“How to stay sane during COVID?” That is a common question these days. Everyone seems to feel stuck in place, unable to attend the large gatherings such as concerts or live theater events for which Nashville is well-known, even unable to go out to a restaurant with a small group of family or friends. As much as we all care deeply for the safety of ourselves and others, striking a balance between safety and social connection is also an important component of our overall mental health as the shutdowns approach their first anniversary.

Many older adults, such as my mother, have turned to the great outdoors for comfort. One of her bucket list goals is to visit every Tennessee State Park once she retires in a few years. The pandemic provided a unique opportunity to get a head start on achieving that goal and to get me to come along with her.

I’m not typically an outdoorsy person. I much prefer the aforementioned concerts and theater. My idea of a lazy weekend is curling up with a good book. When Mom suggested we go on a road trip to Rock Island State Park to see the waterfalls, I was so tired of week after week of enforced lazy weekends curled up with nearly every book in my house that I said, “Sure, why not?”

This decision proved to be one of the best I made all last year. There’s something about being outside that those of us who typically choose to stay inside start to miss when even our walk from the car to the concert venue is taken away. Breathing fresh air and being in sunlight is a revelation, and there are so many places within a relatively short driving distance of Nashville that are stunning to behold. In addition to Rock Island State Park, we have also visited Burgess Falls, Cummins Falls, Jackson Falls along the Natchez Trace, Fall Creek Falls, and several others. We chose to focus on waterfalls for our excursions, but there are many different state parks and natural areas ripe for the exploring. Even on crowded days it’s relatively easy to remain socially distanced on the trails, though it’s worth noting that not everyone may be wearing masks.

Other FiftyForward employees have found self-care opportunities in a variety of new hobbies. Special Events Manager Meghan Gwaltney has enjoyed birdwatching, which can be done anywhere from a state park to one’s own backyard. She’s also taken up participating in Nashville Public Library led trivia nights.

Grants Manager Candise Hendricks has started learning a new language. There are many free or cost-effective programs to help with this such as the Duolingo app or taking a class through the Tennessee Language Center. There are also good YouTube channels and online resources, depending on the language you’d like to learn.

Jackie Zukowski, FiftyForward Foster Grandparent Program Assistant, has begun a plethora of new hobbies, not limited to: learning a new instrument from YouTube tutorials, starting photography lessons through a free online class, virtually volunteering with other organizations important to her, taking up running, and even getting a new pet.

If finding your own fun seems too complicated or stressful, you’re always welcome to join us! FiftyForward currently offers a weekly virtual programming line-up and limited in-person programming at our lifelong learning centers. Please visit the calendar page to learn more.

Whatever you choose, it’s important to remember that the pandemic is an opportunity to try new things, but not a requirement. It’s all right if staying inside and reading or watching Netflix is what makes you happy, and there’s no need to feel pressure that you haven’t achieved the same level of productivity as someone you follow on Instagram. If your routine is starting to feel stale, consider one of the above suggestions to spice things up, but it’s ok if you spent last year taking care of yourself in smaller ways, too.

With the advent of the vaccine, it’s finally beginning to feel like there’s a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. We at FiftyForward hope that you and your loved ones weather the home stretch safely, but with the knowledge that avoiding COVID doesn’t have to mean catching cabin fever. If you’ve picked up any exciting new hobbies during the last year, we’d love to hear about it on social media. Tag @FiftyForward on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to show us your favorite activity to beat the boredom!

By Elliot Burnette
Development and Marketing Assistant