouquet during any of my random grocery runs. I'd throw them in an old glass vase and enjoy the pop of color they added to my home for the next couple of days until they started wilting. Now in quarantine, where visits to stores for essential items are thoroughly planned and quickly executed, replenishing my usual fresh blooms display hasn't really been a priority.  Luckily, I have the sweetest BFF who sent over a box of dried flowers to fill my home's flower void — and now I'm obsessed! I cannot rave enough about dried blossoms: They require very low maintenance (no water and direct sunlight) and have a nearly forever shelf life, plus all the joyful benefits of fresh flowers. I've been reusing various bottles and arranging and rearranging the dried stems every so often, and it's proven to be one of my favorite minimalist and creative activities while sheltering in place. Arranging dried flowers has been a great mental pick-me-up with the results being a pretty display to perk up my home. - Chrissy Nguyen, Yahoo Entertainment executive editor

Liberate’s meditation app

Mindful meditation has always been a crucial part of my self-care practice, but I find that quieting my mind is more important now than ever. So I was beyond excited to learn from wellness advocate and media personality Francheska Medina, aka HeyFranHey, about a meditation app created for and by black indigenous people of color called Liberate. The tool is chock full of guided meditations on topics, including celebrating blackness, healing from racial trauma, thriving as men of color, tapping into ancestral power and more. I love that the practitioners all look like me (or people in my family) and they impart lessons from a cultural perspective that resonates deeply with me as a black woman. The guided meditation “Relaxing with Insomnia” has been a lifesaver when I’m having a restless night, which is now far too many. - Dana Oliver, beauty director and managing editor of branded content

Nature walks

Having a sprawling park with a small lake near my home has been a huge blessing. My toddler and I have gotten in the habit of taking long walks before I start work in the mornings. It’s a great way to “shake off the cobwebs” before I get cooped up inside for the rest of the day, but, more importantly, it’s therapeutic for my restless mind, too. As a single working mom, I don’t have much time to sit with my thoughts or process my emotions beyond simply reacting. But getting some fresh air (filtered through my cotton face mask), stretching my limbs, admiring wildflowers and looking for turtles or the ducklings that have just hatched after weeks of us monitoring their closely protected eggs, is the best backdrop I have right now for recharging my batteries and reflecting on the world at large. - Erin Donnelly, Yahoo Life news writer and editor

Kat Vasquez (right) is getting a Wii workout with her mom. (Photo: Kat Vasquez)

Sweating it out with mom

As the curve of coronavirus started to flatten, I decided to leave my tiny New York apartment and weather the pandemic storm at my parents’ home in California. My mom and I have always been close, sharing a love of fashion, ‘80s movies and HGTV. Another thing we have in common is our love-hate relationship with fitness. But after weeks at home, we knew we needed to get our bodies moving, so we turned to the popular Wii video game Just Dance. We followed the moves on the screen, using our cell phones as controllers, and had so much fun we didn’t even notice the sweat! Now, fitness is a part of our daily routine. Whether we’re dancing or doing water aerobics in the pool, it feels good to be doing it together. - Kat Vasquez, Yahoo Life and Entertainment producer

Turning bike mode into binge mode

Most of my TV binging happens on the couch, but there’s a select group of shows that are only viewable on BBN — the Basement Bike Network. Knowing that it would be all too easy to let the downstairs exercise bike become another bookshelf during quarantine, I’ve been keeping the wheels turning thanks to a list of bike rotation series that I can only watch while peddling. Over the past few months, BBN’s programming lineup has jumped between HBO prestige (Barry and Insecure), ‘80s nostalgia (Cobra Kai), sci-fi silliness (The Orville) and Britcoms (Catastrophe). It’s been a good way to anticipate, rather than dread, lacing up the ol’ bike shoes. - Ethan Alter, Yahoo Entertainment senior writer

Megan Sims is turning to her love of writing poetry. (Photo: Megan Sims)

Writing poetry

Writing has been both my hiding place and my happy place since I was a child. I fell in love with poetry after learning about Langston Hughes, who is my all-time favorite poet. Poetry comes straight from the soul and can tell you things you may not have even known about your own feelings, which can be very therapeutic, particularly through a global health crisis. I have a special notebook where I write my poems and it helps me release a lot of stress, anxiety and negativity. Before I know it, I am calm again. - Megan Sims, Yahoo Life writer

Baking cookies

Baking bread was just never going to cut it for me — I have too much of a sweet tooth to invest my energy into sourdough — so I have been perfecting my cookie recipes during the extra downtime. My latest accomplishment is an exact copy of New York’s famous Levain chocolate chip cookie. With a TikTok video as my guide, I managed to perfect the crispy-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside culinary creation. A close rival for the award of best chocolate chip cookie is Joanna Gaines’s recipe, which also yields a fluffier cookie than the store-bought competitors. If there is one productive thing to come out of quarantine, it’s this: I officially have my go-to item for every future barbecue and potluck. - Maggie Andrew, Yahoo Life and Entertainment social media editor

Virtual piano lessons

Many moons ago I inherited an upright piano from my aunt’s godmother which sat untouched in my childhood bedroom for years, then served primarily as a photo shelf in my current home. Fast-forward to 2020 and the coronavirus: Music venues are closed, spring and summer tour dates are canceled and weekends are free of social commitments. It is within this context that I took note of a Basin Street Records newsletter announcing that jazz pianist Jon Cleary was streaming “one finger at a time” piano lessons. “One finger at a time” sounded like a good fit for my once intermediate, now rudimental skill level. The lesson was exactly as advertised: Cleary taught a beginners’ version of the Boogie-woogie, from the left-hand sequence (one finger at a time!) to the three chords (C major, F major, G major) that form the basics of the genre. He also reviewed chord arrangements and inversions for more advanced students, noting, “If you’re starting out and you’re finding it difficult, not to worry. Practice is important, and it’s my challenge to try and find things that you can pick up fairly easily and you can expand on if you’re so inclined.” I’ve practiced four out of five days since this lesson and plan to tune in again this week. Thank you, Jon Cleary! (Cleary’s virtual piano lessons and “Quaratini Happy Hour” live streams are available on his Facebook page; donations are accepted.) - Sofia Fernandez, video senior manager

Movie club

Soon after the quarantine began, several of my old high school friends — who are spread out across the country — set up our own weekly virtual hangout. As with most other times when we were still together in the real world, our conversations quickly turned to our collective passion for movies, while whiskey and rum flowed. A plan was hatched that one person each week would assign a movie for the following week, and then we would discuss that film. Nothing is off-limits, with the only prerequisite being that the person assigning the movie has to have seen it before. Highlights after 10 weeks of getting together include recent highbrow arthouse fare with The Lighthouse, the classic ‘80s thriller Dead Ringers and “the worst movie ever made,” Troll 2. The group — dubbed The Bridgewater Uncommons in a nod to the theater we went to in high school — plans to keep going long after quarantine is “over.” There are a lot of movies out there to subject ourselves to. - Ryan Miller, Yahoo News and Entertainment senior SEO strategist

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